Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept – The World’s Thinnest Mechanical Watch

Demonstrating inexhaustible vitality in its quest for infinite slenderness, the Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie Piaget is establishing two world records setting the crowning touch to the 60th anniversary celebrations of its iconic Altiplano collection. First is Altiplano Ultimate Automatic, the world’s thinnest self-winding watch at just 4.30mm thick. The second with the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, developed by the Piaget “Research and Innovation” division: the world’s thinnest mechanical hand-wound watch at just 2mm thick, the same size as the historical Calibre 9P .

Born in 1874 as a movement manufacturer in the village of La Côte-aux-Fées, before becoming an internationally renowned brand, Piaget has continuously sought innovative solutions in the field of infinite slenderness. Launched in 1957, the hand-wound Calibre 9P was one of the world’s thinnest mechanical movements of that period at just 2mm thick. This legendary calibre enabled the brand to distinguish itself in the realm of ultra-thin watch-making. Also, the legendary Altiplano line was emerged. While Calibre 9P was to have a decisive influence on the watch industry, the new movement on which Valentin Piaget was working would fully establish the reputation of the Maison.

The 2.3mm thick Calibre 12P unveiled at the 1960 Basel Fair was a milestone in watchmaking history: the world’s thinnest self-winding movement at the time. Continuing to cultivate its heritage with brilliant ingenuity, Piaget can lay claim to a proud lineage of ultra-thin mechanical movements, both hand-wound and self-winding, with or without complications and resulting from decades of creativity, inventions and investments on both technical and aesthetic levels.

In a world where records tend to be surpassed by tenths of a millimetre, the Altiplano watch line represents an authentic revolution. It stems from a merging of the skills cultivated by two Manufactures: one in La Côte-aux-Fées where the movements are developed; and the other in Plan-les-Ouates, where the watch exterior components are designed and crafted in complete synergy with the watchmakers.

For the 140th anniversary of the Maison, in 2014, Piaget launched a revolutionary concept watch: the Altiplano 900P whose construction broke free of the binary vision of the movement and case – with the latter serving as the baseplate – in establishing a world record for the slimmest mechanical watch at the time. Its highly complex architecture entailed an inverted movement construction.

In 2018, as Piaget continues to celebrate 60 years of the Altiplano saga, the Altiplano Ultimate Automatic and the Altiplano Ultimate Concept provide a masterful new demonstration of Piaget’s supremacy in the domain of ultrathin calibres and timepieces. Models embodying every possible superlative, they are setting two new and significant world records, as respectively the world’s thinnest mechanical self-winding and mechanical hand-wound watches.

The goal was simple and yet difficult: Make the construction compact as possible to reduce its thickness to the limits of feasibility, while making no concessions in terms of its reliability and aesthetic appeal. A new ultra-rigid and robust cobalt-based high-tech alloy enables the watch not to buckle despite its extreme slenderness. The model picks up the “2 in 1” structure that erases the distinction between movement and watch exterior, since the case is both an exterior component and the movement baseplate.

All the elements of the calibre and case have been rethought, designed and developed with a view to achieving extreme slimness, with some wheels measuring just 0.12mm thick (compared with 0.20mm on a traditional movement). Within this mechanism, tolerances are measured in hundredths of a millimetre, meaning that the artisans and watchmakers must display the kind of deftness acquired only by years of practice. The thickness of the watch crystal has also been reduced to just 0.2mm as against 1mm for a standard watch. But above all, five patents have been filed for the technological innovations featured in the Altiplano Ultimate Concept. The inverted movement that contributes to the distinctive aesthetic of the Altiplano Ultimate enables a clear view of the various elements well deserving of this patent protection.

At 9 o’clock, mounted on a ball-bearing mechanism fitted directly on the frame, the construction of the regulating organ has been entirely redesigned. The balance wheel bridge has vanished, as has the traditional structure in which the regulating organ is mounted on incabloc shock absorbers. The balance-staff, the inner ring of the ball bearing mechanism and the roller form an indivisible whole. Within this layout, the balance wheel and spring are pinned up to the collet and inverted, meaning that the balance wheel appears above the balance-spring, whereas the latter is usually pinned up to the collet. The absence of an index assembly is compensated by an adjustable balance-spring stud. This set of solutions enables a significant reduction in the thickness of the regulating organ, while guaranteeing its precision and its isochronism.

