Anyone concerned that they may leave Watches&Wonders – which ran until early October in Hong Kong – without having learned all there was to know about Piaget’s Altiplano 38mm 900P needn’t have worried long. With such an impressive list of achievements in extra-thin timepieces, crowned by a double record for the thinnest self-winding watch in the world (5.25mm), a title claimed in 2010 by the 1208P calibre (2.35mm), and for the thinnest ever hand-wound watch with this very Altiplano 900P (3.65mm case included), a brand has every right to be proud and say it loud! All the more so when this double record is one of many: since 1957 and the legendary 9P movement (2mm), Piaget has never ceased to innovate in the uncompromising world of extra-thin. Of the 37 calibres which the Maison has produced since that date, 25 are considered extra-thin, and 14 of these have notched up a record in their respective category. The latest to date is this year’s Altiplano 900P whose “secret” is to use the case back as its mainplate.
A question of identity
“It seems everyone, or just about, is trying their hand at extra-thin,” boomed Philippe Léopold-Metzger, Chief Executive of Piaget, at the fair. “As though it had suddenly occurred to them that extra-thin is a cornerstone of elegance in watchmaking. At Piaget, we couldn’t be further from following a trend. Extra-thin is an integral part of the brand’s identity. In fact we were the first proponents of extra-thin as a complication in its own right. Strangely enough, everyone now agrees.” In fact this is more than a consensus among watchmakers. Who isn’t claiming the concept of extra-thin? asks Pierre Guerrier, Watch Product Team Manager at Piaget: “From mobile phones to tablets, there isn’t a single portable device that hasn’t been put on a diet.”
As diets go, extra-thin has always given Piaget food for thought, and this has placed the brand in the enviable position of pioneer. As though the 900P weren’t already sufficient confirmation of the Maison’s talent, it gave further demonstration at Watches&Wonders with the unveiling of an extra-thin timepiece with a skeleton movement, thus combining its two major specialities with the added spice of engraving, enamelling or gem-setting. This Altiplano Skeleton Automatic is driven by the 1200S calibre, another record-breaker from 2012, this time with enamelled plate and bridges. Piaget proposes six in white enamel and six in black, each 5.34mm high including the case. “This really was a huge challenge, given how thin the movement is,” Pierre Guerrier recalls. “The first firings to solidify the enamel were a disaster. The movements came out of the kiln like metal pellets. It took us a year to find the right composition for the enamel, and another two years to master firing. When enamel cools down, it has a tendency to break if the substrate is deformed. You can imagine what this implies for the components in a calibre just 2.4mm high!”
We used to be masters of extra-thin timepieces. Today we are the masters of extra-thin timepieces.
Drive home a message
On top of this, visitors were able to feast their eyes on another Altiplano Skeleton whose bridges and plate are entirely hand-engraved, some on both sides. This is quite an achievement, considering the engraver must incise the metal on parts just 0.7mm thick. Equally stunning is the gem-set version of the movement, the 1200D calibre presented in 2013. The crowning glory of the collections on show, however, was the Emperador Coussin Tourbillon Diamond-Set Automatic Skeleton, a unique piece as befits its place in the Exceptional Pieces collection. “We set no limit on the budget for this watch. The movement measures just 5.71mm high, has gold bridges and plate, and is set with diamonds on both sides. The sides of the bridges and the case are also set with diamonds, as are the rings around the flying tourbillon and the oscillating weight,” explained Philippe Léopold-Metzger. “Even certain screws are set with diamonds. Any surface that isn’t diamond-set is mirror-polished. We made this watch once already with a leather strap for the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, in January this year. We are now proposing a version with a diamond-set bracelet.”
Piaget’s CEO is adamant that its objective for the Hong Kong fair isn’t to “make money” but to demonstrate that the brand’s skills lie as much in artistic expression as in technical expertise. “We used to be masters of extra-thin timepieces. Today we are the masters of extra-thin timepieces.”