Measuring a gossamer 2mm, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept served as a stage for numerous Piaget innovations, including a case that formed part of the movement, a unique, integrated winding crown, an ultra-thin crystal and, more importantly, new constructions for the barrel and energy regulation.
Thanks to this evolution, the power reserve of the Altiplano Ultimate Concept extended to more than 40 hours, a benchmark in the canon of ultra-thin watches…
But what people wanted to know was whether or not such a complex and technically advanced watch could ever be produced commercially and, if so, would it be a practical proposition for daily use? In 2020, Piaget is proud to announce that the answers to those two questions are ‘yes’ and ‘yes’ – because the Altiplano Ultimate Concept is no longer just an ambitious experiment in pushing the boundaries of horological micro-engineering, but a fully developed, tried and tested watch that is now available for watch lovers and collectors to buy, own and use.
From the Drawing Board to Your Wrist
The Altiplano Ultimate Concept was developed and produced entirely in-house by Piaget’s dedicated Research and Innovation division. The team worked solely on the prototype for four years – during which time many of the established codes of watch making were re-invented – and spent a further two years perfecting the design and engineering in order to bring the watch to your wrist.
To reach the goal of creating a watch just 2mm thick – a remarkable feat which established a new world record – the team had to abandon conventional thinking. Bear in mind, this watch is only as thick as a 1 Euro coin, thinner than most after dinner mints and the same height as just two credit cards stacked together!
Classical design dictates a standard four-layers construction: bezel and crystal; dial, hands and movement encapsulated in a case and case back. Piaget, the master of thin watches since 1957, had already used the fusion concept in its 900P in 2014 (3.65mm) – the world’s thinnest mechanical watch at that time.
With such specific engineering, the traditional movement mainplate disappeared, the case back being used both as part of the case and the movement mainplate, directly carved from one single block of gold. In 2018, Piaget pushed the concept even further by launching the Altiplano Ultimate Automatic which, at just 4.3mm thick, became the world’s thinnest gold watch.
With the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, the only option was to go one step further. Piaget embarked on a journey of unprecedented miniaturisation that resulted in the filing of no fewer than five patents, the process beginning with the creation of a case for the watch into which the movement baseplate is directly machined.
Too thin to use gold, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept case had to be made from a new, cobalt-based alloy that is highly resistant, 2.3 times stronger than gold and, therefore, much more difficult to machine.
Other parts were entirely re-engineered and re-sized, with wheels, for example, being reduced from a conventional 0.20mm thick to 0.12mm and the sapphire crystal, normally 1mm thick in a standard watch, being pared-down by 80 per cent to a scarcely believable 0.2mm. The mainspring barrel (the source of power that drives the mechanism) is also of an entirely new design that has no cover or drum but is mounted on a single, ceramic ball-bearing within the frame of the watch and enables the fully-wound movement to run for up to 40 hours.
The crown, meanwhile, has been re-invented to take the form of a flat, telescopic system (with its own, specially-designed winding tool) that fits flush with the case band and in which the conventional sliding pinion clutch and crown wheel are substituted for a single, ‘infinite screw’. Such a construction offers the great advantage of perfectly protecting the crown, and therefore the movement, from unwanted shock. The dial’s off-centre position, meanwhile, meant that a conventional, straight winding stem could not be used – a problem Piaget solved by creating a patented ‘staggered’ stem.
In order for the system to function perfectly, the conventional hour hand is replaced with a revolving indicator disc while the minute hand works in the usual way. So incredibly thin is the Altiplano Ultimate Concept that a mere 0.12 mm of cobalt separates the movement from the wearer’s skin – close your eyes, and you will struggle to believe you are actually wearing it.
The degree of thinness of this watch also means that even the method of indicating the time had to be re-thought. Instead of having a dial and two hands placed on top of a bridge, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept features a dial that lies beneath it, thus providing protection from any contact with the strong but wafer-thin crystal should it be momentarily deformed in an impact. This innovative technical feature is a patent registered by Piaget in 2014 (for the launch of 900P caliber). Indeed, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept belies its wafer-like appearance by probably being tough enough to withstand everything from the level of G-Force experienced in an aerobatic jet to the force of a meteorite crashing to Earth!
A Finish without Compromise
Although the Altiplano Ultimate Concept measures a mere 2mm thick, it contains a remarkable 167 individual parts, many of which have had to be produced to microscopically small dimensions in order for the goal of ultimate thinness to be met. Nevertheless, Piaget’s strict parameters of accuracy, reliability and robustness all had to be upheld, as did the Maison’s reputation for producing exquisitely hand-decorated movements.
Clearly, the minuscule size of many components presented a challenge in this area – not least since the slightest error of judgement could result in the inadvertent destruction of a vital part. But Piaget’s artisans rose to the challenge, embellishing the movement with sunburst and satin-brushed finishes, chamfered and polished bridges and enhancing the appearance of the combined case/baseplate with a sophisticated PVD treatment.
