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Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch Hands-On

Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Piaget used to pride – and finance – itself on its long-term achievements in crafting remarkably thin watches. All was well as long as they could rule in this game, sometimes by greater and sometimes rather minuscule margins. In recent years, however, we have witnessed Piaget lose focus not just of the luxury watch market in general, but also of its true self. The Polo S saw mixed reception at best, the 60th anniversary, totally run-of-the-mill Altiplanos displayed a depressing lack of creativity, with the only pieces in recent memory keeping the faintest positive idea of the brand having been the record-thin automatic Altiplano and these two marquetry stone-dialed tourbillon beauties (hands-on here). Another sparkle of hope for the brand comes in the ultra-delicate shape of the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept watch.

How does this Ultimate Concept fit into the world of Piaget? What difference will it actually make for them or the luxury watch market? Will we ever see something like this in production? These were my questions after seeing this new, one of a kind exercise in thin watchmaking.

Fit into Piaget it does, of course, because it’s a thin watch produced by a brand whose modern image was largely built on thin watches. It’s also fitting as Bulgari has been taking all the limelight lately when it comes to breaking thin watch records – they have totally blindsided Piaget and took over in just a few years, years that slip by really fast when it comes to products that take so long to develop.

Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch Hands-On Hands-On

All images by David Bredan

Whether or not it will make a difference in the luxury watch market is a difficult question. It makes a difference in the sense that it gives a brief – and hence passing – proof that Piaget is alive, even if not well. Halo products (or “ultimate concepts”) can make a difference, but I think it is a rather moot exercise when the larger selection of actually available and relatively competitively priced products is lackluster at best. Sure, Piaget is still a strong brand to turn to if you want some super niche, neatly made, rare piece – but as far as main collections are concerned, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch Hands-On Hands-On

To achieve and maintain the Altiplano Ultimate Concept’s remarkable thinness, Piaget had to use a number of clever and tricky engineering solutions. This includes a base-plate/caseback design that merges the two pieces into one, with the wheels and other components being fitted directly to the caseback. This ingenious solution is not new, in fact, it made its debut in ETA’s Delirium Tremens record-thin watch in the late 1970s (I think Delirium Tremens IV but I could be wrong), and has been used by Swatch ever since, along with a few other brands and watches, including Piaget’s famed 900P caliber.

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Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Piaget took things to the next level and removed as much of the top plate as possible. The barrel and many other parts function similarly to how a flying tourbillon works – they are only supported and fixed from underneath, but not from above. This of course wouldn’t be possible with just one jewel underneath and nothing but the hopes of engineers above, so many of these parts use ball bearings underneath. As such, overall jewel count dropped to just 13.

Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Add to all this the fact that everything was made as slim as possible: many of the wheels are now just 0.12mm thick, coming in at about 60% of their usual selves. The mainspring also lost its drum and cover, so one can now easily see how wound the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept is – power reserve, by the way, is an impressive 44 hours.

Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch Hands-On Hands-On

With the Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept having a case that is just 2mm thick (that’s the full case, not just the movement), the case was to be designed as rigid as it could possibly be. Craft it from ordinary materials and you could feasibly bend the case and do so just enough to also bend the wheels while doing so, damaging them and the movement. Using a soft metal like gold and strapping the watch onto your wrist tightly enough just once could break the watch for good. To avoid this from happening Piaget found the elegant solution of not removing the strap but rather using a cobalt based alloy for the case and base-plate, hence rendering the whole thing allegedly rigid enough. I say allegedly, because no one was allowed to put this thing on.

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Comments

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  • Mikita

    Remarkable achievement (no one cares about). Could’ve been way more fascinating around 50 years ago, but in the era of micron scale MEMS?.. P.S. I like Piaget in general. My favorite watch from them is the Emperador 700P with the interesting hybrid movement.

  • egznyc

    I’ve just discovered my next diver! Wait: small hands, no lume, 0.2mm thick glass (!); I think not. Remarkable engineering feat, but this thing doesn’t seem at all practical. Maybe this one should’ve been called a “hands-off!” review ;-).

    • David Bredan

      Haha! I could get my hands on the watch but not the watch on my hands! So I guess you’re right. Still, seeing it in person was great — not breaking it truly elevated the experience! (showpiece of such complexity break all the time)

      • joe Shmoe

        it was a hands onish review.

    • Omegaboy

      They could offer an aftermarket case enhancer that’s 12mm thick you can plop the watch into.

