Last December, Piaget introduced what is currently the world’s thinnest self-winding watch: the Altiplano Ultimate 910P, which is only 4.30mm thick overall. The presence of a self-winding Altiplano Ultimate naturally raised the question of a hand-wound version. Piaget has just introduced the hand-wound counterpart to the 910P: the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, which is an unbelievable 2mm thick – and that’s not the movement; it’s the thickness of the entire watch. The immediate predecessor to the Ultimate Concept, the 900P, was already almost impossibly thin, at 3.65mm; in the Ultimate Concept, a number of technical features have enabled Piaget to shave off an additional 1.65mm.
No Stranger To Slim
Piaget has been making ultra-thin watches for more than half a century now, and the manufacture is truly one of the industry specialists in the field. The trajectory that has led us to the Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch though really started back in 2013 with the release of the Altiplano 900P.
Why This Watch Matters
This is the latest in a series of watches that have been released by different brands over the last few years, which have increasingly pushed the boundaries of what’s possible in ultra-thin watchmaking. The biggest division has been between those firms which rely on traditional construction – a movement, placed inside a case, which is the strategy used by Piaget’s Richemont Group stablemate Vacheron Constantin (for example) in its Historiques Ultra-Fine 1955 and the much more unusual strategy of using the case itself as the movement plate. That construction is not used in modern watchmaking by any brand other than Piaget although it was pioneered in mechanical watchmaking by Audemars Piguet, who used it for its ultra-thin self-winding tourbillon (the first automatic tourbillon wristwatch in the world and to this day, still the thinnest ever made) caliber 2870, in 1986. The use of this construction is essential to achieving the incredibly slim dimensions of the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept but there are a number of other innovations as well, with a total of five patents pending.
One of the biggest innovations in the Ultimate Concept is in the construction and assembly of the balance and balance spring. There’s no balance cock, and there’s no shock absorbing system, nor are there any jewels for the balance staff – that’s because there’s no balance staff either. Instead, the balance runs in a ball-bearing race set into the back of the watch case, which as we’ve mentioned functions as the base plate of the movement. The balance spring is placed below the balance (which is an inversion of the usual construction) and there’s no conventional regulating index either; instead, adjustment is done via a mobile stud. The omission of the balance cock, shock system and jewels is probably one of the biggest factors responsible for the dramatic reduction in height over the 900P.
The mainspring barrel has no cover; instead, the ratchet wheel acts as the cover and as with the balance, the barrel runs in ball bearings. Despite the flatness of the construction, the mainspring is still able to deliver a 44 hour power reserve.
You’ll also notice that the crown is unusual in shape. The flat crown allows for a flatter case construction than a conventional crown, and instead of the usual winding pinion (a gear which is operated by the crown, and which rotates perpendicular to the plane of the movement in a conventional watch) the Ultimate Concept uses a worm gear, producing another fractions-of-a-millimeter savings. The crown is also recessed into the case, in order to protect the stem from damage.
Finally, the watch crystal is only 0.2mm thick. It’s held in place with a specially formulated epoxy, and there’s no conventional bezel; instead the crystal is affixed to a recess in the case. The case itself is also a high tech material; Piaget’s used a "cobalt-based high tech alloy" (not otherwise specified) to provide the necessary rigidity for the watch to be usable. Some of the very thinnest quartz watches, like the Concord Delirium IV (which was only 0.98mm thick overall) were so thin that the case would actually bend if you strapped on the watch. The systems Piaget has used to secure the crystal and stem in place, and the engineering of the case, mean that the Ultimate Concept is 30 meters water resistant.
This is obviously rather a tremendous feat; it’s also as much a tremendous feat of modern high precision machine fabrication, and high tech materials, as it is of watchmaking per se. However, high tech materials and high precision manufacturing would not be able to produce this watch without some very out-of-the-box watchmaking ideas as well. Every time Piaget comes out with a new iteration of this construction concept in an ultra-thin watch I think they must have reached some sort of absolute practical limit. It feels like that has to be the case with the Ultimate Concept, but who knows what they’ll come up with next.
Model: Altiplano Ultimate Concept
Case Material: "High tech cobalt alloy"
Dial Color: Black
Water Resistance: 30 meters
Strap/Bracelet: Alligator leather and Kevlar, 1.1mm thick
Caliber: No conventional movement; case functions as movement plate
Functions: Hours, minutes, blowing minds
Power Reserve: 44 hours
Frequency: 4Hz (28,800 vph)
Additional Details: ball bearing races for the mainspring barrel and balance
Pricing & Availability
Availability: Concept watch, not currently for sale