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02/03/2016
 3 minutes

Ultra-Thin Watches

By Christopher Beccan
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony White Gold
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony in oro bianco, Foto: Bexsonn

Ever since the wristwatch became a common companion, there has been a quest to develop not just small, but ultra-thin wristwatches. It is a quest by manufacturers to create lean and clean timepieces that feel like you have next to nothing on your wrist. While it is great to have a timepiece that is thick and robust, they can often become rather cumbersome. And let’s face it, they’re more susceptible to dents and scratches. The truth of the matter is, a truly comfortable timepiece and a rather thin timepiece often go hand in hand. Looking back at the finest wristwatches of the past, which in fairness were mostly worn by affluent and important people, they were never made to be noticeable, they weren’t supposed be the focal point of ones ensemble or indeed unsettle their attire.

Thin and Thinner

Jaeger-LeCoultre is very well known for producing watches that are not only seriously small, but also very thin. When it comes to the record for the world’s thinnest wristwatch however, it’s a to-and-fro between Jaeger-LeCoultre and Piaget. Both of these manufacturers continually push the boundaries for developing extra-thin, extra-flat timepieces. Piaget has a long history of tirelessly producing ultra-thin timepieces. The brand has held the above-mentioned title for dozens of timepieces in various categories, beginning back in 1957, when the first ultra-thin movement, the Calibre 9P, was invented.

Just over a year ago, Piaget held the record for the world’s thinnest mechanical watch with its Altiplano 900P, which is only a mind-boggling 3.65mm thick. How is something that thin possible? For the Altiplano, the case is technically part of the movement, because the case back functions as the baseplate for movement components. The Altiplano makes a technological statement, “we know how to make the thinnest watch in the world,” rather than the statement, “look at this beautiful timepiece, which just so happens to be the thinnest watch in the world.” Jaeger-LeCoultre used a similar approach with their record-breaking, Master Ultra-Thin Squelette, which measures 0.05mm thinner at 3.6mm. However, the record for the thinnest movement still belongs to Vacheron Constantin for the cailbre 1003, which was used in the Historiques Ultra-Fine 1955.

Elegance and Comfort
Nonetheless, titles are less important in the grand scheme of things. Timepieces like these allow brands to explore the realm of possibilities. Not only can they uncover what new advancements in wristwatches are possible, but they can also see where the boundaries lie. For instance, thinner movements had been made previously, but they were found to be impractical, because it was nearly impossible to service them. Plus, you also have to take power reserve and weight into account. After all, you still need to have a bit of volume on your wrist.

In my opinion, a timepiece like the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony ref. 81180 is the quintessential traditional ultra-thin mechanical wristwatch. It’s thin enough to go unnoticed by others, but is sizable enough to let you know that it’s there. Plus, its elegant simplicity makes it a truly stunning timepiece.
I think it’s important to remember that brands like Jaeger-LeCoultre, Piaget, and Vacheron Constantin don’t make thin wristwatches to just break records. In the end, the ultimate goal is to make a more elegant timepiece, and elegance is found in simplicity. Things can really start to get interesting however, when complications such as chronographs and minute repeaters are brought into the mix. For me, this is when thin timepieces really begin to excel.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Ultra-Thin Tribute to 1931
Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Ultra-Thin Tribute to 1931, Image: FratelloWatches

About the Author

Christopher Beccan

Christopher Beccan is the founder of the online magazine "Bexsonn," where he regularly writes about his two passions: extraordinary timepieces and whiskey. His work …

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