The Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept watch – let’s call it the AUC – was first introduced as a kind of horological experiment in 2018, and at the time, there was no real intention expressed by Piaget to make it a regular production watch. It was and is almost absurdly thin – at 2mm overall, it is actually thinner than most watch movements. There are quite a few technical problems, to put it mildly, which have to be addressed in making a watch this flat. For one thing, most watches which have pushed thinness to this level have had cases so flat that they tend to bend when the watch is strapped onto the wrist, which historically has been one of the major limiting factors in how thin a watch can actually get. When I saw the AUC in 2018 at SIHH, I found it irresistibly intriguing. I have always had a soft spot for ultra-thin watches, and historically, Piaget has been one of the industry’s leaders. But I have to be frank, I did not expect it, ever, to become a regular production watch – and if anyone had asked me, I would have given Piaget exactly a snowball’s chance in hell of ever making it commercially available. (We were actually asked, at first, to not handle the prototypes at all, which did little to instill any confidence that it would be anything you could actually buy.)
However, mirabile dictu, here it is. Not only is it available to purchase as a series-produced watch (though I can’t imagine that they plan on making very many of them per year), it is also customizable. You can, if you want bragging rights for wearing the thinnest mechanical watch ever made, specify your choice of colors for the subdial for the time, the movement plate, the finish of the hands, and even the finish of the strap. According to Piaget, there are over 10,000 possible permutations, which means that in the extremely unlikely event that you meet someone else who is also wearing one, chances are you are guaranteed to not have that Met Gala moment of horror where someone else is wearing the same outfit.Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept watch has a very strong presence in high jewelry watches, and historically, that has been a big part of the brand’s identity. But in the 1960s, it was also a leader in creating ultra-thin movements, including the automatic caliber 12P and the hand-wound caliber 9P. These were record-setting movements at the time and today, they are still, even by modern standards, remarkable constructions; they were some of the thinnest really practical mechanical movements constructed. There were attempts to make flatter movements, including the late and largely unlamented Lassale calibers (which were so thin that servicing them generally meant throwing them out, as you couldn’t open the watch case without damaging them beyond repair). But in terms of movements you could actually use every day, Piaget had few rivals in ultra-thin watchmaking.At 2mm thin, the 1957 caliber 9P remains one of the most historically important ultra-thin movements, and while the ultra-thin wars have heated up considerably in recent years, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept watch is out in front of the pack, at least for now, in absolute thinness. This feat is achieved through a number of unusual technical features. For one, the movement is integrated directly into the case, which Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept watch acts as the movement plate. The problem of rigidity has been addressed by making the case, not out of conventional watchmaking materials, but rather, a high-tech cobalt alloy. The motion works and hands have been suppressed into the movement so that they lie on the same plane as the going train, and the sapphire crystal is a whisper-thin 0.2mm.It is, in a word, a most extraordinary technical achievement, and one which aesthetically has a presence that has no rival, at least for the time being. If the last few years have taught us anything, it is that a sufficiently determined Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept watch watchmaker can break records heretofore considered unassailable. But it is very difficult, nonetheless, for me to imagine anyone knocking the AUC from its throne any time soon.