A few weeks from the SIHH, the International Exhibition of Haute Horlogerie to be held in January in Geneva, the Piaget manufacture unveils a new Altiplano model in preview. And what a novelty! This is, no more and no less, the world's thinest automatic watch. Judge for yourself: fusing platinum caliber and case, this automatic watch, with a peripheral gold oscillating weight, lays a new milestone in the world of infinite thinness, at just 4.30 mm thick.
Defying the limits of feasibility, Piaget provides a new demonstration of its supremacy in the field of ultra-thin watchmaking, stemming from the excellence of its two integrated Manufactures. Piaget continues to display ingenious means of cultivating its heritage and is now – three years after the launch of the revolutionary slimmest manual-winding watch in the world at that time – reaffirming its passion for challenges and creativity to achieve technical feats. At a mere 4.30 mm thick, the Altiplano Ultimate Automatic expresses boldness and a constant quest for infinite slenderness, as well as for the elegance and refinement prized by Piaget. It sets the crowning touch to 60 years of virtuosity in the field of ultra-thin horology. Engaged in an iconic dialogue, movement and case form an indivisible whole, featuring tolerances that have been pushed to their limits and setting a new record. The world’s slimmest self-winding watch, highlighting the year 2017 which Piaget has dedicated to its iconic Altiplano collection, the Altiplano Ultimate Automatic embodies this pinnacle of contemporary elegance.
And Piaget created… The ultra-thin
Born in 1874 as a movement manufacturer in the village of La Côte-aux-Fées, and subsequently earning international renown as a brand in its own right, Piaget has constantly sought and found innovative solutions in the domain of slimness. From 1913 onwards, the Maison appeared in watch industry supplier catalogues as the specialist of ultra-thin components. This quest for infinite slenderness shifted up a gear in the late 1940s. Loyal to the family tradition of pursuing the ideal of perfection and perpetual daring, the founder’s grandson, Valentin Piaget, enabled the brand to distinguish itself both in the field of ultra-thin watchmaking and in creating a unique style imbued with timeless and assertive elegance. The pivotal step in this process was the launch of the manual-winding 9P calibre. One of the world’s thinnest movements of its kind at the time, measuring just 2 mm thick, was presented at the Basel Fair in 1957 and revolutionized the market. The 9P ensured enhanced legibility, but above all the opportunity to pursue a new ultra-thin watchmaking aesthetic by giving rise to an extremely pure design.
While Calibre 9P was to have a decisive influence on the world of watchmaking, the new calibre on which Valentin Piaget was working would definitely establish the reputation of the Maison in the realm of ultra-thin horology. At just 2.3 mm thick, the 12P calibre presented at the 1960s Basel Fair was another landmark event in watchmaking history: a true revolution hailed by the press and the profession as the world’s thinnest automatic watch. This degree of slimness, before thought to be unattainable, was made possible by the use of a 24-carat gold micro-rotor integrated within the movement so as to ensure efficient mainspring winding. At the time, the influential Journal de Genève daily newspaper wrote that the creation of the 12P represented “an event destined to be a milestone in the history of watchmaking” – a prediction that was to be fulfilled.
The ultra-thin approach liberates design and style
Having become an essential factor in the Piaget DNA, ultra-thinness opened up ornamental prospects that were quick to grasp. During that same period, the Maison decided to work exclusively with precious metals: gold and platinum. This approach would contribute to defining its aesthetic codes and two main stylistic approaches were adopted. Firstly, designers were allowed to give free rein to their imagination when it came to feminine watches, granting them access to new ornamental possibilities and enabling them to succumb to the charms of the vivid and intense colour palette afforded by hard stone dials. With or without diamonds, the latter heralded a time of flourishing creativity. Almost at the opposite end of the spectrum, the timeless ultra-thin men’s watches opted for supremely restrained elegance. The slenderness of their profile was echoed by the purity of their dial, conveying a minimalist vision pushed to extremes. For Piaget, the art of pared-down designs is a demanding style exercise calling for great sophistication in its implementation and requiring extremely high-end finishing, even on elements destined to remain hidden from sight. Chamfering, circular-graining, circular Côtes de Genève, polishing, satin-brushing and blueing… All of these techniques involve meticulous manual finishing.
Altiplano, a paragon of elegance and precision
Today as in the past, engineers and watchmakers dedicate their skills and expertise to interpreting movements pushing the boundaries of tolerances, featuring the slimmest possible profiles and often setting new records. This quest for slenderness now emblematic of Piaget stems both from a taste for challenges and from a constant pursuit of a unique style imbued with innate elegance.
The pleasure of wearing a technical masterpiece on the wrist is never dissociated from aesthetic pleasure. Such an uncompromising aesthetic bears the hallmark of extreme slenderness, as well as that of impeccable reliability – the kind of high demands that govern every choice made by the Manufacture. Larger, slimmer than ever and above all automatic, the ultra-thin Piaget watch with its incomparable innovative design has always naturally appealed to celebrities, collectors and connoisseurs, including the emblematic French heartthrob Alain Delon. It is now the turn of International Brand Ambassador and famous actor Ryan Reynolds, the ever-appealing Hu Ge as well as many others, to be seduced by the understated design of the Altiplano collection. Classic and modern, exclusive and elegant, the timeless Altiplano – now raised to the rank of watch design icon – embodies the essence of luxury and the purity of innate style.
