One of the most interesting things about ultra-thin watches is that, on a certain level, they shouldn't exist at all. In terms of their ability to function as precision measuring instruments, watches are like any other – the more solidly they are built, as a rule, the more exactly they will do their job. Thin watches, however, do provide something a little more intangible than precision; they provide a certain kind of elegance, and so the art of the ultra-thin watch is essentially to provide an easy-seeming, devil-may-care aura while sacrificing as little as possible in terms of durability and reliability. This is a neat trick needless to say, as the watchmaker – and the casemaker and maker of the dial and hands as well, all of whom have to work closely with each other to pull off an ultra-thin watch – are striving to serve competing and to some extent, mutually exclusive goals, which is why to this day, relatively few companies are associated with real ultra-thin watchmaking with any consistency.
The 2mm thick Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch.
Recent years have seen a bit of an arms race in ultra-thin watchmaking, but despite the broadening, if still niche, appeal of the genre, it's still true that there's no single brand more historically associated with ultra-thin watchmaking. Piaget unveiled its first ultra-flat movement, the caliber 9P, in 1957 and it has been followed in subsequent decades by many other ultra-thin calibers, including the Altiplano 900P, and the Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch, which is only 2mm thick overall – as thin as the caliber 9P itself.
So far this year, Piaget's not*taking direct aim at any world's records, but for the SIHH 2019, the company's released a new meteorite-dial version of the Altiplano, which is being offered in pink gold, with pink gold dial markers. In terms of ultra-thin watchmaking, this is nothing groundbreaking technically of course, but it is an interesting example of how working with various materials when making an ultra-thin watch, creates particular challenges.
Meteorite, as a dial material, has been used on and off since the 1980s, by brands as varied as Corum and Rolex, but it's probably never going to become an especially common dial material, as it is quite difficult to work with. Meteorite dials are derived from iron-nickel meteorites, which in turn were formed very early in the history of the solar system, as the molten cores of proto-planetary bodies (iron, like all heavy elements, originates in the cores of very massive stars as a result of the fusion of lighter elements, which occurs as such stars burn through hydrogen). Every such meteorite has a different internal structure, and the distinctive elongated internal iron crystals are visible when the meteorite is sectioned – these are called Widmanstätten patterns, after Count Alois von Beckh Widmanstätten, who described them in 1808. However, they're also called Thomson patterns, as it was the English scientist William Thomson who first described them in meteorites, four years earlier.*
Thomson saw the patterns after treating a sample meteorite with nitric acid and the same basic procedure is required for producing meteorite dials today. The dial blank is cut from a meteorite (iron-nickel meteorites and meteorite fragments of suitable size and internal structure can be difficult to find, which is another reason they're probably going to remain rather rare) and then acid-treated to reveal the pattern. Each dial will be slightly different, and there are noticeable differences from one meteorite to another as well, which depend on the conditions under which the meteorite formed. In general, such patterns are definite evidence of extraterrestrial origin, as they can only form when the material cools extremely slowly (over a time scale of millions of years). Once the dial is etched, it's further treated to prevent the iron and nickel which compose it from oxidizing.
The result is a unique pattern which presents a shifting, almost iridescent appearance as the light changes. Since the meteorite material has a highly varied internal crystal structure, it's very difficult to work with, and the failure rate during fabrication from breakage can be quite high. The additional challenge in an ultra-thin watch is that of course, you need to keep the dial as thin as possible in order to keep the watch as thin as possible overall – the Altiplano Automatic 40mm With Meteorite Dial is 40mm in diameter and only 6.5mm thick. The slim profile's partly due to the flatness of the dial, but it's also due to the movement – Piaget's own micro-rotor caliber 1230P, which is 3mm x 29.90mm, and which provides a 44 hour power reserve.
The micro-rotor Piaget caliber 1230P.
This will be a limited edition of 300 pieces world wide; price is $24,600, and they should arrive at Piaget boutiques in June. For more on watchmaking at Piaget, visit Piaget.com.


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