Until 5pm on 24 April, the record for the thinnest mechanical watch to have gone to market was held by Jaeger-LeCoultre. Its Master Ultra-Thin Squelette came in with a case just 3.6mm in depth when it was released in 2015. In doing so, it narrowly wrested the title from the historic master of the thin watch, Piaget, whose Altiplano Ultimate 900P had previously set the mark at 3.65mm in 2014.
For the sake of 0.05mm, you might have thought they’d call it quits, but the quest to design watches ever closer to the airy thinness of gold leaf remains a compulsion to the world’s leading makers. Were you to question why, expect the same answer Mallory gave about Everest: “Because it’s there.”
In 2018, Piaget revealed a 2mm-thick hand-wound prototype, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. Whether it would be possible to produce that watch commercially for practical everyday use was an entirely different question. At that thickness – thinness rather (it being the height of a €1 coin, or thinner than three stacked credit cards) – the slightest impact on the glass could damage the movement lurking nanometres beneath, and a metal much harder than gold, but nevertheless still machinable, would have to be found for the case.
However, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept is concept no more. Ahead of tomorrow’s Watches and Wonders trade fair (now happening in cyberspace due to Covid-19), Piaget has announced that the watch will be going on sale, its 167 tiny parts, like a troupe of angels dancing on a pinhead, intricately whirring within a cobalt alloy case 2.3 times stronger than gold. The collection comes in three different finishes and a choice of ultra-thin (naturally) alligator-skin or technical-textile straps. Customisation is also possible, with myriad different colour options for the bridge, dial, hands and mainplate and straps that match or contrast.