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When elegance is measured in millimetres
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When elegance is measured in millimetres

Friday, 12 October 2018
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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8 min read

Once an exercise in style, the extra-thin watch has evolved into a statement of the manufacturer’s expertise as much as a symbol of the wearer’s elegance. Today’s size zero movements come with complications, while the type of winding (automatic or manual) determines what counts as a record.

There was a time when only a smattering of manufacturers made extra-thin watches, finding ever more ingenious ways to shave millimetres from their movements. Think back to Calibre ML 9’’’, a wristwatch movement from 1946 by Audemars Piguet which stood 1.64 mm high, or Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Calibre 1003, also 1.64 mm in height, which equipped certain Vacheron Constantin watches post 1955. Not forgetting, of course, Piaget’s manual-wind 9P (1957, 2.00 mm) and the automatic 12P (1959, 2.30 mm), both milestones in the history of extra-thin movements. Joining them in the 1980s were Frédérique Piguet, which supplied Blancpain (Calibre 21, 1.71 mm), and also Patek Philippe (Calibre 177, 1.77 mm), together with Bouchet-Lassalle which released its 1200 (1.20 mm for the manual-wind version) in 1976. And that was pretty much the extent of it.

And so it seemed the fat lady had sung; extra-thin movements had reached the physical limits imposed by the strength of their components. For watch brands, however, each new challenge is perceived as an opportunity to steal a march on the competition. However strenuously they deny an interest in setting new records, a “world’s-thinnest” title will be widely reported in the media, and the attendant publicity is a powerful incentive for any brand. Many of the early extra-thin calibres were no longer in regular production and this, coupled with new digital technology, left the field wide open to reinvent extra-thin. Since the turn of the century, the battle for thinness has taken on epic proportions – so much so, in fact, that categories have been introduced to differentiate between automatic and manual-winding movements (the latter, having no oscillating weight, are logically thinner), with further classifications according to the different types of complication.

Even brands which lack the requisite manufacturing capacity can venture into ultra-thin waters by equipping their watches with an ETA 7001.

As well as giving watchmakers a chance to show off their skill, extra-thin timepieces have benefited from their image as the epitome of horological good taste and elegance. This fashion for slimness means it is no longer unusual for a watch to measure less than 6 mm high, case included. Even brands which lack the requisite manufacturing capacity can venture into ultra-thin waters by equipping their watches with an ETA 7001 – a manual-wind calibre showing hours, minutes and small seconds that is 2.50 mm high. Confirmation that thin is in, here’s our selection of wafer-like watches, all equipped with in-house movements and released within the past 18 months.

A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin copper blue

(movement: 2.9 mm – case: 6.2 mm)
For the Glashütte firm, this Saxonia Thin is an opportunity to remind us that “less is more”, and who are we to disagree. The copper blue dial, crafted from solid silver and coated with a thin layer of goldstone, gives depth and charisma. Despite measuring just 2.9 mm high, the movement benefits from a comfortable 72 hours of power reserve by way of a compact mainspring barrel.

Saxonia Thin copper blue © A. Lange & Söhne
Saxonia Thin copper blue © A. Lange & Söhne
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak RD#2 Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin

(movement: 2.89 mm – case: 6.30 mm)
At 6.30 mm high, this Royal Oak RD#2 is the thinnest automatic perpetual calendar so far. Audemars Piguet spent five years re-engineering what would normally be a three-tier movement into a single level. Functions were recombined to enhance robustness and reliability. The end result is a movement, with a central rotor, that is even thinner than that of the Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin (with no complication).

Royal Oak RD#2 Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin © Audemars Piguet
Royal Oak RD#2 Perpetual Calendar Ultra-Thin © Audemars Piguet
Breguet Classique Extra-Plate 5157

(movement: 2.40 mm – case: 5.45 mm)
This Classique 5157 is pure Breguet, from the silvered gold dial decorated with traditional Clou de Paris hand-guillochage to the hollowed “pomme” hands in blued steel, designed by the man himself in 1783. Note, too, the Breguet signature, engraved on each side of the 12 numeral. Inside, the automatic Calibre 502.3 provides 45 hours of power reserve.