At 6 o’clock, the innovatively designed barrel also features a special and distinctive construction. It has no cover and no drum. The ball-bearing-mounted mainspring is directly integrated within the frame. Guided on the outside by the ball-bearing mechanism, it transmits its energy via the latter’s inner ring. The ratchet wheel and core of the barrel arbor are all of a piece and close off the top of the barrel. This technical construction also ensures that this movement component is compact and thus contributes to the overall thinness. It also serves to avoid reducing the autonomy of the movement, enabling the Altiplano Ultimate Concept to offer a generous 44-hour power reserve.

At 3 o’clock, the control device has also been revisited. Its design enables selective control of a time-setting and winding device or of any other mechanism relating to a function, such as a date or moon-phase corrector that might in due course be added to this type of construction. This is a major innovation opening up whole new vistas in the field of ultra-thinness as applied to complication watches. More specifically, this device is composed of a control stem, a pinion mounted on the stem, as well as a selection lever arranged so as to establish a kinematic link between the pinion (and thus the stem) and a gear (among a number of gears). These gears are each associated with a specific mechanism, thus enabling selective control of a corresponding function. To achieve this, the usual sliding pinion takes the form of a worm screw and can thus directly drive a toothed wheel and pinion on the same plane as the rotation axis (instead of being superimposed). The selection lever is fitted with an intermediate wheel and pinion arranged in such a way that it can selectively mesh with each of the gears (and their respective functions). The use of a single intermediate wheel and pinion to enable selective coupling with one or other of the gears reduces the number of components and thus makes the device particularly compact.

Replacing the usual kind of crown and thus avoiding any protuberance on the side, a flat-shaped “telescopic” crown is recessed into the caseband and secured to the stem via a spring clip. This construction ensures the crown is perfectly integrated within the caseband and protects it from any improper handling or impacts that might damage the movement.

Finally, while the thickness of the watch crystal is reduced to an absolute minimum (0.2mm), it must nonetheless meet the modern criteria of shock resistance and water resistance (3 ATM). The crystal must be perfectly positioned and accurately aligned with the bezel which, in the case of the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, is integrated with the case (whereas in a classic construction the crystal is integrated with the bezel which is then placed on the case to close it). It is also perfectly cemented in place. Too much cement would be detrimental to the alignment, whereas too little would not guarantee a perfectly hermetic seal. In response to this challenge, the fitting of the crystal has been rethought. Piaget has designed a space in the form of a circular compartment juxtaposing the bezel and intended to house the exact quantity of cement required to secure the movement in place and ensure the perfect positioning of the crystal.

These five patents are joining the one filed in 2014 for the launch of the Altiplano 900P and relating to the hand-fitting. The latter is mounted under the bridges, contrary to a classic construction in which it is be placed on top, and thereby freeing up space between the cannon-pinion and the crystal. When the latter is distorted by pressure, a phenomenon that is relatively imperceptible for a traditional watch but significant for an ultra-thin watch with lower safety tolerances, it no longer presses on the hands but instead on the going-train bridge and thus has no effect on the rate of the movement.

Attired in a cobalt-based high-tech alloy, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept displays a supremely elegant and technical appearance. Machined directly in the watch case, the baseplate has been given a black PDV treatment like that of the caseback, while the wheels feature alternate sunburst or circular satin-brushed finishing. Cut-out so as to reveal more fully the subtle mechanism operating at the heart of the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, the chamfered bridges are sunburst satin-brushed so as to further enhance this exceptional watch. Reflecting Piaget’s cherished aesthetic codes, all have been meticulously finished in keeping with the noblest watch-making traditions, through a patient process rendered even more delicate by the extraordinary slimness of the elements.

The watch is fitted with an ultra-thin 1.1mm thick alligator leather strap with a Kevlar core and a velvet calfskin lining is secured by an ultra-thin pin buckle.

A non-commercialised concept watch, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept embodies an authentic revolution in the ultra-thin field, opening up new technological prospects for the Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie Piaget. The connoisseurs will subsequently find these feats incorporated within the brand’s series-produced models.

Technical details
Model: Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept, G0A43900

Case
Diameter: 41 mm
World’s thinnest mechanical hand-wound watch
Thickness: 2.0mm (case + movement)
Watch made from a cobalt-based high-tech alloy
Calibre and watch exterior merge as one
Rectangular-shaped crown recessed into the caseband
Monobloc bezel integrated into the frame
0.2mm thick crystal

Strap
Alligator leather and Kevlar strap, 1.1mm thick
Ultra-thin pin buckle

Movement
Caliber: Piaget 900P-UC
Development time: four years
Five patents pending
Power reserve: approx. 44 hours
Frequency: 28,800 vph/ 4 Hz
Number of jewels: 13
Functions: Hours, Minutes offset at 12 o’clock
Finishing: black PVD-treated and satin-brushed baseplate and caseback, polished case
Total weight: 21.7g

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