To follow with the video we just published, it is now time for us to go into all the details about what certainly is THE main technical achievement of the beginning of the year. Piaget smashes all previous records and unveils the ultra-lean 2mm Altiplano Ultimate Concept. What you see in front of you simply is the thinnest mechanical watch ever created… And by far. Ultra-thin redefined!
The domain of a few specialist watchmakers, the creation of ultra-thin watches is a challenging art uniting elegance and the most precise horological technology. It requires a focus on the essentials while working with the most extreme tolerances.
Piaget started life as a watchmaker. Edouard Piaget set up his workshop in 1874 in La Cote-aux-Fées, a small village in the Jura Mountains. Since then, the brand has cultivated a unique horological legacy, specializing in the crafting of ultra-thin watches. Following decades of investment on technical and aesthetic levels, Piaget’s mastery of ultra-slim movements has helped forge the brand’s reputation and identity.
The historical Piaget calibre 9P and 12P
Piaget wrote an important chapter in watchmaking history in 1957 when Valentin Piaget presented the ultra-thin, hand-wound 9P calibre measuring just 2mm thick. In 1960, calibre 12P – with a thickness of just 2.3mm – marked another milestone as the world’s thinnest automatic movement. Over the years, the brand has set numerous world records of thinness with automatic or manual movements, with or without complications. Just a few weeks ahead of SIHH 2018, Piaget regained the record of the thinnest automatic watch with the unveiling of the Altiplano 910p (4.30mm thick, with a peripheral rotor).
The thinnest automatic watch, the Piaget Altiplano 910P
In its quest for infinite slenderness, Piaget has smashed all records for slimness with the unveiling of the 2018 Altiplano Ultimate Concept watch: the thinnest mechanical watch in the world. Following a radical re-engineering, the hand-wound movement has been whittled down a height of just 2mm, the same height as the historical calibre 9P of 1957 (not the full watch, the movement only). To get an idea of the leanness involved, 2mm is thinner than a Swiss five Franc coin or a one Euro coin (which measures 2.35mm thick).
With this stunning development, Piaget conquers the battle of thin. The previous world record holder, the Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Ultra-Thin Squelette, is 3.60 mm thick. The Piaget Altiplano 900P, the thinnest mechanical Piaget watch until now, is 3.65 mm thick. The record holder until 2013, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra-Thin Jubilee is simply twice as thick, at 4.05mm.
The Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept
The Altiplano Ultimate Concept is the result of four years of R&D involving three full-time engineers working alongside watchmakers, designers as well as case and movement constructors. It called for the filing of no fewer than five patents to make the construction as compact as possible and reduce its thickness to the limit of feasibility.
A radical re-engineering of the architecture of a watch involved fusing the case, movement and the bezel into one component. To ensure sufficient rigidity and yet maintain extreme slenderness, an ultra-resistant cobalt alloy was employed. The concept goes even further than that of the 900P. The watch features just two levels. The case back, bezel, main plate and glass on one level and the dial, hands and movement components on the other.
The watch is powered by calibre 900P-UP operating at 28,800 vibrations per hour. Once again, tolerances have been brought down to minimum levels and the movement incorporates numerous innovations to shave off crucial tenths of a millimetre. Several wheels are mounted on ball bearings (eliminating the need for a bridge and explaining the low jewel count) The Altiplano Ultimate Concept incorporates a patented ultra-thin barrel. The ball-bearing mounted mainspring, with no cover and no drum, is integrated into a recess machined directly into the case back. The ratchet wheel and the barrel arbour are one part only and close off the top of the barrel. Despite the incredible finesse of the construction, it allows the Altiplano Ultimate Concept to store up to 44 hours of power reserve. This is rather impressive as it corresponds to the power reserve of many standard watches/movements.
The regulating organ is not held in place by a balance bridge but is cantilevered instead. It pivots on ball bearings directly on the case back without an anti-shock system. The balance wheel is a mono-bloc construction, the balance staff, the inner ring of the ball-bearing mechanism and the roller form an indivisible whole. The hairspring is unusually placed under the balance wheel. The absence of an index assembly is compensated by an adjustable stud.
The winding device is an absolute novelty and the usual sliding pinion has been replaced by an endless screw. The screw is composed of a control stem, a pinion mounted on the stem, as well as a selection lever arranged to establish a kinematic link between the pinion (and thus the stem) and a gear (among a number of gears, each associated with a specific function). The ‘telescopic’ crown is flat, seamlessly recessed into the extra-thin case. A winding tool is provided to wind the watch smoothly.
The glass, which is perfectly integrated into the case, is reduced to an absolute minimum of just 0.2mm compared to the standard 1mm thickness on a regular watch. It is glued: a circular compartment frames the movement and is intended to house the right amount of cement. The thin crystal is put in place using a suction cup. Water resistance is of 3 ATM.
The ultra-thin hours and minutes display is featured at 12 o’clock and integrated directly into the thickness of the movement. A patent filed in 2014 for the launch of the Altiplano 900P allows for the hands to be mounted under the wheel train bridge. This ‘security’ bridge ensures that all moving parts are protected, in case the glass gets deformed.
Like the watch, the leather strap is wafer-thin measuring just 1.1mm thick Crafted in alligator leather with an inner Kevlar reinforcement, the strap is paired with an ultra-thin pin buckle in cobalt alloy. On the wrist, the watch really feels like a second skin… Overall, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept is superb. It looks both technically impressive and beautiful. And it is quite remarkable that the trimming down of the components has not compromised its finishing.
Where do we go from here?
It is pretty hard to imagine that Piaget’s record will be broken in the near future. In any case, the incremental gain would probably be minimal. The world simply obeys the law of physics. The Altiplano Ultimate Concept will not be commercially available and only a few units have been manufactured so far. But concept watches serve two main purposes:
- To steal the show, and one can expect the Altiplano to create some serious buzz at SIHH 2018
- To study and showcase new technical developments or designs. The engineering feat is truly remarkable and we are looking forward to seeing how Piaget will integrate all the innovations (five specific patents) in their future models!
Hats-off to Piaget for creating this record-thin Altiplano Ultimate Concept and for pushing the limits of the ultra-thin watch. For more information about Piaget, please visit www.piaget.com.