Piaget's Newest Watch Is an Electromechanical Marvel
For this one, you need to leave your snobbery about mechanical watches at the door. Piaget's latest creation, the Emperador Coussin XL 700P, uses a new hybrid movement that combines mechanical power with electronic timekeeping. Once you get rid of anti-electric bias, you realize just how awesome this is.
The foundation for this new watch is the Emperador Coussin XL collection, a group of timepieces that blend clean dress-watch looks with the kind of oversize proportions you see more often on sport watches. This bad boy is 46.5 mm across and is solid white gold, meaning it's probably best to start working out your wrist if you want to wear one. The black bezel is ADLC-coated and does a nice job of giving the case some needed contrast and visual structure. While I'm not sure I agree with Piaget's marketing department in describing this watch as elegant or black-tie appropriate, it's certainly striking and handsome.
But the movement is what really matters here. First, a refresher on exactly how a mechanical watch usually works. A standard mechanical watch feeds power from a tightly coiled mainspring (the thing you wind by hand) through to a balance wheel, which swings back and forth three or four times per second, counting out the time. That wheel moves a little fork back and forth, and with each tick and tock, a gear is turned. That gear then turns other gears, and you get hours, minutes, seconds, and whatever other units of time are tracked all from those little movements. That wheel-fork system is called a regulator, and it's what allows a watch to keep time.
Here, Piaget has kept the mechanical spring as the power source and is still using gears to implement the timekeeping, but the mechanism actually keeping the time is a quartz crystal (like what you'd find in, say, a Swatch). What makes it different from a lesser quartz watch, though, is that instead of a little circuit board telling the first hand to move once per second, the quartz crystal regulates the movement of a spinning flywheel, which in turn controls all those other gears. The crystal oscillates at 32,768 Hz vs. the 3 or 4 Hz you get from a traditional watch. This means you get a perfectly smooth seconds hand and a much more accurate watch.
The technology is new for Piaget, but it's not the first to try something like this. Most notably, there's Seiko's Spring Drive line of watches (including the ultra-high-end Credor watches), which all function like this. An engineer at Seiko first had the idea in the ’70s, but the first Spring Drive watches rolled out only in 2005. Piaget decided to go down this route to commemorate the 40th anniversary of its very first quartz movement, the 7P, which was one of the first luxury quartz watches produced in Switzerland, a decendent of the original Beta 21. While Piaget might not be first to the party here, it does seem like a development that makes sense, not simply a bid for customer attention.
To make sure you don't miss anything, Piaget placed both the winding rotor for the mechanical spring and the regulating wheel front and center on the dial. It actually took me a second to find the hands the first time I looked at the 700P (they're down to the right, FYI). The movement is also blackened and skeletonized with polished gears, another way to make sure no one mistakes this for a cheap quartz knock-off.
Piaget has not yet announced a price for this watch, and it really could be anything. It's hard to predict what the R&D costs are to develop technology such as this, especially since only 118 pieces are being made, so we'll have to wait for SIHH in January to see just how expensive this watch is going to be. The big question for me, though, is a larger one: Is this a standalone tribute watch or will Piaget be developing more electromechanical watches down the line? I seriously hope the answer is the latter.