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Twentieth-century revolutions: Piaget and extra-thin...
History & Masterpieces

Twentieth-century revolutions: Piaget and extra-thin calibres

Wednesday, 27 January 2010
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Marie Le Berre
Freelance writer and journalist

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Throughout its evolution during the twentieth century, the wristwatch has been the incentive for feats of miniaturisation in mechanical movements. Extra-thin calibres are a prime example and Piaget, which has distinguished itself in this art, sets a new record this year.

Founded as a Manufacture in 1874 in the Swiss village of La Côte-aux-Fées, Piaget was exclusively engaged in the manufacture of watch movements until 1943, when it began to sell wristwatches under its own name. It quickly earned a reputation for extra-thin movements, the catalyst for the extraordinary creativity that has always surrounded the brand. In 1957, Piaget caused a sensation by developing Calibre 9P hand-wound movement (at 2 mm high). It set its first record in 1960 by the 12P, the world’s thinnest self-winding movement (2.3mm high). Both would remain in the brand’s collections for some thirty years.

Birth of the Altiplano

In 1988, the decision was taken to launch a collection that would highlight this historic expertise. Since then, the Altiplano has grown with a new generation of hand-wound movements: first the 430P (2.1mm high) then, from 2007, the 830P (2.5mm high), not to mention the 600P tourbillon (3.5mm high), a form movement that broke its own record of 2002. The collection has grown as new models, each with a distinct personality, have been added (no new model has ever replaced an existing one). It now extends across 24 models and accounts for 22% of watch revenues at Piaget.

The Altiplano has found particular favour among a mature clientele in search of classic elegance and who understand the superior quality of Piaget’s extra-thin movements. Piaget may not be the first name to spring to mind when buying a first mechanical watch, hence the launch, in September 2009, of an advertising campaign with visuals that reassert the brand’s original vocation. Watches are shown in close-up, some with their movement to remind buyers of the Manufacture’s long-standing expertise.

Self-winding returns

Now, in this anniversary year for the 12P, Piaget is breathing new life into the Altiplano collection. The reference for sophisticated elegance among enlightened connoisseurs, it is opening up to self-winding models that will appeal to a younger clientele. The movement is of no less exceptional quality, bringing further proof of Piaget’s incomparable expertise in extra-thin calibres. Fifty years after the unveiling of the 12P, the Manufacture introduces the 1200P, setting a new record for the thinnest self-winding watch at a scant 2.35mm high.

Piaget Altiplano ''anniversary edition'' large model 43 mm, Manufacture Piaget 1200P ultra-thin mechanical self-winding movement © Piaget
Piaget Altiplano ''anniversary edition'' large model 43 mm, Manufacture Piaget 1200P ultra-thin mechanical self-winding movement © Piaget

Each part has been pared down to the minimum while guaranteeing complete reliability. The gears shave millimetres off their usual thickness, measuring just 0.12mm instead of the usual 0.2mm. As in the original 12P, the problem of the self-winding mechanism, which usually takes up additional space, has been resolved thanks to an off-centre micro-rotor. A large format calibre at 13¼”’ or 29.9mm diameter, the 1200P makes its entrance in the collection as two Altiplano hour and minute watches that commemorate the original model. One is in rose gold, the other in white gold. Both are offered as a limited edition of 235 pieces. For its standard collection, Piaget is launching an Altiplano with small seconds, equipped with the 1208P calibre. The 43mm diameter case sets yet another ultra-thin record at 5.25mm high.

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