  • “Fifty bucks? No, no, no. This is a Rouchefoucauld. The thinnest water-resistant watch in the world. Singularly unique, sculptured in design, hand-crafted in Switzerland, and water resistant to three atmospheres. This is *the* sports watch of the ’80s.”

    –Louis Winthorpe III

    • Berndt Norten

      Yeah. But in Philly it’s worth 50 bucks.

      • SwissMatic

        How much for the gun?

        • Omegaboy

          Son, that’s a watch? No, this is a watch. Er, wait a second. (Shows other wrist with Bausele Terra Australopithicus on it) This is a watch! Thugs run off screaming.

        • Berndt Norten

          Ask Janie?

    • Nello Alexandri

      Love it.

  • SuperStrapper

    No one wants to have a golf ball on their wrist but I just don’t understand the appeal of these ultra thin watches. They look like crap on the wrist, or in an instance this extreme you can’t even put it on. If it is just an exercise in ‘look what I can do’ is it for some greater good out there?

    • david x. droog

      For me, the feeling of having a masterpiecr of mechanical engineering on the wrist in the form of a ultra-thin movemeny is not that different from -say- a QP or tourbillon. Though my experience is based on the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic, which is a whole different beast altogether.

      • SuperStrapper

        Right on. I feel the same way, but ‘masterpiece’ is obviously a subjecting interpretation and I just don’t see it here.

  • BNABOD

    You can engineeer things to death but when it looks wrong it just looks wrong. Since this one seems to be for show and is wound by gently blowing on it, it is way too fragile for use and still way too thin to be attractive . Kind of like that runaway model that hasn’t eaten in months, it isn’t attractive honey eat something. If this thing could hear I would suggest a sneakers bar.

  • Stuart MacKenzie

    Not liking it as a watch for reasons others have already mentioned, but I’d imagine that someone talented (not me) could make a really cool looking watch necklace pendant out it! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/87e7aa3f7991d915ab678a4e8331da7eccd9bc610ee6cb0ca889b6bbc66e834b.jpg

    • Sheez Gagoo

      I would have restored this movement and put it in a new case instead of making the most unconfortable necklage since medievil torture devices.

      • Stuart MacKenzie

        Excellent point. That thing would rip out a square meter of me chest hairs!

        • And if you wound it. the balance wheel would function like a chest hair lawn mower!

    • egznyc

      If it were turned to its side, it might not even be seen ;-).

      • Stuart MacKenzie

        Subtle luxury is classy!

  • Gokart Mozart

    NiCe technical acheivement and reasonably good looking, but Piaget is becoming irrelevant.

    Maybe they should design the world’s thinnest diver if they want column inches and sales.

    • Joe

      I want to be able to find a Piaget that I would buy. The nearest is the Polo S but I can’t get over the design.
      They need a more mass-appeal watch to become relevant again, imo.

      • Sheez Gagoo

        You mean the Nautipolus?

        • Joe

          I can’t remember if it’s that or the Royal Eek.

    • egznyc

      I find some good humor in the idea of the thinnest diver. We don’t WANT our divers super-thin, since they have a tough job to do (even the ones not going down into the depths are likely to see more abuse than the typical dress watch). I want some confidence that my tools will work properly – and handle some hard knocks.

  • Playboy Johnny – Team Marius.

    Seems like a lot of effort went into creating something so impractical, that will never be worn or produced.

  • NMSraygun

    It’s an interesting concept. I generally like watching the movements on the front face but, they are never practical for daily use. A watch this thin wouldn’t last past it’s third wearing. The first door jam or desk corner and it would be done. Then I would be wishing I bought a new luxury SUV instead of this watch…

  • Excellent review David! I don’t suppose thy told you which particular cobalt based alloy the used? Most cobalt based alloys are impossible to tap threads into. And they certainly had to cut a bunch of threads to make this. They must have burnt through a lot of carbide tooling.

  • Rob Crenshaw

    Amazing. I love engineering that pushes the boundaries of what is possible. Practicality, expense, and usability are cast aside in search of perfect engineering that will hopefully make it to some more mass-produced product. We did not achieve flight, supersonic flight, and ho-hum commercial flight, much less land on the moon, with inside-the-box thinking. And failures of course. If this watch breaks, engineer it again. And again. And again, until it doesn’t. That’s how you end up with a reliable Formula 1 car.

