CHAPTER 1: The beginning
The story of Manufacture Piaget's ultra-thin movements is intertwined with the history of the Côte-aux-Fées dynasty. From this austere and isolated village, Georges-Edouard Piaget and the generations that followed have carved out their own path.
What motivated their search for ultra-thinness? How, since the launch of the 9P caliber in 1957, can we explain the successive records confirming Piaget as a leading figure in the infinitely thin?
Surrounded by the mighty powers of nature, the Piaget family cultivated its own values, such as excellence, which it made its motto: "Always do better than necessary".
The search for ultra-thin watches is a technical challenge, a feat that requires rigor and solidarity – characteristics that happen to define this Protestant family. It is also a door to freedom, opening up a wider field of expression on the dial.
Piaget added a new ideal of beauty to the previous precision and ingenuity. This brand of elegance takes the exploration of refinement to its pinnacle.
By doing "less", the goal is not to do more, but to transform the face of watchmaking.
So naturally the manufacture embraced the records for increasingly thinner movements and for calibers juggling complications and an ultra-thin construction. For Piaget, these feats should be considered in the literal sense of the word "record": a written document that presents a testimony or reports an exceptional occurrence. They demonstrate the desire to further the history of watchmaking with daring.
Producing an automatic caliber just 2.3 mm thick seemed something of a utopia. The entire team of researchers in La la Côte-aux-Fées can pride themselves on writing one of the finest chapters in watchmaking history (...)Journal de Genève, April 27, 1960
The obviousness of ultra-thin
Nothing was left to chance. Under Timothée Piaget, the independent workshop founded by his forefather was propelled to the status of modern company. It would become known as the "fabrique", a spacious manufacture with crescent bay windows that evoked an unconventional spirit.
In 1913, the Maison began to appear in watch suppliers' catalogs as a specialist in ultra-thin components.
The specialty became an area of predilection, before turning into an entire territory worthy of the family's drive to innovate.
Piaget Calibre 9P - Piaget Calibre 12P
Launched in 1957, the 9P caliber initiated the market.
Measuring only 2 mm thick, it refined the profile of ultra-thin luxury watches. It also made it possible to expand the dial surface at a time when it was almost impossible to read the time without a magnifying glass.
The legendary 9P decisively influenced the women's ultra-thin watch. Three years later, Piaget targeted men with its 2.3 mm thick automatic version featuring an ingenious 24-carat gold off-centered micro-rotor system incorporated into the mechanism. The multi-patented 12P caused much sensation.
The list of calibers – and future records – confirmed Piaget's status as a daring brand. In specializing in innovative solutions, the manufacture also saw ultra-thinness as a way to renew watch aesthetics.
A wider dial presents so many possibilities!
A thin watch increases the potential space for the dial, turning it into a blank page that encourages flashes of inspiration. Piaget took ultra-thinness in two main directions: pared-down style on the one hand, and a flurry of ornamentation and color on the other. This creative freedom led to more than a few thunderbolts!
Piaget's palette is exceptional. It is expressed on spectacular pieces and on highly refined watches whose only extravagance is the bright shade of their dial.
Piaget's vision of watchmaking echoes art, architecture, design and even Haute Couture. Starting in the sixties and seventies, the Maison dared to play with stunning graphic effects: on the one hand monochrome pairings with similar tones such as lapis and turquoise, on the other contrasting and unexpected combinations such as onyx and coral.
I came back from the United States with a passion for gems and color. At the time, we had started to decorate most of our watches with ornamental stones. Using these geological miracles, we made dials that we managed to thin out using successive polishings to just tenths of millimeters.Yves G. Piaget
A name for ultra-thinness
1976 was a landmark year for the manufacture. Quartz led to a major upheaval in terms of accuracy, but electronic movements were very bulky.
Piaget could not resist the new challenge, and presented the 3.1 mm-thick 7P – the thinnest quartz movement in the world. Soon after, the Maison presented a new mechanically wound movement, the 4P at 2 mm thick, intended for small luxury women's watches.
With much vigor, the Maison created the entire technical and aesthetic spectrum of ultra-thinness. But Piaget wanted to give its own unique territory its own evocative name.
The 2.1 mm-thick 430P launched in 1998 replaced the renowned 9P by bestowing greater performance on ultra-thin watches: higher frequency, improved power reserve and shock-resistance. These pieces were given the name Altiplano, describing a collection that already existed in catalogs as the "Piaget ultra-thin collection".
