Published on January 25th, 2018 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
Altiplano Ultimate Concept the world’s thinnest self-winding watch
The year 2018 will prove an excellent vintage for the Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie Piaget! Demonstrating inexhaustible vitality in its quest for infinite slenderness, the Maison is establishing two world records setting the crowning touch to the 60th anniversary celebrations of its iconic Altiplano collection.
The first with the 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 movement – Calibre 9P – to which it pays eloquent tribute. A new high point in the quest for supreme thinness, stemming from a combination of tradition and creative strength. This technical and aesthetic prodigy stems from four years of research and development and involved a team of three engineers working in closer cooperation with watchmakers, designers, case and movement constructors at every stage of its creation. It also called for the implementation of unprecedented technical solutions pushing the boundaries of micromechanics and for the filing of five patents. This model represents a successful feat of miniaturisation that only Piaget could pull off, as it perpetually lives up to its motto “Always do better than necessary”. Nurtured by its unique 2mm of exceptional horology for the world’s thinnest mechanical watch history and its exceptional mastery of ultra-thin horology, Piaget once again reaffirms its singularity and boldly raises the issues of miniaturisation’s technical limits that the Manufacture continues to roll back… and does so while unfailingly demonstrating its extreme concern for elegance.
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. The watershed moment in this quest occurred in 1957 with the launch of the hand-wound Calibre 9P. One of the world’s thinnest mechanical movements of that period at just 2mm thick, this now legendary calibre enabled the brand to distinguish itself both in the realm of ultra-thin watchmaking, as well as through the emergence of a unique style: that of the eminently pure and elegant Altiplano. 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.
The Altiplano Ultimate revolution
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 ultra- thin 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. In this quest for slenderness that has become the signature of the Manufacture de Haute Horlogerie Piaget, this taste for technical challenges is tinged with another challenge: that of achieving true elegance and style. The pleasure of wearing a technical masterpiece on the wrist is consistently matched by aesthetic pleasure, along with uncompromising reliability and top-level finishing, even on hidden elements, for timepieces that become like a second skin for the owner.
Altiplano Ultimate Concept, a distillation of high technology in just 2mm
To give birth to this masterful demonstration of Piaget’s supremacy in the realm of ultra-thin horology, the Manufacture tasked its R&D team with achieving a simple and yet difficult goal: making the construction as compact as possible so as to reduce its thickness to the limits of feasibility, while making no concessions in terms of its reliability and aesthetic appeal. Once again, the engineers, designers, constructors and watchmakers of the Maison came up with previously unimagined solutions, paving the way for unprecedented miniaturisation. To save precious tenths of a millimetre, this exceptional timepiece called for the use of a new ultra-rigid and robust cobalt-based high-tech alloy enabling the watch not to buckle despite its extreme slenderness. The model picks up the “2 in 1” structure characterising the Altiplano Ultimate collection 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 ballbearing 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 ballbearing-mounted mainspring is directly integrated within the frame. Guided on the outside by the ballbearing 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.
As far as Piaget is concerned, the extreme trimming down of the components of an ultra-thin watch must in no way compromise its reliability, and the same goes for the level of finishing. 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 watchmaking traditions, through a patient process rendered even more delicate by the extraordinary slimness of the elements. Setting the crowning touch to this masterpiece of finesse, an ultra-thin 1.1mm thick alligator leather strap with a Kevlar core and a velvet calfskin lining is secured by a likewise ultra-thin pin buckle.
Today more than ever, ultra-thin is the “complication” at the heart of the research and strategy pursued by Piaget. The Altiplano Ultimate line vividly testifies to its hegemony in this domain, based on a constant quest for innovative solutions and the recurrent setting of new thinness records. 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, that connoisseurs will subsequently find incorporated within the brand’s series-produced models. Just how far can the limits of elegance in the field of ultra-thin be pushed?