A good idea might be the foundational starting point for fantastic things, but it is only in its execution where true lessons are learnt and where real progress is materialized into being. In this regard, one might consider the new Altiplano Ultimate Concept watch from Piaget as the culmination of a journey that began with the Altiplano 900P in 2013, a watch that was able to achieve it’s then record breaking thickness of 3.65mm by making the movement plate and the case, one and the same and by utilizing a new “inverted” movement architecture.
We’ve only recently seen the second instance of a watch from Piaget that utilizes the same method of achieving it’s ultra thin 4.30 mm but this time with an automatic movement in the 910P Altiplano Ultimate Automatic. Announced just last month in the run-up to SIHH 2018, this is a watch that we will also see this year, coming to the fore by claiming the crown for the thinnest automatic watch in the world, with part of the feat achieved via a peripheral rotor around the movement.
Joining this watch for SIHH 2018 as well is the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, a watch that, as Piaget explains, is the result of stretching past the gains in the innovative thinking that was learnt during the creation of the Altiplano 900P, and pushing even more towards the extreme of what is technically possible in the world of the ultra thin watch.
After all, thinness in watchmaking while not strictly adhering to the definition can be considered a “complication” if one compares the technical difficulty in its realization. It is in making an ultra thin movement that works well and reliably that all the disciplines in watchmaking are required to be mastered to the nth degree, since the demands from a design and manufacturing point of view become even greater with the more precise tolerances required.
The Altiplano Ultimate Concept from Piaget’s “Research and Innovation” division is presented as the world’s thinnest mechanical hand-wound watch in the world at just 2.00 mm thick, or the same thickness as their landmark Calibre 9P, a movement that gained Piaget’s place in the ultra-thin game in the first place. Note that the entire watch of the Altiplano Ultimate Concept is the same thickness of the Calibre 9P movement sans case, an amazing achievement in anyone’s book and a fitting tribute to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Altiplano collection.
The basic idea behind the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, starts with the fabrication of the movement plate and case as one, as first realized in the Altiplano 900P and subsequent Altiplano 910P Ultimate Automatic, then working from there to find more ways to make it thinner.
The foundation of this unprecedented watch begins in the choice of an ultra-rigid and robust cobalt-based alloy (known for its hardness) for the case, enabling the watch to retain its shape without bending in spite of its extreme slenderness. In a watch with newly designed wheels with some measuring only 0.12mm thick (compared to 0.20mm on a traditional movement) this is important as their rotation has to occur in a rigid enclosure, or risk stopping if the case is deformed in any way.
On top of this rigid case as well, Piaget has gone even further, by utilizing a crystal that stands at a remarkable 0.2mm thick, one fifth of the thickness of a typical watch, yet still abiding by modern criteria of shock and water resistance of 30 meters.
Still remaining outside the watch, we note as well the recessed crown, that not only keeps the aesthetic lines of the watch intact, but is also the interface by which one utilizes the new control device, allowing selective control of time-setting and winding, (seen at the 3 o’clock position), that utilizes a worm screw instead of the usual sliding pinion, driving a toothed wheel and pinion on the same place as the rotation access, allowing a more compact arrangement of the gears for their respective functions here.
Moving into the movement itself, we find the entirely redesigned construction of the regulating organ, what has been “inverted” to the usual arrangement on a standard watch. With no balance-wheel bridge anymore, what is visible from the front of the watch is the balance spring above the balance wheel (instead of being normally reversed), with the supporting structure of the balance-staff, the inner ring of the ball-bearing mechanism and the roller being one complete part. This is a structure that is able to achieve a significant reduction of thickness in the regulating organ.
Lastly, we find at the 6 o’clock position, a newly designed barrel that reduces the parts count off a normal watch by having no cover and no drum. Instead, the ball-bearing mounted mainspring is attached directly onto the frame (case/movement plate), transmitting its energy from the centre of the barrel, with the ratchet-wheel and core of the barrel arbor (both in one piece), closing it off at the top. Again this method of construction enables a reduction in overall thickness, and allows the watch to offer a decently long 44-hour power reserve.
It should be noted at this point if it were not obvious enough from the name that the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept is not a production watch, and is more a presentation of what the maison can achieve. Still, at this stage of its development, it has certainly shown what technical possibilities are achievable, and what can certainly come forth later on, to be available to buy and own in the future.
Still one, wonders with the word “Ultimate” in its name whether Piaget feels that they have arrived at the limit of what can be achieved in the ultra-thin game, and if there are any more millimeters that can be shaved off in the future. Whatever the case may be, this is a watch that has certainly drawn a line in the sand, beckoning its competitors to come forward to challenge it. Whether it can be done or not, one thing is certain, its going to be a hard act to follow.