Spanning four South American countries, the Altiplano is an immense plain with an average altitude of 3,650 m. As flat as the endless horizon that adorns it. As pure as the aesthetics of the collection that turns extreme refinement into absolute elegance.
In search of records
"Fineness that always succeeds is perhaps the greatest of strengths," wrote Balzac. Fineness is well and truly one of Piaget's great strengths and ultra-thinness is an essential component of the Maison's identity.
Ultra-thin movements came after ultra-thin movements, with increasingly longer power reserves, more functions and stunning constructions. This trend gave rise to the Altiplano 900P, in which case and movement become one.
A double record for the 1200P caliber
It was both an homage and a logical progression for a Maison defined by innovation. Fifty years after the launch of the legendary 12P caliber – the thinnest automatic mechanical movement of its time – Piaget unveiled its worthy heir, the 1200P.
Two more zeros to its name, and two more records. Measuring 2.35 mm thick, it became the thinnest ultra-thin automatic caliber on the market when it was launched in 2010. Especially for its debut, it equipped the all-new Altiplano with a 43 mm case, giving a total thickness of 5.25 mm, making it the thinnest watch in its category that same year – a second record.
The 1200P pushed back the boundaries of micromechanics. Its gears are just 0.12 mm thick instead of the 0.2 mm seen in a classic movement – barely thicker than a human hair (0.08 mm). Its components have been made as thin as feasibly possible while continuing to ensure remarkable reliability and technical performance.
It took immense ingenuity to design the 1200P. Drawing inspiration from the 12P movement, the volume normally taken up by the automatic assembly was circumvented with an off-centered oscillating weight, which was also made from platinum to ensure its weight and inertia provide excellent winding properties.
Exceptional watches for an exceptional caliber
Such as the Altiplano 43 mm anniversary edition, with a hand-guillochéd dial and a deliberately flat crystal to accentuate the thinness of the case.
Skeletonization and ultra-thinness: an epic partnership
Subtraction is the most demanding of exercises. It can take the form of an ultra-thin caliber or a movement hollowed out as much as conceivably possible. The combination of both indicates a thirst for technical challenge that the Manufacture Piaget has brilliantly embraced.
The principle of skeletonization involves removing material to open up the mechanism as much as possible and achieve pure harmony. In an ultra-thin movement, the room for maneuver becomes a balancing act. Cut out using a fretsaw – a miniature metal saw –, the pieces are susceptible to deformation. When open-worked as much as possible, they become extremely delicate. Solutions must be found to ensure they remain rigid while keeping the aesthetics and particularly the movement's spectacular transparent effect.
Starting in 1976, the Maison demonstrated its mastery by enhancing the 9P caliber with a skeletonized version.
The showcasing of movements started to become one of the Maison's signatures in the 2000s. By pushing the boundaries – no matter how considerable the restrictions – all else is forgotten, giving rise to the wonder of an incredibly refined creation. The 838P and 1200P calibers were then in turn produced as skeletonized versions.
In this vein, Piaget's beloved gemstone, the diamond, was added to certain skeletonized calibers, such as the 838D and 1200D movements, to produce world firsts. To permit gem-setting, the mainplate is made from 18K gold. The infinitely complex movement is transformed into a piece of precious lacework.
Altiplano 38 mm 900P: the art of fusion
Piaget's search for ultra-thinness requires the exploration of previously unexamined paths. In taking the road less traveled, daring solutions take shape, implemented thanks to the Manufacture's exceptional expertise.
In 2014, Piaget celebrated its 140th anniversary and a long list of records for thinness. The Maison is now comprised of two centers. In the historical one in La Côte-aux-Fées, where ultra-thinness was born, the constructors, chamferers and watchmakers push the possibilities of thinness. Meanwhile near to Geneva, in Plan-les-Ouates, the Ateliers de l’Extraordinaire bring together the artisans specializing in gold work, High Jewelry, and case production.
In 2014, the Altiplano Ultimate Manual and its 900P caliber combined the know-how of these two integrated Manufactures in a top-level feat: the fusion of mechanics and the watch exterior. Over the course of three years, the teams worked together at every stage of design, production and setting to give rise to this wonder. Designed as a whole, this creation achieved a world record for thinness with a thickness of just 3.65 mm.
Its components are fitted to the hundredth of a millimeter, but its true secret lies in the design of the case itself, as its back is also used as the mainplate. This architecture leads to an inverted movement construction with bridges visible on the dial side. The spectacular and uncommonly rare aesthetics of the Altiplano 900P 38 mm ultra-thin watch are also available in an extremely exclusive gem-set version.
