The incredible inner workings of Piaget’s thinnest watch
As the sole watchmaker charged with assembling each and every Altiplano Ultimate Concept leaving Piaget’s doors, Jean Daniel Hoffman has a great responsibility. The world’s thinnest mechanical wristwatch may have only 167 parts, compared to the 269-part tourbillons and 407-part minute repeaters his colleagues contend with, but the fact of the matter is that ultra-thin watches featuring nothing more than the hours and minutes qualify as extreme complications in their own right.
The Piaget Ultimate Concept first launched as a show-stealing proof-of-concept in 2018; now the watch is now in fully commercialised form (confusingly, still with the “Concept” nomination). It’s a mere 2mm-thick whisper of mechanical virtuosity that’s unlikely to be trumped in thinness any time soon – even by the Roman jeweller Bulgari, whose recent records in the field, including world’s slimmest tourbillon, minute repeater, chronograph, etc, must have dented the pride of a brand that had been setting the benchmark in thin watchmaking since 1957.
That was the year Valentin Piaget unveiled the 2mm-thin “9P” movement, in which the svelte yet robust construction lent itself to a broader 20.5 mm dial diameter. The watch carrying it was appropriately the Altiplano, after the pancake-flat Bolivian plateau. The ultimate tuxedo timepiece, it was soon favoured by the likes of Salvador Dali and French filmstar Alain Delon.
The Ultimate Concept is as thick in its entirety, case included, as that 9P movement. Beyond the infinitesimal physics at play enabling components such as the ticking balance assembly, the tightly coiled winding barrel, and the gear-train itself to operate in such tight quarters, something other than the moving parts themselves needed to be slimmed down.
The biggest intuitive leap came some years ago. Piaget pioneered the idea of mounting the movement on the inside surface of the case-back, rather than on a separate baseplate (as would normally be the case), with the gorgeous 900P of 2014. (Piaget wasn’t the first to make this leap, though: it’s a solution from 37 years ago, found in 1983’s revolutionary, injection-moulded Swatch watch.)
So how, then, has this year’s Ultimate Concept shaved another 1.65mm off the 3.65mm thick 900P? The answer, to quote cycling coach Sir Dave Brailsford, is in marginal gains. For a start, the four principal chunks of infrastructure – movement baseplate, case-back, surrounding case ring and crowning bezel – are all CNC-milled as one component from a single piece of cobalt alloy, a material that won’t distort on the wrist even when paper-thin.
Then there’s the balance wheel which, instead of being suspended from a balance bridge – usually the tallest part of any thin movement – now “floats” within a recess in the back plate, oscillating on ball bearings. Further elegance can be found in the “keyless works” or winding crown, whose crown-shaped pinion usually meshes perpendicularly, and bulkily, with a gear connected to the barrel. The 900P-UC replaces the crown pinion with a worm gear, driving the barrel on a single plane. Rather boldly, the crown itself is bar-shaped, stowing flush with the side of the case.
Made to order, the watch is described as “price on application”, though WIRED understands it to be well to the north of 300,000 Swiss francs. Anyone able to get on Jean Daniel Hoffman’s to-do list in the first place is, then, hardly likely to run into someone else wearing the Ultimate Concept. But for those wishing to guarantee absolute individuality, Piaget is offering a customisation service for the watch, with 10,000 possible permutations of baseplate finish, bridge colour, hands and strap style.
Price: £POA | Piaget
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