When Piaget announced that it was releasing the world’s thinnest automatic watch at SIHH this year, it didn’t surprise anyone. In the constant struggle over being a horological record holder, Piaget has been a dominant force in the pursuit of ultra-thinness with only Bulgari as a competitor. What no one expected, however, was that Piaget would be competing with itself during the fair by introducing the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept, which blows the one-month-old Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Automatic out of the water. The hand-wound Ultimate Concept measures in at only 2 mm. 2 mm! For reference, the self-winding Ultimate Automatic came in at 4.3 mm and 2017’s Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic (the previous record holder) at 5.15 mm thick. At 2 mm, this new concept timepiece is basically the same size as the hand-wound Caliber 9P movement that Piaget revealed at Baselworld in 1960, which is thought of as the watershed moment for the pursuit of ultra-thinness.
Piaget’s R&D team worked for four years on building out the construction for this watch. The first problem associated with a watch this skinny? Making sure it doesn’t snap in two. To solve this, Piaget developed a cobalt-based alloy that provides optimum rigidness to the case which serves as both the exterior of the watch and the baseplate for the movement. The watch’s crystal measures in at a breathtaking 0.2 mm and five total patents have been registered by Piaget for the technology they developed.
If you’ve read about Piaget’s pursuit of ultra-thinness before, you probably know how they’ve been able to achieve this in the past. Previous watches, like in the Ultimate Automatic, the caseback ends up supporting the entirety of the movement, which was a pretty groundbreaking step when it first appeared in 2014. While that remains true here, there have been quite a few new developments, particularly with the balance and balance spring.
If you look at 9 o’clock, you can see the construction of the regulating organ has been entirely re-designed to sit atop the ball-bearing mechanism. The balance-wheel bridge has disappeared and the balance staff, inner ring of the ball-bearing mechanism, and roller have all been combined into one mechanism. The balance wheel and spring are pinned to the collet and then inverted, allowing the balance wheel to be positioned above the balance spring.
At 6 o’clock, the barrel has no cover or drum. The mainspring is integrated directly into the frame where the ratchet wheel covers it. Because of this, the watch is able to offer a very liberal 44-hour power reserve.
You might notice that this watch doesn’t have a typical crown, in fact, you might notice that it appears to have no crown at all. To ensure that the crown doesn’t protrude over or underneath the case and subsequently raise its girth, Piaget used a flat-shaped, “telescopic crown” that is recessed inside the case and secured to the stem through a spring clip.
All of these innovations contributed to the remarkable thinness of the watch and you have to imagine that this new record won’t be broken for a long time. In fact, I have to wonder if the release of the Ultimate Automatic Concept has dissuaded other brands from competing in this increasingly smaller segment. Whatever happens, it will be interesting to see how other brands respond and how Piaget plans to continue to grow its legacy of ultra-thin watchmaking.