Compiling complications in a small space like the movement of a mechanical wristwatch, which usually measures 25mm to 30mm diameter and can include up to 500 parts (or even more), isn’t an easy task, especially when it comes to chronographs, minute repeaters or automatons. Miniaturization has always been on of the greatest challenges of watchmakers. And this leads us to this article, as ultra-thin watches are a very interesting category, and overall an extremely challenging one in terms of R&D. Here are 6 Ultra-Thin Watches that break records.
The world’s thinnest mechanical watch (all categories included) – Jaeger LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Squelette
Now we can ensure you that this Jaeger LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Squelette is a pure technical achievement. OK, it breaks the previous world’s record for the thinnest mechanical watch from only 0.05mm – which is the diameter of an average human hair, so to say, nothing. However, it does it with style and without exotic solutions. It is a watch, with a mechanical movement placed in-between two layers of sapphire crystal – so, a normal way to be built.
Before Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced the Master Ultra Thin Squelette in 2015, the world’s record was in the hands of Piaget (no surprise here, ultra-thin watches are their hallmark) with the Altiplano 900P. This watch measured 3.65mm thick. However, this watch is rather unique in its construction, as the caseback is used as main plate for the movement – a solution found to gain space, as well as moving the hands off the center of the watch, in order to prevent some wheels to overlap. Before this one, the title of the slimmest watch was held by Jaeger-LeCoultre, with the Master Ultra Thin 1907 (measuring 4.05mm thin). The world’s record 3.60mm Jaeger LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Squelette is actually the skeletonized version of this watch… Yes, JLC achieved to have a watch thinner by opening its movement! (usually, skeleton watches are thicker than normal watches). So it is also the world’s thinnest skeleton watch and the world’s thinnest skeleton movement.
The world’s thinnest chronograph – Piaget Altiplano Chronograph Flyback
Piaget is back in the game, with the slimmest chronograph. This Altiplano is indeed the world’s thinnest chronograph and it features the world’s thinnest chronograph movement. The watch itself measures 8.24mm height… which compared to the previous watch seems rather thick. However, you have to take into account several inherent facts about a chronograph. First of all, it features several hands running on the dial – and the central hands have to pass over the other hands on the dial, meaning that it’s like a pile of 4 hands, one on top of each other. Then, a chronograph movement is composed of a normal movement and of the parts used for the chronograph, meaning levers, gears, column-wheel, clutch and pusher mechanism… And even if these parts are integrated into the movement and not attached as a module on the top, it requires more space.
Piaget achieved to design a movement with column-wheel chronograph that measures only 4.65mm thick. And on top of that, it also features a flyback mechanism, a vertical clutch (and this is a rather thick part) and a dual-time function, as well as boasting 50 hours of power reserve – which isn’t bad for such a thin movement.
The world’s thinnest Tourbillon movement – Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon
Before going into the details of the Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon, let’s look back at what is a tourbillon. A tourbillon is a device that encloses the regulating organ in a cage rotating on an axis, on 360 degrees, usually once per minute. Meaning that, because of this construction, it should be thicker than a normal regulating organ.
When looking back a few years ago, several watches fought for the title of the world’s thinnest tourbillon. In 2013, Arnold & Son introduced the UTTE, which was, at that time, the thinnest manually-wound tourbillon, with a case measuring 8.34mm and a movement measuring 2.97mm. Then, in 2014, Breguet introduced the Classique Tourbillon Extra-Thin Automatic 5377, which measured only 7mm thick – and with a self-winding movement, via a peripheral rotor.
Finally, in 2015, Bvlgari came with the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon. The movement here measures ONLY 1.95mm thick, meaning the equivalent of an extra human hair compared to the JLC movement – and this, considering the presence of a tourbillon. This was possible by implementing a flying tourbillon (attached only by one side to the movement) and several innovative industrialization processes. However, its case measures 5mm thick (which remains pretty impressive), and thus, this is not the thinnest tourbillon watch ever manufactured. It features the thinnest tourbillon movement and it is the thinnest tourbillon actually available on the market. But there’s one that shouldn’t be forgotten.
The world’s thinnest Tourbillon watch – The 1986 Audemars Piguet 25643 with Ultra Thin Automatic Tourbillon Caliber 2870
Image to be credited to Hodinkee.com
This watch might be the hidden gem, the forgotten beauty… Indeed, the Audemars Piguet 25643 with Ultra Thin Automatic Tourbillon Caliber 2870 measures only 4.8mm. So yes, this is the thinnest tourbillon watch. Period! This watch is also one of the first tourbillon watches produced in series, the first tourbillon watch to be recorded featuring a cage made out of titanium and it comes with a self-winding mechanism… A feature that is space-consuming. The most amazing fact is that this watch was produced in 1986, at a time where CAD, CNC machines or LIGA technology were not available (all now used in watchmaking to facilitate the work of watchmakers and to achieve slimmer, more robust or simply better movements). This is simply brilliant and this Audemars Piguet 25643 with Ultra Thin Automatic Tourbillon Caliber 2870 shouldn’t be forgotten in the books, as being the thinnest Tourbillon watch and at the same time the thinnest automatic tourbillon watch – see more on hodinkee.com here, in a dedicated article.
The world’s thinnest Skeleton Tourbillon – The Arnold and Son UTTE Skeleton
Not happy with the fact that they lost their title with the UTTE, this year at Baselworld 2016, Arnold and Son introduced the world’s thinnest skeleton tourbillon, with the Arnold and Son UTTE Skeleton we showed to you a few days ago. It is based on the normal edition and even by opening the bridges and plates of the movement, the case of the UTTE Skeleton still measures a thin 8.34mm (the same height as the non-opened edition) – even if its movement is slightly thicker at 3.30mm (vs. 2.94mm). Combining open-worked bridges with a ultra-thin profile isn’t an easy task, especially when it comes to the rigidity of the bridges and wheels, which are of course super-thin. However, Arnold and Son, a rather small but highly productive manufacture, achieved it.
The world’s thinnest Minute Repeater – Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater
Bvlgari again… and this time with the world’s thinnest minute repeater movement and minute repeater watch ever manufactured. Until now, several watches held this title. First, it was Vacheron Constantin, with the Patrimony Ultra-Thin Calibre 1731, which was, at the time of its introduction, the world’s thinnest minute repeater caliber and thinnest minute repeater watch – with a 8.09mm case and a 3.9mm movement. Then, in 2014, Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced the Hybris Mechanica 11, which was the world’s thinnest minute repeater watch (and also the world’s thinnest automatic minute repeater watch). Its case measures an impressive 7.9mm and features a peripheral rotor to wind the barrel. However, its movement is thicker than the Vacheron Constantin at 4.8mm (vs. 3.9mm).
This year, at Baselworld 2016, Bvlgari breaks the two previous records, with the world’s thinnest minute repeater watch and the world’s thinnest minute repeater movement. The Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, made out of titanium, measures overall 6.85mm (1.05mm less than the JLC) and features a manual-wind movement, the in-house BVL Caliber 362, which measures only 3.12mm (0.78mm less than the VC). Another specificity of this watch sits in the cut-outs on the dial, which created openings that serve to amplify the resonance inside the case and thereby optimize the sound effect. Again another impressive piece of engineering.