Hands-on With the Thinnest Mechanical Watch in the World

Piaget’s concept Altiplano measures a scant 2mm
Source: Hodinkee

Originally published by Jack Forster on Hodinkee. 

The Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch has a name that invites challengers, but challengers may find it a tough fight. We brought you an introduction to this watch – the thinnest hand-wound watch in the world, at only 2mm thick overall (that's not the movement, it's the entire watch) a short while ago, and we finally had a chance to handle it here at the SIHH. We didn't put it on for a wrist shot as Piaget is treating it (understandably) with kid gloves, but it's pretty astonishing just to see it in person. Two millimeter thick watches don't come around every day, after all – as a matter of fact, they never come around, and never have come around, until now.

The Piaget Ultimate Concept Watch, 2mm of undiluted horological ingenuity.
Source: Hodinkee

There are always a few watches at every show about which everyone seems to have an opinion, and of course everyone has an opinion about this one; I've heard everything from dismissiveness (on the grounds that it's a dead end and in any event, impractical) to undiluted admiration. To me the criticisms of impracticality are certainly fair, on a certain level. This is never going to be the kind of watch or the kind of watchmaking that is in general circulation. However I also think that such criticism somewhat misses the point. Watchmaking for all its five hundred or so years of history has never been "about" any one thing; it has produced absurdly impractical mechanical eye (and ear) candy, to grim, steely-eyed precision chronometer wristwatches, and everything – and I do mean everything – in between. Like the recently announced URWERK AMC (atomic master clock) project, it's watchmaking as a form of conceptual art; and besides, there is quite a lot of ingenious engineering going on as well.

The keyless works for winding and setting, with Piaget's patented worm-gear system.
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As we mentioned in our Introducing story, the Ultimate Concept represents a particular kind of approach, from an engineering standpoint, to ultra thin watchmaking. There's no separate movement; instead, the planes of what would be the dial in a conventional watch, and the caseback, perform the function of plates and bridges and keep the train wheels, motion work, and keyless works for winding and setting, all in place.

The mainspring barrel has no conventional cover or barrel bridge.
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I wasn't expecting the watch to have as much visual depth as it does in person; at 2mm, I assumed it would essentially seem two dimensional. But because all the components are exposed, in a way it actually has more visual depth than a conventional watch. It also has a somewhat more balanced appearance than Piaget's 900P, thanks to the difference in layout – despite its frosty modernity, it's in some ways a rather traditional looking timepiece.

The unusual winding crown is held in place with a minute spring clip.

Source: Hodinkee
Source: Hodinkee

This is a concept watch, which means of course that it doesn't have to cope with the rigors of daily use, and of course I can't help but wonder how it would fare if worn as a daily wear watch, or even as an occasional watch. Watches that push the boundaries of flatness are generally more fragile than not, and the most most extremely thin watches and movements are notorious for being difficult for both owners and watchmakers – the ultra thin Jean Lassale calibers from the 1970s, for instance, were basically impossible to service; servicing a watch using one of these calibers generally meant simply replacing the movement, and Concord's incredibly flat quartz Delirium watches could actually bend, to the point that they'd stop, if you tightened the strap too hard. Were Piaget to sell these watches, even as a limited series, it seems certain that they would require a degree of prudence on the part of the owner, so for now, they remain concept watches only, which is a shame – nobody can take one out into the world and wear one, but I'd sure like to try. In the meantime, it remains a fascinating achievement.

For more, visit Piaget online.

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