June 9, 2018
by David Bredan
On a side note, the watch was to be handled by a watchmaker only – although I did get the chance to move the watch around a bit in a padded tray for photography, a gesture I did appreciate. I just roll my eyes when “ordinary” watches that are showpieces at a show are being way too excessively protected by the brands as we try and get some hands-on footage. For a watch that’s only 2mm thick or if something is a numbered piece that will be sold during the show, I totally understand. But when it’s all for show and to make our lives that much harder, I do just roll my eyes – and carry on. Okay, side note rant over.
Because the case is so flat, an ordinary crown could not have been fitted and so a flat, rectangular one is integrated into the case at its usual position, at 3 o’clock. It reminds me of Richemont sister brand’s Cartier Clé. The keyless works – i.e. the components linked to the crown – have also been re-engineered to reduce its size and component count as much as possible. It goes without saying that there’s no date or other functionality, so the crown’s duties are limited to setting the hours and minutes, and winding up the hand-wound caliber. What’s better still is that Piaget has designed a special winding tool for the crown, for it’s so small (and I presume fragile), that they deemed it more ideal and easier to use a tool that would hold onto the case and allow one to wind the watch with it. See it in action above!
For horological geeks perhaps the most impressive development behind this remarkable thinness is the patented construction of the balance wheel. It comes with an inverted layout with the balance sitting above the hairspring, without a cock or bridge to secure it from above. The same method that we mentioned above is used here: the balance staff turns on ball bearings integrated within the base of the staff; its rate can be adjusted with a mobile stud underneath, exposed via an arched cut-out of the plate.
The hands have also been reduced and recessed: they turn in recessed areas to ensure that they don’t get pressed against the 0.2mm thick (!) sapphire crystal front, should that deform even the slightest. Still, legibility is pretty good, even if the hands are far from being the correct length, I can certainly admire the effort that this ultra-thin movement is going through to drive them accurately and with ample torque.
Funnily enough, the end result is a watch that weighs the same and looks about as thick as a stack of 5 pieces of A4 paper, coming in just under 22 grams. Attached to this featherweight case is a super slim alligator strap – most straps would look ridiculous on this filigree case. The strap, Piaget say, even has some Kevlar sewn into its center to keep it from tearing or wearing too easily – probably in a parallel universe where it would actually be worn and not sitting in a case.
In conclusion, Piaget has solved many issues linked to a watch this thin being worn out in the real world. Since many of the brand’s creations are in the money-no-object league anyway, perhaps we’ll see a few pieces (perhaps a bit thicker but still record-thin) make it into collectors’ hands. The question, as with any other concept product, is how much of this work will be transferred into “mass produced” products. The Kevlar-reinforced strap is a neat idea and so are the “flying mainsprings” and other parts.
The Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept (should it have been called the Ultiplano?) is Piaget doing its homework well – extremely well, in fact. One gets the idea that it was done to convince its judges – at the end of the road, the brand’s customers – that the company still has what it takes. I am absolutely eager to see at least some of this Ultimate Concept – not just its technicalities, but its daring, off-limits creativity – find its way into Piaget’s attainable watches. Hear, hear! Until that happens though, this watch will just remain what it says on the tin: the “Ultimate Concept.” As such, it doesn’t even have a price. piaget.com