And, in order that the quest for slimness and practicality should be maintained throughout the watch, a special alligator skin strap and a blue baltimor technical textile strap were developed. They are all ultra-thin, featuring a velvet calfskin lining and an ultra-strong Kevlar – secured, of course, by an ultra-thin cobalt pin buckle.
Piaget Infinitely Personal – the Ultimate Luxury
Bespoke finishes and unique features are often considered key to luxury, a fact that Piaget recognised more than 50 years ago when it introduced its innovative ‘Style Selector’ at its New York boutique in order to offer customers the opportunity to choose the shape of their watch case, the type of dial and bracelet and the extent of the gem setting. The idea proved so popular that it was rolled-out to Piaget stores around the world – and it has been revived today by making the Altiplano Ultimate Concept extensively customisable to the requirements of individual owners.
As a result, buyers may specify the colour of the bridge and dial, the finish of the hands and the main plate and select straps that match or contrast – a range of options that will allow the Altiplano Ultimate Concept to be created in more than 10,000 permutations, thus ensuring that few will be alike and most will be truly unique. The Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept will, of course, be a rare watch in any event – but, with so many different combinations of colours and finishes available, there is little to no chance of a meeting anyone else wearing an identical example!
Piaget – the King of Ultra-thin
The aesthetic appeal of slim and elegant wrist watches has recently been re-discovered and more makers are returning them to their catalogues – but Piaget has consistently majored in the ultra-thin theme since the creation of the hand-wound Calibre 9P in 1957. With a history dating back to its founding as a movement manufacturer in 1874, Piaget boasts almost unrivalled experience in creating and developing high-end mechanisms and has made ‘Altiplano’ a name that is all but a byword for the ultimate in thin watches.
When launched, the Calibre 9P’s thickness of 2mm (now matched by that of the complete Altiplano Ultimate Concept timepiece) made it one of the world’s thinnest mechanical movements of the era. Since then, however, Piaget has established a string of records in the field, ranging from the 2.3mm Calibre 12P of 1960 (then the world’s thinnest, self-winding movement) to the creation of further record-breaking skeleton, diamond-set skeleton, date, automatic, manual-winding and manual winding chronograph watches, as well as – in 2017 – the Calibre 670P utra-thin flying tourbillon.
The Altiplano Ultimate Concept therefore continues the Maison’s great tradition – and will undoubtedly cause watch lovers to ask: “What can they possibly do next?” Which is, of course, a question for the future…
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Stealing the Limelight
The new Limelight Gala was inspired by an iconic model created in 1973 when the brand’s famous Piaget Society was in full swing. Celebrities, artists, clients, and friends of the Maison would get together for the most fabulous parties, gathering stars such as Salvador Dali, Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Warhol, Cary Grant and Sami Davis Jr.
As vibrant today as it was in the 1970s, the Piaget Society continues to unite a creative, curious, and intelligent set of people who share a certain art de vivre.
A Feminine Icon
Piaget’s Limelight Gala was inspired by the elegant spirit of the 1960s, with its sensual curves, cambered case and asymmetrical lugs that extend from each side of the case onto the bracelet. The modern interpretation of the Limelight Gala reproduces the same design with a perfectly integrated case and lugs that are combined with a swirl of exquisite gemstones, ornate dials, and sumptuous gold bracelets.
Almost 60 years on and the Piaget Limelight Gala is more than a wristwatch, it is a feminine icon that has become a symbol of elegance and harmony.
Dazzling new editions for 2020
This year, Piaget is presenting a host of new Limelight Gala timepieces in celebration of these iconic creations that dates back to more than half a century. Each piece follows Piaget’s four pillars of excellence: The Art of Movement, The Art of Gold, The Art of Colour and The Art of Light.
The Art of Gold
Shimmering in the light, this new Piaget Limelight Gala Precious Sapphire Gradient (Ref. G0A45163) celebrates the signature design of the Limelight Gala collection with a hand-engraved gold bracelet and dial that are highlighted by 20 large diamonds (approx. 1.46 cts) and 22 blue sapphires (approx. 4.01 cts) set in a subtle gradient of blue.
Piaget is one of the few remaining Maisons that has the savoir-faire to make hand-made gold bracelets. This rare traditional craft started in the 1960s and became hugely popular thanks to Piaget’s bold creations. Mainly inspired by nature, Piaget has used over one hundred different life-like motifs to craft its hand-made gold bracelets, such as leather design, ocean waves, frost, flowers, foliage, bark, snake scales and many more.
The work of a chainsmith is similar to that of a Haute-Couture dressmaker. The artisan will start with hundreds of gold links, which will be tightly assembled. The next step is the soldering of the countless miniature links that will result in a bracelet of remarkable suppleness.