Classique Extra-Plate 5157 © Breguet
Classique Extra-Plate 5157 © Breguet
Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic

(movement: 1.95 mm – case: 3.95 mm)
This is the fourth Bulgari watch to earn “world’s-thinnest” status. At a scant 3.95 mm high, the Octo Finissimo ranks as the thinnest automatic watch ever made, as well as the thinnest tourbillon on the market. The movement base is from the Finissimo Tourbillon, released in 2014, to which Bulgari has added a peripheral oscillating weight on the reverse. The finished Calibre BVL 288 stands just 1.95 mm high.

Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic © Bulgari
Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic © Bulgari
Drive de Cartier Extra-Flat

(movement: 2.15 mm – case: 6.60 mm)
In 2016, Cartier introduced a new line for gentleman drivers, with an assertive softened square case tempered by the inherent elegance of a Cartier watch. Accentuating this latter quality, the brand followed through a year later with an extra-thin rendition. At just 2.15 mm high, the manually-wound Calibre 430 MC reduces the overall thickness of the case by 40% compared with the original.

Drive de Cartier Extra-Flat
Drive de Cartier Extra-Flat
Chopard L.U.C XP

(movement: 3.30 mm – case: 7.20 mm)
For this new rendition in steel of the L.U.C XP, Chopard developed Calibre L.U.C 96.53-L which owes its 3.30 mm profile to a tungsten micro-rotor. The mood is one of elegant sobriety, reflected in the vertically satin-brushed silvered dial with large blued numerals. Chopard’s patented two-barrels Twin technology ensures a 60-hour power reserve for this classically contemporary watch.

L.U.C XP © Chopard
L.U.C XP © Chopard
Hermès Slim GMT

(movement: 4.00 mm – case: 9.48 mm)
Svelte, subdued and stylish are three ways to describe the Slim d’Hermès collection, which brings a GMT function into the mix. Inside the case ticks the H1950 movement base (2.60 mm high) whose GMT module by Agenhor adds just 1.40 mm to the overall height. The Hermès touch comes from Philippe Apeloig’s signature dial font, together with the scattered numerals on the silvered GMT subdial.

Slim GMT © Hermès
Slim GMT © Hermès
Nomos Tangente 38

(movement: 2.60 mm – case: 6.65 mm)
Nomos made its debut with the Tangente, which has grown into the brand’s flagship design. It remains a fine illustration of the Bauhaus principle that form follows function, with its pared-down design and immediately legible dial. The 38-mm version is driven by the manually-wound Alpha movement, which stands just 2.60 mm high. The more recent models come with the automatic in-house neomatik DUW 6101 calibre, which measures 3.60 mm high.

Tangente 38 ©Nomos
Tangente 38 ©Nomos
Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse Ref 5738R-001

(movement: 2.53 mm – case: 5.90 mm)
Patek Philippe is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its legendary Golden Ellipse, launched in 1968. A bold departure from conventional forms, the elliptical shape of its case looks to the Golden Ratio of Ancient Greece for its harmonious proportions. Offered in this jubilee year as a large model in pink gold, in 1977 it became the first watch to house the equally famed automatic Calibre 240 with a recessed mini-rotor.

Golden Ellipse Ref 5738R-001 © Patek Philippe
Golden Ellipse Ref 5738R-001 © Patek Philippe
Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Automatic 910P

(movement/case: 4.30 mm)
The manually-wound Altiplano 900P which Piaget unveiled in 2014 revolutionised construction by merging movement and case, to measure a scant 3.65 mm in height: an all-time record for a mechanical watch. In a repeat performance, this year’s 910P reprised the same fusional principle, to which it added a peripheral oscillating weight to set a new record for thinnest automatic watch at 4.30 mm. Victory was, however, shortlived as two months later, Bulgari stepped in and claimed the title for itself.

Altiplano Ultimate Automatic 910P © Piaget
Altiplano Ultimate Automatic 910P © Piaget
Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Tourbillon

(movement: 5.65 mm – case: 10.40 mm)
The elegance of an openworked tourbillon carriage in the form of a Maltese Cross, an uncluttered dial swept by bi-facetted dauphine hands: everything about this Traditionnelle says Vacheron Constantin. The Manufacture has chosen this model for its first in-house automatic tourbillon movement, drawing on a perfect command of extra-thin movements. This Calibre 21600 assembles 188 components yet measures a mere 5.65 mm high.

Traditionnelle Tourbillon ©Vacheron Constantin
Traditionnelle Tourbillon ©Vacheron Constantin
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