The combined expertise of two integrated Manufactures
In 2014, the 140th anniversary of the Maison was celebrated by the launch of a revolutionary watch. The concept behind Calibre 900P, thus named in tribute to the legendary 9P movement, introduced an entirely novel construction that could only have been achieved by combining a range of numerous in-house skills possessed by Piaget.It embodies a fusion of the expertise cultivated by two Manufactures: one in La Côte-aux-Fées where the movements are developed; and the other in Plan-les-Ouates, where watch exteriors are designed and crafted in complete synergy with the watchmakers. Until then, any new development stemmed from a binary vision of the watch, which was composed of a movement and its exterior elements. For this new model, Piaget broke free of this concept through the brilliant idea of merging the two approaches in setting a new world record.
A new world record for Piaget
Pursuing the year 2017 celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of its Altiplano line and of its ultra-thin 9P movement, Piaget unveils the Altiplano Ultimate Automatic, a distillation of technical excellence, a record-holder for its extreme thinness, and the ultimate symbol of elegance. In a world where records tend to be beaten by mere tenths of a millimetre, this watch lays a new milestone in the world of infinite thinness, at just 4.30 mm thick. The secret of this feat lies in its revolutionary construction. Like the 900P concept movement, the Altiplano Ultimate Automatic breaks free of the distinction between movement and exterior elements, to set a new record: that of the world’s thinnest automatic watch. For three long years, the developers, engineers, watchmakers, designers, case and movement engineers, worked together on each stage of development, production and adjustment in giving life to this slender masterpiece – for which each technical choice has an aesthetic impact and vice versa.
Designed as an inseparable whole to set a new thinness record, the movement andcase form a single entity, with the latter serving as a mainplate to which the 219 incredibly thin components are affixed. Pared down to extremes, some of the parts are barely thicker than a hair’s breadth, including certain wheels measuring just 0.12 mm thick (compared with 0.20 mm on a traditional movement). This highly complex architecture has led to a reversed movement construction, with the bridges fitted on the dial side – an approach that contributes to the inimitable aesthetic of the Altiplano Ultimate Automatic, since they are now visible through the front of the watch. This style vocabulary is further enriched by the going train which is also revealed, extending an irresistible invitation to the owner to let time stand still and revel in admiring this 41 mm-diameter mechanical masterpiece.
At the heart of the world’s thinnest automatic watch
To save these precious tenths of a millimetre, the entire mechanism and hand-fitting is contained within the thickness of the balance wheel, thus entailing an off-centred display of the hours and minutes that is entirely in tune with the emblematic design codes of the Altiplano line. Working within these extremely small confines, Piaget opted for a suspended barrel, held by a single bridge on the dial side, contrary to customary barrels that are also fixed on the mainplate side. The Altiplano Ultimate Automatic enjoys a generous 50-hour power reserve. Driven by the same concern for optimising use of the available space, the oscillating weight in 22K gold with black PVD coating is positioned on the movement periphery so as to be incorporated into its thickness and thus contribute to the overall slimness.
The choice of gold for this technical component is essential as it allows a perfect machining, and it endows the oscillating weight with a weight, an inertia and a robustness guaranteeing excellent winding performance. This type of construction that is embedded in the brand DNA has been applied to another functional subset of this watch: the hours and minutes are integrated within the thickness of the calibre, whereas they tend to be placed on top in standard constructions. A patent has been filed for this major breakthrough aimed at enhancing reliability. When a watch is subjected to strong pressure, its glass is slightly distorted. While this physical phenomenon goes relatively unnoticed on a traditional timepiece, things are very different with an ultrathin watch. Given the fact that spaces are reduced to an absolute minimum, the glass would tend to press against the hands when thus distorted, causing the movement to stop. By fitting the hands below the bridges, Piaget thus frees up space between the cannon-pinion and the glass. If the latter is distorted due to pressure, it no longer pushes on the hands, but instead on the gear-train bridge and thus has no effect on the smooth running of the movement.
Finishing of uncompromising excellence
While Piaget is determined that the extreme slimming down of components in an ultra-thin watch must entail no sacrifices when it comes to reliability, the same holds true for the level of finishing. The Altiplano Ultimate Automatic is no exception to the rule. Machined in the actual watch case, the mainplate has been satin-brushed and sandblasted, while the wheels are alternately sunburst- or circular satin-finished. Hollowed out so as to afford an even better view of the subtle mechanism operating at the heart of the Altiplano Ultimate Automatic, the chamfered bridges are sunburst satin-brushed. The historical “Piaget Automatic” inscription that appeared on the very first ultra-thin timepiece from the Maison also sets the seal on this new watch, thereby paying tribute to the extremely rich history of the line. Finally, the index-assembly bearing the “P” for Piaget adds a final signature to this sophisticated Fine Watchmaking orchestration., Chamfered and sunburst bridges, and black PVD coated screws set the final aesthetic touches to this exceptional watch. Reflecting the aesthetic codes lovingly cultivated by Piaget, all have been meticulously finished in keeping with the finest watchmaking traditions, while the delicate nature of this magnificent craftsmanship is further heightened by the extraordinary thinness of the elements involved.
An exceptional creation in many ways, whereby Piaget expresses its perfect technical mastery, along with its sense of understated and refined elegance, the Altiplano Ultimate Automatic flaunts its contemporary character while celebrating the 60th anniversary of ultra-thin watchmaking. It is the emblem of an authentic revolution in the history of the brand and of watchmaking itself. Never has an Altiplano so richly deserved its name.