The race to develop the world’s thinnest watch

Watchmakers love a good arms race. The first and perhaps longest-running race is the race to equip a watch with the maximum number of functions or complications — a distinction currently held by our groundbreaking Reference 57260. Vacheron Constantin, released in 2015, has 57 of them. Then, of course, there’s the matter of depth. Among dive watches, Omega outdoes them all with the 6,000-meter Seamaster Planet Ocean Ultra Deep, as mentioned in this column earlier this year.

Piaget’s Altiplano Final Concept.

Now attention has turned to thinness. The title of the world’s thinnest mechanical watch has been held by Piaget’s Altiplano Ultimate Concept: The entire watch is just 2mm thick, achieved by a combination of new techniques and high-grade precision component manufacturing. micrometer degrees, most notably removing the base plate and building a straight movement on the case.

But small measurements can create big problems. Introduced in 2018, the Altiplano is only produced in 2020 (with no more than 10 produced per year) and requires a feat of engineering, including tuning to allow for variations. small form due to the pressure in the aircraft cabin so that the crystal will not come into contact with the hand and disrupt the operation of the movement.

Then, at the end of March this year, Bulgari’s 1.8 mm Octo Finissimo Ultra took the title of world’s thinnest. It also saves space with the back doubles as a baseplate while interestingly displaying the hours, minutes and seconds on separate dials — the logic is that more wheels are made for less duplication. , reduce the height more. For winding and installation, instead of a knob, there are two toothed wheels mounted on the back. It fits perfectly with the aesthetic of the Octo Finissimo, one of the 21’s few truly iconic watch century. With this record, the Italian jeweler further enhanced its reputation in the field of high-end watchmaking.

Octo Finissimo Ultra by Bulgari.

Bulgari’s time at the peak ended in about three months. In July, Richard Mille and Ferrari teamed up to unveil an even thinner watch. The RM UP-01 is only 1.75 mm, looks like a credit card and is an amazing feat. But stats alone don’t tell the whole story of the RM UP-01.

RM UP-01 by Richard Mille.

It is a conceptually radical watch. Components are disassembled and arranged in a flat fashion over a large surface area, and the hand, often discrete components, is applied directly to the wheel. Astonishingly, and unlike the flimsy creations of Piaget and Bulgari, Richard Mille respects the traditional concept of a movement with a baseplate housed in a case. Given its partnership with Ferrari – “most evident in the choice of materials and watchmaking,” according to the brand – it is useful to consider the RM UP-01 as comparable to an old car. Formula 1 cars. Just as those cars only partially resemble a standard road car, the RM UP-01 looks unusual for a watch. Design is a departure from familiar high-tech tonneau to which the brand is associated, but has some familiar Mille touches, such as the spline screws embedded in the bezel.

The RM UP-01 is watchmaking at its most daring, challenging accepted notions of what a watch should look like and advancing the technology and craftsmanship required to create it. But breaking records doesn’t come cheap. For almost $1.9 million, you pay just over a thousand dollars per micrometer.

A version of this bread originally appeared in GQ magazine in October 2022 with the title “Survival of the Slimmest”.


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