Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept – GPHG Winner

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Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept

And the watch industry Oscar goes to . . . the Altiplano Ultimate Concept. Piaget scooped the ultimate accolade from the 2020 GPHG (Fondation du Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève) with the world’s thinnest mechanical watch currently in production. Not the thinnest watch in the history of the world. That honor belongs to . . .

Concord-Delirium IV - the world's thinnest watch

the early 80’s Concord Delirium IV, a quartz-powered watch that was a scarcely credible, barely visible, 0.98mm thick.

Note to Piaget: an insanely thin watch does not corporate immortality make. (Actually, nothing does.) Despite this horological high water mark, Concord tumbled from the horological heights into de facto obscurity. Thank you Movado Group. Anyway . . .

Citizen Eco-Drive One Limited on its side

The award-winning Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept comes hot on the heels of 2019’s non-award-winning Citizen Eco-Drive One.

The Japanese watchmaker’s light-powered timepiece clocked in at 2.98mm. As the Concord Delirium IV was prone to bending, as the Eco-Drive One was available in titanium, Citizen can justifiably claim to have produced the world’s thinnest practical wristwatch.

At 2mm, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept misses the Delirium’s world record thinness by 1.3 mm, but bests the Eco-Drive One by 1mm. And the Piaget is mechanical.

How great is that? Great enough to win the GPHG’s Aiguille d’Or. No question: the AUC is a tour de force – a manual wind watch that required four years of R&D and yielded five patents. Yes but

The Altiplano Ultimate Concept is a tie for the thinnest mechanical watch ever made. By Piaget’s own admission, the AUC is the same thickness as the Piaget Cal. 9P unveiled in 1957 at Baselworld (image courtesy watchprozine.com).

In other words, Piaget used CAD-CAM, lasers and 3D printing technology to create a watch that guys armed with pencils and simple machine tools built 63 years ago. Truth be told, the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept reflects the fact that the Swiss watch industry’s hit a brick wall.

Piaget - thinnest watch ad

Once upon a time, mechanical watchmakers achieved fame and fortune through technological innovation. A mechanical watchmaker could leap to the top of the sales chart by creating a watch with world-beating accuracy, reliability, durability, self-winding capability, power reserve and/or water, magnetic and shock resistance. And yes, slimness.

The quartz crisis sounded the death knell for all that. Battery-powered watches’ superior capabilities and lower price were an enormous G-SHOCK to mechanical watchmakers. Those that survived stuck to their guns – producing and selling the best mechanical watches they could make. Which is what they do today, even as the smartwatch crisis pulls the rug from under the low-to-mid-priced manufacturers’ feet.

Rolex watchmaking

As mentioned above, traditional watchmakers now have astoundingly capable computerized design and manufacturing tools. (Not to mention access to low-cost Chinese parts for their so-called “Swiss made” timepieces.) Traditional watches are getting better and better – to the point where “better” is so ubiquitous it’s become more-or-less meaningless, in terms of actual performance.

When was the last time you wore a watch that stopped working? Or failed to keep time? Or took a knock and shit the bed? In the same way that owners of today’s cars find it hard to believe that SAAB owners used to take pictures of their odometers cresting 100k, today’s traditional watch buyers expect mechanical excellence in all aspects. And get it.

Piaget Antiplano Ultimate Concept closeup

What’s left to distinguish a mechanical watch from a quartz watch or smartwatch? Beauty! Style! Romance! Glamor! Fun! Bling! Which returns us to the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept.

While its thinness gets the press, it’s the Altiplano Ultimate Concept’s design that makes it relevant. Unlike its 1957 ancestor, the 41mm WYSIWYG AUC sets itself apart visually from every other watch ever made. It’s not just mechanical; it’s transparently, triumphantly mechanical. As it should be for $448k. But wait, there’s more!

If an Altiplano Ultimate Concept owner runs into another Altiplano Ultimate Concept owner they can safely compare watches. Buyers choose the color of the case, hands and dial, bridges, screws and caseback; provide an engraving and select a strap. So no two AUC’s are bound to be alike.

Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept on its side

I suspect that the GPHG jury chose the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept as a vindication of traditional watchmaking. And so it is.

The AUC reminds us – if not the traditional watch industry – that the quartz watch and smartwatch crises have liberated mechanical watchmakers from the tyranny of the past. The need to put timekeeping per se front and center. The need to mass produce minor variations of the same thing.

In short, the mechanical watch industry is free to reinvent itself. What’s next? Watch this space . . .

3 COMMENTS

  1. It’s good to see thinness come back into fashion. If the lack of progress on the high-end side of things is embarrassing, it is even more embarrassing for workhorse movements. At 3.6mm the ETA 2892 is still one of the thinnest, if not the thinnest, automatic movements in sub $10,000 watches. Despite the fact it was introduced in 1963 by Eterna. A lot of people marvel at the thinness of the MT5402 in the Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight. It’s 4.99mm thick. The MT5602 in the regular Black Bays? 6.5mm. The Rolex date 3135? 6mm. The new Rolex date 3235 is hard to find numbers on, but probably roughly the same thickness.

    People wonder why the diameters on modern watches are so large. One, it’s because people that actually buy watches, instead of commenting on HoDinkee, actually want 40 – 42mm plus watches. Two, it’s because modern movements are so thick that it’s hard to go small on the diameter without the proportions being horrible.

    • The fascination with exhibition case backs isn’t helping the war on thickness either. I feel there is some parallel between watch size and the automotive wheel size trend. Is the customer responding to what’s offered or vice versa, and how much marketing vs. engineering is going on?

  2. I’m all for thin watches, but that non-crown is more interesting to me. But I prefer the dial to be full sized, so I’m less likely to ooh and ah about how so many gears share the six twin spoke motif.

    I see a parallel to Hollywood. The more resources sunk into a project, the more make-or-break it becomes, the less likely that any real risks will be taken. The smaller independent makers that DGAF are more likely to come up with something interesting.

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