I invite you to listen to my interview with Piaget-CEO Philippe Leopold-Metzger, to see my exclusive photos and to watch a spectacular HD-video showing the making of the new Piaget watch.
The world record was achieved by merging the hand-wound calibre with the case elements. It is designed as a single entity in order to achieve thinness at just 3,65 mm.
The new Piaget Altiplano 38 mm 900P is not powered by the calibre “900P”, the calibre “900P” is the watch.
While clearly geared towards cutting-edge innovation the “900P” does also make a nod to history, since it gets part of its name from Calibre “9P”, which was the first ultra-thin hand-wound movement in 1957. That particular mechanism measured just 2 mm and sealed Piaget’s destiny in the field of ultra-thin watch making.
By 1960 Piaget was ready to set a first record with its Calibre “12P”, the world’s thinnest automatic movement measuring just 2,3 mm.
The following years witnessed a spate of new slimness records in the fields of hand-wound and automatic models, with or without watch making complications. Two good examples are the Calibre “600P”, the world’s thinnest hand-wound shaped tourbillon movement and “1208P”, an automatic movement that was also the thinnest in its category.
Making an ultra-thin watch is a constant challenge.
Right from the first project sketches, all those involved must anticipate the functional, aesthetic and durability constraints involved in paring down parts to the extreme. Very few manufacturers are tempted to adopt such an approach, and even fewer develop and produce in-house both their calibres and their cases under the watchful eye of the in-house designers. Piaget belongs to this exclusive circle!
I invite you to listen to my interview with Piaget-CEO Philippe Léopold-Metzger
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While the Altiplano 38 mm 900P merges the case and movement to establish itself as the thinnest mechanical watch ever, it also stems from another fusion without which such a feat would have been impossible: that of the two Manufactures Piaget – one based in La Côte aux Fées, where the movements are traditionally made; and the other in Plan-les-Ouates, where the cases are crafted. These skills are now inextricably intermingled, since within the Altiplano 38 mm 900P, the mechanism and the external components form a single indivisible entity.
For a full three years, watchmakers, case constructors and designers worked together at each stage of development, production, adjustment and finishing in order to give life to this slender marvel. Each technical choice had an aesthetic impact, and vice versa. While each of the 145 parts composing the Altiplano 38 mm 900P has been trimmed to a size sometimes barely thicker than a hair’s breadth – including some wheels measuring a mere 0,12 mm thin (compared with 0,20 mm on a classic movement) – special care has been devoted to clearances.
In other words, the process involved cleverly arranging the components to within the nearest hundredth of a millimeter so as to create optimal play between the fixed and mobile organs, while being careful to ensure that the later move freely and thus guarantee the smooth running of the mechanism.
At the heart of the thinnest mechanical watch ever made nevertheless, the true secret of this extreme slenderness lies in the structure of the case itself, of which the back also serves as the mainplate. Thereby merging calibre and case, the latter was machined directly from the case-back in order to house the mechanical parts. This highly complex architecture meant reversing movement construction so as to fit the bridges on the dial side – an approach that also has an aesthetic effect by keeping them visible.
To save another precious few millimeters, the entire mechanism and the hand-fitting system are contained within the thickness of the balance-wheel itself, thus entailing an off-centered display of the hours and minutes entirely in tune with the iconic design features of the Altiplano line.
These characteristics are further enhanced by the entirely visible wheel-train that invites the owner of the watch to plunge into the very heart of this supremely slender and technically sophisticated mechanism.
Working within this extremely confined space, Piaget has devised a suspended barrel hanging from a single bridge on the dial side, contrary to classic barrels that are also fixed to the mainplate side. This highly unusual device is no way detrimental to the performance of the mechanism, since the Altiplano 38 mm 900P has a generous power reserve of around 48 hours (!!!).
When a watch is subjected to strong pressure, such as when immersed in water, its glass or crystal is slightly deformed. While this physical phenomenon goes relatively unnoticed on a classic timepiece, the same is certainly not true of an ultra-thin watch. Given the extremely confined space available, the glass would be liable to press on the hands when deformed, thus causing the movement to stop.
To avoid this challenge to any ultra-thin model, Piaget has come up with a revolutionary device (patent pending) representing a major breakthrough in ensuring the reliability of this type of watch. Instead of fitting the hands above the bridges, Piaget has placed them underneath, thereby freeing up space between the cannon-pinion and the crystal. (Just to let you know: you can discover this detail just here underneath by clicking through my photos.) When the latter is deformed by the effects of pressure, it presses not on the hands – placed below the bridge level – but instead on the wheel-train bridge, thus avoiding any consequences on the rate of the movement.
This HD-video provided to me by Piaget resumes the making-off the Altiplano 38 mm 900P.
Guys, be sure not to miss it! The video is so cool 🙂
While for Piaget, the extreme slimming down of the parts in an ultra-thin watch must in no way compromise its reliability, the same goes for the level of finishing. The Altiplano 38 mm 900P is no exception to the rule. Even though some of its 145 parts remain hidden from sight, all of them have been meticulously finished in keeping with the noblest watch making traditions, through countless hours of patient work rendered even trickier by the extraordinary slenderness of the components.
The mainplate carved out of the watch case-back has been satin-brushed and sandblasted, while the wheels are alternately sunburst or circular satin-brushed. Hollowed so as to reveal the subtle mechanical intricacies at the heart of the Altiplano 38 mm 900P, the bevelled and satin-brushed sunburst bridges are black-coated to create elegant contrasts with the white gold case. The index-assembly bearing the Piaget “P” strikes a resounding signature note within this subtly orchestrated fine watchmaking symphony.
And last but not least please discover the new Piaget Altiplano 38 mm 900P through my exclusive photos. One month (!) before the SIHH you will not find anything comparable anywhere else…
I took all these photos yesterday in Geneva with my Sony Alpha NEX-7 and a 30mm f/3.5 Macro Lens, so you can discover many, many details by clicking through the photos; to enlarge them please click once and then again…
Piaget Altiplano 38 mm 900P
Calibre and case merge to form a seamless whole Black-coated movement
Development time: three years
Power reserve: approx. 48 hours
Frequency: 21.600 A/h (= 3 Hz)
Thickness: 3,65 mm (case + movement)
Number of jewels: 20
Functions: offset hours and minutes subdial at 10 o’clock
Number of components: 145 (case + movement)
Finishing: circular satin-brushed case-back, black- coloured satin-brushed sunburst bridges, bevelled bridges, sunburst or circular satin-brushed wheels, black-coloured screws, dedicated index-assembly with the Piaget “P” signature
18K white gold watch
18K white gold pin buckle
Black alligator leather strap