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When brands challenge themselves with ultra-thin watches

February 5 2018

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Historically, the watchmaking finesse counts as an attribute that signifies a nobility of construction and, by extension, that emphasizes that of its owner. Subtle to manufacture without being complications, these references are regularly headlines because this mechanical approach tutoit the feat and makes these wonders watches apart. Competition in progress. - Vincent Daveau.


Looking carefully at the history of watchmaking, it is almost possible to say that finesse is consubstantial with the progress that has allowed the profession to reach new heights. The desire to refine the mechanisms, at least as powerful as the one aimed at improving the precision, imposed on the watchmakers we see at the end of the Renaissance, technical solutions to enable them to loose sometimes as few as a tenth of a millimetre thick . The subtlety quickly became the proof of the mastery of a watchmaker to dominate the art. For short, this taste of a challenge gave birth to the wristwatch.

Significant progress in terms of finesse corresponds with the development of modern escapements that allow watchmakers to reduce the thickness of the movement by dispensing with the previously essential component, commonly known as the "rocket chain". Once liberated, they were able to begin to produce more and more fine watches, emulation creating envy, and duels pushing each other to go beyond.

Some houses have left their mark on this discipline. Look only at recent times, we think of Cartier and his "Couuteax" watches in the 1920 years or the 1003 caliber of Vacheron Constantin which, created in 1952 for the bicentennial of the company, made 1,64 mm thick. It was then that Piaget, already specialised in the manufacture of flat watches, presented under its own name 9P 1957 caliber which was then 2 mm thick.

The absolute record for extra-flat movement was dropped during the seventies by the house Jean Lassale whose calibre manual wind cal. 1200, a product from 1976 to 1979, was just 1,2 mm thick thanks to the use of ball bearings. The extra flat was then re-seen by the brands using references to quartz. Thus, the Longines brand put forward the Delirium, a reference of incredible finesse to the wrist with an ETA movement (it was followed by Omega, Concord and Eterna).

The return to grace for mechanical watches from the 1990 years did not immediately lead to a renewed interest in extra-flat timepieces. Some houses, such as Jaeger-LeCoultre or Blancpain, offered specially fine instruments, but their presence was marginal. The craze for the extra-flat really only became apparent when the timepieces reached a critical size, during the 2005-2007 years. Their XXL diameter imposed a thickness revised downward so that these watches continue to be decently portable without becoming unpleasant on the wrist.

Faced with the growth in size of the watches, the styles most attached to the wearing of comfort, began to reflect, as did Piaget, the idea of ​​making models of great finesse. In 2010, on the occasion of the 50P 12 years, this factory launched the Altiplano equipped with the 1208P calibre. With this reference, Piaget took control of the competitors able to play within this discipline.

Only, recently said Jean-Christophe Babin, the CEO of Bulgari, the records are made to be beaten. This is why this Italian company, gravitating in the same sector to reach a substantially identical population, presented from 2016 the Octo Finissimo range, an ultra thin line with an ultra powerful case design. Convinced of having the opportunity to occupy a niche sector, the brand Bulgari declined very quickly this finesse by proposing a tourbillon, then a minute repeater before tackling the simple and automatic watch, made against all odds, in an ultra light titanium case: L'Octo Finissimo Automatic. This automatic titanium watch of only 5,15 mm for 40 mm diameter and with a caliber of 2,23 mm thickness, laid the foundations of a competition that Piaget could not fail to participate in.

This year, Piaget chose to launch two pieces designed to regain control in this area : the Altiplano Ultimate Automatic and the Altiplano Ultimate Concept. The first, served by an original caliber called 910P with an oscillating weight placed at its periphery, is offered in white gold or pink gold and has a thickness of 4,30 mm. This series timepiece sets a new record in its category.

But to ensure the long-lasting preservation of the brand name that created the finest watch on the market, Piaget unveiled an instrument delirious (usung the the idea of ​​the Longines Délirium) which, on the basis of the concept, demonstrates the company's ability to push all the limits in the extra-flat sector. This creation of only two millimeters thick, adorned with a 41 mm diameter case made of cobalt alloy to resist deformation, caused a sensation at the last International Exhibition of Haute Horlogerie held in Geneva last January.

Balanced and delicate without being fragile, this timepiece is, like the previous one, a product that unites the mechanism very tightly to the case since the platinum of the movement is the bottom of the box. This marvel made up of 283 parts is the subject of five patent applications, including one for its balance without vibrating rooster 4 hertz and only maintained in the structure by a ball bearing. Note also that because of its extreme finesse and to keep a nice clean line to all, the engineers have developed a small additional tool to wind up the watch without difficulty.

This magnificent world premiere did not fail to tickle the cravings of the competition, especially since the Audemars Piguet manufacture also presented a very personal version of the ultra-flat with the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar RD # 2, the reference in this specialty, today the finest in the world.

Faced with the rise of brands in this sector, the main players who have chosen to communicate around finesse are almost obliged to react in order to maintain their image. In this regard, Jean Jean-Christophe Babin, the CEO of Bulgari announced, there is a small audience of journalist, that in all probability he would take up the challenge of the extra-thin and propose an interpretation of his vision of watchmaking finesse through the Octo line at Baselworld 2018. A new technical duel to follow closely.

Piaget Altiplano ultimate concept.