When we think about the dimensions of a watch, we tend to focus on the case diameter, as that influences how a watch looks (and fits) on your wrist. I would argue that case thickness is an equally important measurement to consider. After all, a 40mm dress watch wears much differently than a 40mm diver. Where a thicker watch exudes a more robust and tool-friendly character, slender case profiles lead the charge for more formal affairs, and leaves the wearer with a featherlight feel that glides under any shirt or sweater cuff.
The ability to reduce case thickness is closely tied to a brand’s horological expertise, leading to creations like the Piaget Altiplano 900P ref. G0A39111 seen here. Few brands ever truly rival Piaget in the ultra-thin dress watch category, and watches like these are the sort of thing that both amaze and confound even the most astute of watch collectors.
The last two decades saw a growing focus on slimming down mechanical watch movements, with a few manufacturers looking to claim the crown of the thinnest watch, the thinnest watch movement, the thinnest watch with a particular complication, and so on. That said, this obsession about creating thin watches is nothing new. Piaget has been doing it since 1957, when they released the 2mm thick 9P movement. Three years later, a 2.3mm thick automatic version was released, known as the 12P. When the quartz crisis hit, Piaget released the quartz 7P at 3.1mm thick, and still kept a toe in the mechanical waters with further movements of similar dimensions.
The modern era saw Piaget keep innovating with these ultra-thin movements, housing them in the Altiplano collection. In 2014, the brand celebrated its 140th anniversary, which of course meant a new watch needed to be created to mark the milestone. This is when we first met the Piaget Altiplano 900P, a watch with an impressively slender 3.65mm thickness.
Bear in mind, with those historical movements, we were just quoting the thicknesses of the movements themselves. With the Piaget Altiplano 900P, the 3.65mm thickness is the entirety of the watch. How can this be done? Well, aside from some very clever placement of the geartrain, Piaget has opted not to use a traditional dial, but rather integrated the dial into the 900P’s movement architecture. Thin as a dial can be, it still adds thickness. If that weren’t enough, there’s also the fact that the movement doesn’t use traditional construction whatsoever. There is no mainplate that holds all of its components. Instead, the Altiplano 900P’s white gold case acts as a baseplate for the caliber, with all of its geartrain and bridges bolting down into it. What’s more, Piaget didn’t require any sort of dramatic increase in movement diameter in order to build the 900P. It’s case diameter is a compact 38mm — arguably the perfect diameter for a traditional dress watch.
Many brands have gone with “dial free” designs before, but the Piaget Altiplano 900P is not just another skeleton or open-worked dial. The timekeeping shows in the upper left quadrant, crisp and clean, and uncluttered by any of the mechanical elements. This means that, unlike a great number of openworked watches, the legibility of the watch has not been compromised. All of these elements combine to create a dress watch quite unlike anything you’ve ever had on your wrist.
Given how much the Piaget Altiplano 900P’s design revolves around its movement architecture, we’ve talked through most of what’s been said here, aside from one key element — its power reserve. The 900P movement, despite its compact construction, manages to offer a 48-hour power reserve. While this is barely above the standard fare for more conventional mechanical movements out there, the 900P does not have the same luxury of space to carry one or more large mainsprings to muster an extended reserve.
Piaget Altiplano 900P vs The Competition
Aside from competing with its many ultra thin siblings in the Altiplano collection, the first watch that we see the Altiplano competing against is of course Bvlgari’s Octo Finissimo. Yes, the Octo is larger, and a couple of millimeters thicker, however it is also an incredibly slender watch with its own unique design cues that stand out from the industry’s more standard fare. Bvlgari is the only brand to consistently rival Piaget’s ultra-thin efforts in recent years, though doing so at a slightly lower price of entry.
If the wafer-thin Piaget Altiplano feels too flimsy for you, then something like the Jaeger LeCoultre Master Grande Ultra Thin (at 9.1mm) or Patek Philippe Calatrava (at 8.1mm) would be a suitable alternative. The JLC will come in even more economical than the Piaget models, while the Patek Philippe will show similar pricing to the Piaget, depending on which Altiplano reference you’re comparing against.
The Piaget Altiplano 900P is really a tale of two personalities. The first revolves around upscale elegance, with all of its polished edges gleaming to accompany its svelte profile. The second is anchored in engineering and micromechanics. Yes, it’s still highly finished, but the fact is you’re still seeing the inner workings of what is going on, and what makes this marvel able to do its work. This is the definition of refined elegance for the owner who appreciates — and wants to see — the masterful engineering and craftsmanship that goes into his watch.
The obvious story with the Piaget Altiplano 900P is just how insanely thin it is. I don’t know about you, but having a watch that is as thin as the strap attached to it would be an absolute trip. The Piaget Altiplano 900P proves the adage that delightful things may come in small packages, while also providing a home for some ingenious engineering.