The white gold bracelet featured on this new timepiece has been created in this fashion, then hand-engraved in the Palace Décor style, one of Piaget’s most iconic motifs, which requires eight hours of work. Only a few artisans, who work in Piaget’s “Workshop of Extraordinary Creations”, have the expertise to hand-engrave this pattern.
The dial is also made of white gold and is engraved using the same Palace Décor technique. It takes two hours to complete the engraving on the dial and it is always carried out by the same engraver who decorates the bracelet to ensure a uniform design. To let the Décor shine through, the dial is covered in translucent blue enamel. It is oven-fired multiple times at a temperature over 800°C, giving this technique the name of “Grand Feu” Enamel.
Finding the perfect colour gemstones for this timepiece was also one of the most challenging operations. It involved sampling large quantities of gemstones to ensure the perfect colour match, a task made even more complex given the large progressive size of the stones and the high gem quality standards of the Maison. To magnify the brilliance of the stones, Piaget’s gem-setters have expertly set the gemstones by hand, using the Serti Descendu technique.
This timepiece is so unique that it is a numbered edition. There is also a similar version (Ref. G0A45363) with a mother-of-pearl dial and a dark-blue alligator strap, limited to 88 pieces.
The Art of Light
Recognised for its daring vision and incredible savoir-faire, Piaget is one of the world’s most prestigious watchmakers/jewellers. For over 140 years, the Maison’s artisans have been creating high-jewellery masterpieces by combining precious metals with flawless gemstones and innovative design.
A new rose gold version, (Ref. G0A45161) also using the Serti Descendu technique to set the 57 diamonds (approx. 4.80 cts), is available with a burgundy-coloured strap and a delicate mother-of-pearl dial of exceptional quality. It is extremely white in colour, with beautiful reflections, which attests of its high quality. Three new Haute-Joaillerie Limelight Gala timepieces join the collection this year with stunning oval dials paved with snow-set diamonds, and a captivating setting of marquise-cut gemstones on the bezel, lugs and bracelet.
The marquise cut is an important part of Piaget’s history. As legend has it, France’s King Louis XV asked to cut a diamond in honour of the smile of his beloved Marquise de Pompadour. The resulting diamond let the light shine in from the very centre of the gemstone, giving it a unique radiance. This unique cut became a signature for the Maison.
The three new High Jewellery timepieces come in a 28 by 23mm case. One model adorned with a fully-paved bracelet set with 364 brilliant- and marquise-cut diamonds (approx. 12.42 cts, Ref. G0A45170), a second one set with both diamonds and blue sapphires (Ref. G0A45171), and the third one set with 237 diamonds and fitted with an elegant blue satin strap (Ref. G0A45168).
The Art of Colour
Three new aventurine glass models join the Limelight Gala collection, showcasing the brand’s love for the celestial sky above our heads. Each dial is crafted from aventurine glass, a magical material that takes its name from the Italian word avventura, meaning “adventure”. Aventurine dates back to the 17th century with some of the first records coming from Murano, Venice, a town famous for its glass making. The process consists of adding copper oxide to glass to give it a mesmerising twinkle that mirrors the starry night sky.
There are two Limelight Gala Aventurine Glass Dial: a 32mm case (Ref. G0A45162) adorned with 63 diamonds (approx. 1.76 ct) and a smaller 26mm case version (Ref. G0A45152) with 61 diamonds (approx. 0.92 ct), both limited to 300 pieces each.
Another model, the Limelight Gala Precious Aventurine Glass Dial (Ref. G0A45180), is set with 57 diamonds (approx. 4.80 cts) using the Serti Descendu technique and limited to 200 pieces.
Piaget Limelight Gala High Jewellery Black Opal
This stunning one-of-a-kind high-jewellery creation (Ref. G0A45007) features a dial fitted with a rare and precious black opal. Black opals are fascinating as they reflect a myriad of bright colours when they catch the light, such as yellow, green, blue, orange and red. The colours depend on the structure of the stone, and also the angle and brightness of the light, frequently changing before our eyes.
Black opals are only found in Australia and Ethiopia, making them particularly rare. Australian black opals were first found in the 19th century, where Ethiopian stones were only discovered around 15 years ago. In the present case from Australia, Piaget kept this rare and extraordinary opal for five years and waited for the perfect creation to host it.
The Limelight Gala High Jewellery Black Opal highlights its black opal with the addition of 86 brilliant-cut blue sapphires (approx. 5.51 cts) and a colourful array of marquise-cut coloured gemstones that start with 58 sapphires (approx. 6.23 cts), first yellow followed with orange and 14 pink rubies (approx. 1.41 cts) in a progressive gradient of colours to create a jewel that celebrates the best of the Earth’s treasures.