Piaget stole the show at the 2018 Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie with the unveiling of the remarkable Altiplano Ultimate Concept (please read more about here)- the thinnest mechanical watch in the world.
Measuring a gossamer 2mm, the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept served as a stage for numerous Piaget innovations, including a case that formed part of the movement, a unique, integrated winding crown, an ultra-thin crystal and, more importantly, new constructions for the barrel and energy regulation. Thanks to this evolution, the power reserve of the Altiplano Ultimate Concept extended to more than 40 hours, a benchmark in the canon of ultra-thin watches…
But what people wanted to know was whether or not such a complex and technically advanced watch could ever be produced commercially and, if so, would it be a practical proposition for daily use?
In 2020, Piaget is proud to announce that the answers to those two questions are ‘yes’ and ‘yes’ – because the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept replica is no longer just an ambitious experiment in pushing the boundaries of horological micro-engineering, but a fully developed, tried and tested watch that is now available for watch lovers and collectors to buy, own and use.
The Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept was developed and produced entirely in-house by Piaget’s dedicated Research and Innovation division. The team worked solely on the prototype for four years – during which time many of the established codes of watch making were re-invented – and spent a further two years perfecting the design and engineering in order to bring the watch to your wrist. To reach the goal of creating a watch just 2mm thick – a remarkable feat which established a new world record – the team had to abandon conventional thinking. Bear in mind, this watch is only as thick as a 1 Euro coin, thinner than most after dinner mints and the same height as just two credit cards stacked together!
Classical design dictates a standard four-layers construction: bezel and crystal; dial, hands and movement encapsulated in a case and case back. Piaget, the master of thin watches since 1957, had already used the fusion concept in its 900P in 2014 (3.65mm) – the world’s thinnest mechanical watch at that time.
With such specific engineering, the traditional movement mainplate disappeared, the case back being used both as part of the case and the movement mainplate, directly carved from one single block of gold. In 2018, Piaget pushed the concept even further by launching the Altiplano Ultimate Automatic which, at just 4.3mm thick, became the world’s thinnest gold watch.With the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, the only option was to go one step further. Piaget embarked on a journey of unprecedented miniaturisation that resulted in the filing of no fewer than five patents, the process beginning with the creation of a case for the watch into which the movement baseplate is directly machined.
Too thin to use gold, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept case had to be made from a new, cobalt- based alloy that is highly resistant, 2.3 times stronger than gold and, therefore, much more difficult to machine. Other parts were entirely re-engineered and re-sized, with wheels, for example, being reduced from a conventional 0.20mm thick to 0.12mm and the sapphire crystal, normally 1mm thick in a standard watch, being pared-down by 80 per cent to a scarcely believable 0.2mm.
The mainspring barrel (the source of power that drives the mechanism) is also of an entirely new design that has no cover or drum but is mounted on a single, ceramic ball-bearing within the frame of the watch and enables the fully-wound movement to run for up to 40 hours.
The crown, meanwhile, has been re-invented to take the form of a flat, telescopic system (with its own, specially-designed winding tool) that fits flush with the case band and in which the conventional sliding pinion clutch and crown wheel are substituted for a single, ‘infinite screw’. Such a construction offers the great advantage of perfectly protecting the crown, and therefore the movement, from unwanted shock.
The dial’s off-centre position, meanwhile, meant that a conventional, straight winding stem could not be used – a problem Piaget solved by creating a patented ‘staggered’ stem. In order for the system to function perfectly, the conventional hour hand is replaced with a revolving indicator disc while the minute hand works in the usual way. So incredibly thin is the Altiplano Ultimate Concept that a mere 0.12 mm of cobalt separates the movement from the wearer’s skin – close your eyes, and you will struggle to believe you are actually wearing it.
The degree of thinness of this watch also means that even the method of indicating the time had to be re-thought. Instead of having a dial and two hands placed on top of a bridge, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept features a dial that lies beneath it, thus providing protection from any contact with the strong but wafer-thin crystal should it be momentarily deformed in an impact. This innovative technical feature is a patent registered by Piaget in 2014 (for the launch of 900P caliber).
Indeed, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept belies its wafer-like appearance by probably being tough enough to withstand everything from the level of G-Force experienced in an aerobatic jet to the force of a meteorite crashing to Earth!
Although the Altiplano Ultimate Concept measures a mere 2mm thick, it contains a remarkable 167 individual parts, many of which have had to be produced to microscopically small dimensions in order for the goal of ultimate thinness to be met.
Nevertheless, Piaget’s strict parameters of accuracy, reliability and robustness all had to be upheld, as did the Maison’s reputation for producing exquisitely hand-decorated movements.Clearly, the minuscule size of many components presented a challenge in this area – not least since the slightest error of judgement could result in the inadvertent destruction of a vital part.
But Piaget’s artisans rose to the challenge, embellishing the movement with sunburst and satin-brushed finishes, chamfered and polished bridges and enhancing the appearance of the combined case/baseplate with a sophisticated PVD treatment.And, in order that the quest for slimness and practicality should be maintained throughout the watch, a special alligator skin strap and a blue baltimor technical textile strap were developed. They are all ultra-thin, featuring a velvet calfskin lining and an ultra-strong Kevlar – secured, of course, by an ultra-thin cobalt pin buckle.