The creation paves the way for further feats, seemingly only achievable by Piaget thanks to the experience it has amassed since 1874.
The impossibility of
Given the feats already achieved, how could one possibly envisage reducing the thickness of a watch even further while maintaining its reliability? And yet Piaget added a sizable success to its long list of records with the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, dubbed the thinnest hand-wound watch in the world.
Starting from the premise of a fused case and movement, the Manufacture investigated new options. This time, it chose to use a new high-tech alloy based on highly rigid cobalt.
To trim away the final few tenths of millimeters, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept employs essential technological innovations subject to five patent applications. All the components are mounted on the frame and several elements are on ball bearings. The balance and balance-spring have been reversed, but only the latter is attached to the collet. The lack of index assembly is compensated by an adjustable stud. Incorporated into the caseband, the so-called telescopic crown has a worm drive on the same plane as the cogwheel, keeping everything on the same
axis and reducing the thickness. The crystal of the luxury watch was also redesigned to make it just 0.2 mm thick, fitted into the Altiplano ultra-thin watch to ensure a water resistance of 3 ATM.
The facts speak for themselves. Measuring 2.0 mm thick and 41 mm in diameter, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept reinvents the foundations of watchmaking. In 2018, it became the thinnest ultra-thin 18-carat gold watch with a hand-wound mechanical movement in the world.
The different faces of ultra-thinness
Thinness is a field of innovation and technical prowess. It sets a new standard of elegance with watches that fit like a second skin. The dial of the Altiplano further enhances this pure and refined silhouette.
There is an Altiplano for everyone. Pared-down or transformed with ornamental stones, thinned through successive polishings to just tenths of a millimeter. In the sixties, when watches had only ever had silvered or black dials, Piaget used the space freed up by ultra-thin pieces to create colored hardstone dials. The bright tones of natural opaque ruby, lapis lazuli and turquoise unleash wild color, such as the Altiplano luxury watch dressed in night blue lacquer.
The ultimate prowess in ultra-thinness, the tourbillon further adds to the attraction of an intrinsically fascinating watch. An asymmetric design – a Piaget signature – is joined by a figure 8, the symbol of infinity, and a patented energy redirection system. An ultra-thin Piaget Altiplano luxury watch is a most exceptional piece to wear.
When the incredible Franco-American production Is Paris Burning? premiered in 1966, audiences were amazed by the casting, especially Alain Delon, one of the most popular actors in French film. They only had eyes for him. On his wrist, he wore a Piaget Altiplano ultra-thin watch, chosen today by the greatest of artists to reflect their style, including Chinese actor Hu Ge, the Frenchman Alain Delon and the American Michael B. Jordan.
Artistic crafts meet Piaget
Renowned artistic crafts take center stage and enter into a partnership with Piaget. Feather, wood or leather marquetry, rose gold engraving and cloisonné enamel disrupt the guiding principles of the Altiplano with well-tempered contrasts.
A marriage of ultra-thinness and High Jewelry
When Piaget introduced the 9P caliber in 1957, it shook up the aesthetic conventions of watchmaking. It injected color with ornamental stones, which the Maison combined with precious stones to overturn the current hierarchy.
Piaget set itself apart with its desire to bring delight and vitality. Its easily recognizable signature also extended to jewelry watches. Looking at the time on an exceptional piece is an enchanting opportunity. Feeling a jewel crafted by the Ateliers de l’Extraordinaire brush against your skin is an exceptional occasion.
Each time, a new story is created, giving rise to an object brimming with our attention and passion. An object with a soul, destined to be passed on and to fascinate generation after generation.Gérard Lerouxel, former specialized watchmaker at the Manufacture
But Piaget's gem-setting goes beyond cases and dials. The manufacture has even taken the difficult step of setting the movement itself! The Maison's gem-setters have managed to adorn certain ultra-thin movements with diamonds where the mainplate and some components are made from gold. Due to the thinness of the material, there is little space to insert and fix the stones. This balancing act is venerated on the Altiplano Ultimate Manual ultra-thin diamond watch and its 900P hand-wound caliber, with the jewelery version presenting a total of 4.71 carats.
304 diamonds showcase subtle cutting work – baguette-cut on the bezel and brilliant-cut on the lugs and middle. On the dial, the hour circle is formed by a ring of 33 baguette-cut diamonds. Piaget takes its attention to detail even so far as to ensure that the screws on the bridges and gear-trains are gem-set.
Its enchanting silhouette of 5.65 mm makes it the thinnest High Jewelry watch in the world.