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Review: Audemars Piguet [Re]Master01

Bringing something old and dead back to life is a risky business. Just ask Dr Frankenstein. When Audemars Piguet, a brand synonymous with the angular, seventies style of the ever-popular Royal Oak, announced it was reimagining an incredibly rare chronograph watch from the 1940s, it had the potential to revitalise the brand’s majesty of old—or it could just make a monster. Which is it?

Now, I have to admit, before I could even judge this watch on its own merit, it was already starting off in a difficult position. Do you remember those assemblies at school where grown adults donned backward caps and performed a rap for their bemused audience about the dangers of drugs? If I recall correctly, the entire display encouraged, if anything, more drug use, with even the nerdiest kids desperate to never, ever become the horror they had just witnessed.

That’s how the launch of the [Re]Master01 felt. To make it clear, that’s open bracket—a square bracket I might add—“R”, “E”—close square bracket—no space, “Master”, no space “01”. It couldn’t be more “down with the kids” if they’d written it in Fresh Prince-style graffiti, replete with a little sparkling fuse line drawn out of the top of the zero. It’s almost as embarrassing as, oh, I don’t know, making an incredibly expensive, incredibly detailed watch of a popular superhero and having the hands emanating from the character’s crotch.

As if to double down on this, Audemars Piguet insisted this watch was not a reissue, not a homage, but a remaster. Two problems with that: one, a remaster is what record labels do to make more money off an old record, hardly a glowing endorsement of a product; and two, remaster, reissue, homage—to the average Joe these are all synonyms for more or less the same thing. They took something that happened in the past, mucked about with it, sold it again. It seems like pedantry to make this definition the focal point of the entire watch, and indeed, the name itself.

So, what does Audemars Piguet really mean by remaster? Studio profits aside, a remaster is a subjective alteration based on modern consumer tastes. Back in the eighties, for example, studio mixes were often pretty thin on bass. These days, as the rattling of your car’s windows by the subwoofer in the car next to you will attest, people prefer more bass. Perhaps the upper registers might be pushed a little hotter too for more sparkle. Overall levels can also be lifted to match the ever-increasing volumes of today’s productions, a more practical adjustment.

Whatever those changes are, the key word to take away here is “subjective”. With regards to the definitive language used for this watch, I hate to break it to you, Audemars Piguet, but album reissues are often remastered. I guess they didn’t spend enough time on Google before they went down that road.

Unfortunately, the [Re]Master01—which, to break the fourth wall for a second, is a pain in the butt to keep typing, maybe I should just copy and paste it every time—has been shrouded by all of that cynicism before it’s even had a chance to tick a single second. So, from the top, this time deeper in the lower registers and with more sparkle in the highs—is this Audemars Piguet [Re]Issue01 fantastic, or is it a complete fail?

The watch that has been used to inspire this modern doppelganger is the 1943 reference 1533, and when I say inspire, I pretty much mean copy. The unusual split between steel and rose gold, the inverted teardrop lugs, the skinny pushers, the gold dial and elongated script, the classic logo and even the red forty-five–minute marker—it’s all here. Because of everything we’ve just discussed, it bears emphasising that to make it visually identical is absolutely fine. I mean, why not? It was a pretty watch in 1943 and it remains a pretty watch now.

So, if it looks the same, what exactly has been remastered? Well, remember we were talking about changes made to suit subjective preference? That’s why the new watch is 40mm across and 14.6mm thick, two very distinctly modern dimensions, and a sizeable difference from the 36mm original.

If you thought the name caused an uproar, well, that 40mm size almost started a riot. One camp believes 40mm is a perfectly fine dimension for a modern watch, with a few who thought perhaps a pinch less at 38 to 39mm might have been nice—and everyone else couldn’t have been more offended if Audemars Piguet had used the reference 1533—which it bought at auction for a whopping $330,000, by the way—to wipe its backside.

And as for the practical adjustments, things get even more complicated still, because inside this watch is the calibre 4409, an automatic chronograph movement first seen in the Code 11.59. Side note—to whoever’s coming up with these names, stop it. Just stop it.

As for the calibre 4409, the thinking is that this is a timepiece that carries the beauty and elegance of an old-fashioned watch but with the modern convenience of a fully automatic movement. It has a flyback, a seventy-hour power reserve, beats at 28,800 vph—and, most conveniently, it doesn’t have to be hand wound every day like its forebear.

The comparison has been drawn before, but it’s the same reason Singer Porsche’s do so well. You can run a classic and not worry about getting stuck by the side of the road. You can drive at night and see. You can ride bumps and not get thrown off into a hedge. You don’t have to fuss with chokes and the like. But here’s where the analogy deviates, because whilst a Singer may get bespoke cylinders, pistons, rods, cams, heads, throttle bodies and crankshaft—it’s still an air-cooled, naturally aspirated engine. They don’t just swap the old one out for a contemporary water-cooled, turbocharged unit.

So, really, once you peel away the nonsense about this watch’s name, what verb is most appropriate to describe its second coming, whether or not it’s too plump—the biggest question mark comes with the decision to use the calibre 4409. Here’s where things get extra complicated, because if they really wanted to honour the movement in the original, Audemars Piguet would have been better off with the ubiquitous Valjoux 7750, because the calibre 13VZAH in the reference 1533 was a third-party Valjoux.

That’s why the Vacheron Constantin Cornes de Vache, another, ahem, remaster, has a Lemania movement in it. Chronograph movements for wristwatches were expensive things to make back then, yet sold cheap, and wasn’t an investment the big, transitioning pocket watch makers wanted to splash out on, so they sourced elsewhere. And since this was before the 1969 introduction of the automatic chronograph, these ones were all hand wound. If you’ve ever seen a hand wound chronograph from the period, you’ll know it’s beautiful, even if they are Valjouxs and Lemanias. The calibre 4409 is a nicely finished movement with more mechanism on show than most, but it’s no 13VZAH. Does the convenience of the calibre 4409 outweigh the beauty of a less-practical hand wound movement? That’s up to you.

Whatever you think, one thing is clear: Audemars Piguet is not wrong. Or right. Only time will tell if the [Re]Master01 has what it takes to become a classic, but in the meantime the main takeaway for me is that’s it’s exciting to see Audemars Piguet try something different. I mean, limited to just 500 units and costing $53,000, it’s not exactly a decision many people will have to make.

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