We love it when Audemars Piguet flexes its watchmaking chops. As much as we're huge fans of the brand’s iconic Royal Oak, it’s a joy when the brand turns from the sports watch category to dabble in something more classical – and the gorgeous Starwheel, featuring an unusual wandering hour complication, is more classic than most.
Indeed, the history of the wandering hour system stretches back as far as the 17th century when Pope Alexander VII requested the creation of a night clock that was both silent and easy to read in the dark. The sovereign pontiff suffered from insomnia and the incessant ticking of the clock in his bedroom was disrupting his beauty sleep.
He charged the Campani brothers, a family of immensely talented clockmakers from San Felice in Umbria, to solve his nighttime problem and the end result was the creation of the silent escapement and the ingenious wandering hour complication.
The latter is, of course, the inspiration for Audemars Piguet’s effort more than two centuries later. The clock features a painted copper dial with a semi-circle aperture behind which a metal disc with painted hour numerals would rotate clockwise as the movement turned. As time passed, the given hour would arc across the cut-out lunette window, before the next hour came into view.
The final touch? The Campani brothers installed a candle that was placed on a holder inside the clock, with a flue on top for smoke and heat to escape, so that the time would be visible at all hours of the day and night.
The Pope was so pleased that he granted the brothers a papal privilege (think of it as the original copyright protection) on their designs and soon royalty and nobility from across Europe were clamouring for the latest horological marvel.
Photo by The Trustees of the British Museum
Photo by Creuzet Karin for Audemars Piguet
As the popularity of clocks was usurped by pocket watches and later wristwatches, the wandering hour complication faded into obscurity until an Audemars Piguet watchmaker stumbled upon the creation in a 1989 article in the Journal Suisse d’Horlogerie.
Two years later, Audemars Piguet would revive the wandering hour as part of the Star Wheel reference 25720 – the first time the concept had ever been applied to a wristwatch.
Rather than simply ape the Campani brother’s original design, Audemars Piguet brought it right up to date with an elegant design that revealed the inner workings of the mechanism.
Three sapphire hour discs are fixed to stars on a central rotor wheel – hence the name Starwheel – that rotates around the dial. The current hour makes its way across the 120-degree minute track at the top of the dial before the next hour smoothly takes its place. The central rotor completes a revolution every three hours while the hour disks, each housing four different hour numerals, make a quarter turn every hour.
It’s a thoroughly charming way of telling the time.
Code 11.59 Starwheel
The original Star Wheel saw some 30 designs created between 1991 and its discontinuation in 2003, but after a two-decade gap it’s finally back – and in a slightly different guise to boot.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Audemars Piguet should look to house the new model in its Code 11.59 collection. After all, the watchmaker has committed to establishing Code 11.59 as one of the pillars of its brand since its introduction in 2019.
The Code 11.59 Starwheel sees the wandering hour complication fitted inside Code’s typical dual-layer case construction, with 18-karat white gold blended with a midcased composed of black ceramic. The dial is composed of three opaline discs rotating around a blue aventurine dial – the glinting quartz a rather apt choice given its ‘starry’ qualities. The movement itself is based on Audemars Piguet’s in-house calibre 4309, with a wandering hour module added to the ensemble.
The watch itself is 41mm, an increase from 36mm of the original Star Wheel reference, while the design language of Code 11.59 (including font choice and all-round sportier complexion) is much more contemporary than the original’s dainty elegance.
The Star Wheel has in recent years become the embodiment of Audemar Piguet’s watchmaking gifts outside of its iconic sports watch – and, in so doing, has become a favourite among collectors.
This new version, successfully housed in the Code 11.59 collection, is a welcome addition to the brand’s current portfolio. A new star has definitely been born.
For more information, see audemarspiguet.com