In the early 20th century, elite watchmakers competed to see who could create the thinnest timepiece. Slim watches were considered the height of sophistication, and that set the tone for an aesthetic ideal that lasted nearly to the end of the century. Beginning in the late 1990s, trailblazing watchmakers began to introduce oversized cases, and over the next two decades, space-age materials and space-ship sizes became the new normal. Today, the pendulum is swinging back.
Ultra-thin, under the cuff timepieces are the new hallmark of high watchmaking
Watches are slimming down again to under 10mm in thickness as a collective homage to the traditional heritage classic watch. The same brands that poured their resources into the art of miniaturization in the early 1900s are tapping into their archives and recreating calibers that are slimmer and sleeker, many of them skeletonized to achieve the ultimate miniaturization.
The new slim profiles are achieved by various innovative means that go beyond the use of micro-rotors or manual wound calibers. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Ultra Thin 1907, a mere 4.05mm thick, is the result of a meticulous re-engineering of each movement component to save precious millimeters at each stage of production.
Breguet’s Classique Grande Complication Tourbillon Extra-Thin Automatic 5377 takes it down to 7mm (not bad for a tourbillon) by using a platinum winding rotor on the periphery of the movement to help keep it slim.
Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Hybris Mechanica 11 Minute Repeater, at 7.9mm thick, is the world’s smallest minute repeater/grand complication with an automatic movement, a feat achieved by both the absence of an upper bridge (it is a flying tourbillon) and the presence of a new flying balance wheel that makes it 25% thinner than a typical tourbillon escapement. It also uses a peripheral rotor.
Open working and skeletonization are also useful tricks for slimming down movements, since carving away the bridges and plates to the bare essentials eliminates extraneous metal. Piaget reduced its Altiplano 900P to just 3.65mm thick, making it the world’s thinnest mechanical movement, accomplished by making the caseback double as the main plate, onto which the movement is built, with the whole assembly also serving as the dial.
Another example is Hublot’s Classic Fusion Skeleton Tourbillon All-Black, at just 8.15mm thick, working on the same principle of paring down the movement to its minimum working form (the movement itself is only 2.90mm thick).
The ultra-thin versus big-bold debate may never be settled, but the new thin-in-is-in aesthetic is a great reason to add to your collection. There are some days when you just don’t want a space ship in your wrist!