    • egznyc

      Ah, but there is a difference between the products you note and the watch reviewed here. The adage, form follows function, really makes sense when designing something. Here, the expression is reversed, so that function follows form! The quest for thinness is peculiar, since the watch doesn’t look better than a more traditional mechanical watch, and obviously it doesn’t perform better in the real world. Indeed, it is not at all robust, but instead, rather fragile. Good design should be more forgiving of the needs of the product itself.

      • Rob Crenshaw

        You’re an inside-the-box thinker!

  • PR

    Brand is vanishing quick, great engineering feat for sure but I’d rather see them release something else unique after the polo which is too derivative

  • david x. droog

    Amazing piece of engineering, and some fair issues raised in between the lines. Thanks & have a great weekend!

  • Raymond Wilkie

    This might have been a fantastic piece before the advent of computers …so….meh.

  • I have seen those at Fossil.

    • Vendetta

      Ewww. And I “hate” people that say ‘ewww’.

  • Sheez Gagoo

    I’m impressed and I like it.

  • Ulysses31

    It’s impressive – they always are – but i’d never want to own one. I admire companies that relentlessly pursue a goal, but when that goal has no true merit other than for the fleeting wow factor, I have to question what real value there is in this achievement. I suppose their ability to cram in extremely slender gears would have implications for watchmaking, allowing for more sophisticated complications perhaps? It’s never really a topic that is discussed, because making a watch as thin as a communion wafer is supposed to impress us by itself.

    • Matt Rowe

      Agreed. Cool engineering but the watch is not legible and is likely a safe queen .

  • Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

    • Stuart MacKenzie

      Just because you should, doesn’t mean you can!

      • Raymond Wilkie

        Just because one should doesn’t mean one shouldn’t.

        • Stuart MacKenzie

          Just because one could does mean one couldn’t, not. I guess.

          • Raymond Wilkie

            Just because it’s doable doesn’t mean it should.

          • Berndt Norten

            If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice

          • Raymond Wilkie

            If i had a choice i wouldn’t choose would just because they can.

          • Stuart MacKenzie

            I choose choice!

          • As opposed to “I choose indecsion”?

          • Berndt Norten

            In a minute there is time.
            For decisions and revisions
            Which a minute will reverse.

          • DanW94

            You can choose from phantom fears
            And kindness that can kill
            I will choose a path that’s clear
            I will choose free will.

          • Alexander Hilsbos

            Mr Lee said that.

          • Berndt Norten

            Only after Mr Peart wrote it?

          • Alexander Hilsbos

            I didn’t know that. Reminds me, need to look at the credits again. Thanks! Mr Peart is one of my heroes.

          • Stuart MacKenzie

            Because it’s just and doable doesn’t mean it should be either

          • Mikita

            Just because I understood almost everything, doesn’t mean I understood anything.

          • Berndt Norten

            “Just because someone doesn’t know what ‘ignorant ‘ means doesn’t mean he’s stupid”

            College acquaintance of mine, a long time ago

  • Ugo

    WOW!
    do want.

  • Bozzor

    I just suddenly had a brilliant idea for a viral (at least among the horological community) video by David: he takes the watch and says “Piaget have said this watch is actually as durable as a G-Shock…now we’re about to (we see him raising a hammer) see if that;s true…and at that point we see just how fast Piaget reps can run with looks of horror on their faces…

    Actually very impressed by this concept, but I do wonder if maybe they should have gone with a ceramic for real hardness instead of metal…?

  • Steve Bowden

    I like the photos of the watch more than the watch itself. Maybe I’m being unfair, but if you like to wear your strap a bit tight, you could break this watch. It seems more like a great engineering experiment to let watch designers enjoy a healthy flex of their muscles.

  • cluedog12

    I’m doubtful that there’s a market for an ultra-ultra thin hyper watch, unless the fragility can be completely eliminated. Many fine watches are fragile, but Piaget has managed to create a watch that is instinctually fragile. Owning this particular timepiece would be fraught with anxiety, like having a premature baby that never grows. Every time you pull out the crown to adjust the time, you can bend the stem and off it goes for servicing.

    That being said, this watch is an engineering marvel and it looks the part. I think it’s an excellent promotion of Piaget’s 900P and 910P, both clocking between 3.75 and 4.25 mm thick. Try them on in a shop if you have the chance, they’re pretty cool. Piaget’s problem is that few people today need an ultra thin watch. They’re appreciated by wealthy niche collectors, too small a market to keep a corporate brand viable.

  • N1ce

    Technical marvel maybe, but not realistically useful. And ultra-ultra-thin looks terrible on the wrist.

  • Framlucasse

    A very impressive piece.

  • Marco Sampuel