The extra flat watch is enjoying something of a comeback this year, driven both by the explosion of a market that prefers thin, classically styled watches –China, we’re looking at you –and by a growing appreciation for watches that embody some of the classical expertise in watchmaking connoisseurs have always craved and that a wider audience is finally starting to appreciate. The biggest name in making the thinnest watches is undoubtedly Piaget, whose legendary extra flat movements of the 1950s and ’60s set records and put super-flat dress watches on the wrists of celebrities, jet-setters, and the super-rich (one of Piaget’s most legendary ad campaigns boasted that they made “the world’s most expensive watch.”)
Now that thin is in again, watchmakers are vying to make whisper thin timepieces that have all the discretion of classic thin watches from the Mad Men era, but still have a little something special that sets them apart. Though it’s somewhat in the position of the old sheriff fighting off the young guns, Piaget still remains the victor in today’s flat watch shootouts, and there’s no better evidence of this than its new Altiplano Skeleton Ultra Thin Essentials.
It’s watchmaking reduced to its basics, and then reduced some more. Both a skeletonized watch and an ultra thin movement are challenges. In a skeletonized watch, as much material as possible is removed to give the watch (at best) a delicate transparency, like a stained glass window or a spider’s web; but like a spider’s web it has to be strong as well as diaphanous, or the movement won’t work properly. An extra flat movement presents the same problems; tolerances are extremely tight and only the highest precision will result in a reliable and accurate movement.
Putting the two together is a combination of skills that are already hard enough done independently, and if you’re looking for a watch that’s the horological equivalent of juggling chainsaws on a high wire, look no further. The Skeleton Ultra Thin Essentials is in fact a double record holder –it is both the world’s thinnest self-winding skeletonized watch (at only 5.34mm in height overall) and it houses the worldes thinnest self-winding skeletonized movement (the Piaget calibre 1200S, part of a larger range of 23 movements in all made in-house by Piaget.) The movement’s long, arcing curves have all the beauty of a flying buttress in a Gothic cathedral, and serve the same purpose: creating structural strength while allowing maximum illumination. Delivered in white gold in a 38mm case that’s a perfect fit for the movement it showcases, the Altiplano Skeleton Ultra Thin Essentials is a technical tour de force with style to burn.