Hunting for superlatives has always been an integral part of the watch industry. Whether it is the most expensive, the fastest beating or the hardest watch in the world, watch brands just love to outdo each other in various disciplines – much to the delight of all us watch fans out here.
However, the undisputed supreme discipline is and forever will be the height (or flatness for that matter). This is where you can see what a watch manufacturer is truly made of and whether it is – quite literally – capable of reinventing the (balance) wheel, instead of just finding ways to add even more diamonds to a case.
Our Top 3 list provides clarity on what micro-engineering these days is capable of, so buckle up for three spectacular watches. (Note: We will only focus on fully cased and mechanical watch movements, i.e. final wristwatches, and not single calibers.)
For decades, Piaget has been considered an expert when it comes to producing particularly flat movements. As early as 1957, Valentin Piaget presented the hand-wound 9P movement, which outstripped all fellow competitors with a thickness of just 2 mm. Only soon after, in 1960, the next world record followed in the form of the flattest automatic movement in the world. With the caliber 12P, Piaget unveiled an imposing caliber that was only 0.3mm taller than the 9P thanks to its micro-rotor.
However, a flat movement alone is not enough, as it must somehow be housed into an equally flat case (including case back, sapphire crystal, etc.) of course. Well, this is where the fun begins.
In 2013, Piaget achieved what had previously been thought impossible: a completely functional hand-wound watch that only measures 3.65 mm in height. For that, the Piaget Altiplano 900P had a special trick up its sleeve: The 38mm white gold case made use of an “integrated case construction,” where parts of the case also act as part of the movement itself. In the case of the Altiplano 900P, for example, the steel case back also serves as the main plate of the ultra-thin movement. Special circumstances do require special measures after all.
Piaget was able to rest on its laurels of having produced the “flattest mechanical wristwatch in the world” for around two years, before none other than Jaeger-LeCoultre made an appearance with the Master Ultra-Thin Squelette. With a case height of 3.60 mm, it was a full 0.05 mm flatter than the Altiplano.
The watch is not only flat as heck, but also a playground of rare handcrafts – a whole 180 actually, according to JLC. In addition to the skeletonized movement, the Master Ultra-Thin Squelette features a partially enameled and guillochéd dial, which shines in a matte maroon color. In addition to the rose gold version shown here, the brand also offers models with mother-of-pearl engraving and gem-setting along the bezel. (However, the latter then comes to a height of 4.73mm, which is entirely due to the diamonds).
When Piaget first presented the concept watch to the watch trade press in 2018, you could clearly see some jaws dropping. After all, Piaget managed to build a watch that was only 2 mm(!) flat. (To put this into perspective, this is equivalent to the thickness of 25 human hairs and flatter than a €2 coin. Or simply put: nuts!). However, the pièce unique had one a catch: At that time of unveiling, it was still considered too fragile to be worn on the wrist.
Nonetheless, fast forward two years and the situation was a different one. Piaget presented a watch to coincide with Watches & Wonders 2020 (and this time no longer as a concept watch) that was not only a whopping 1.65 mm thinner than its predecessor from 2013, but this time also ready for usage.
Piaget again relied on the tried and tested “integrated case construction” that was used five years earlier on the Altiplano 900P. Even though Piaget is considered a pioneer in this technology, the approach is actually older than one might first suspect. As early as 1983, Swatch introduced an injection molding process in which the plastic case also acted as a main plate for the movement components. It goes without saying that Piaget’s high-end watch no longer shares many similarities with Swatch’s injection molding, but the basic idea remains interestingly enough.
Because conventional materials were out of the question in view of the extreme requirements for this watch, Piaget had to be inventive. The result was a special cobalt alloy case that is more than twice as hard as gold and thus still offers the delicate 900P-UC manual-winding caliber sufficient protection. With a height of 2.00 mm, the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept is today the thinnest mechanical watch in the world.
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