A beautiful article about an important segment in watchmaking world - the ultra-thin watches. And how a flat watch was rewarded at the prestigious Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG).

So it happened: we had a second lockdown (in some countries there has been a curfew for 2-3 weeks), so the industry is once in for a hard time. As a consolation, on November 12, everyone could watch live coverage of the presentation of the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) online.

As every autumn, the GPHG Foundation organizes a gala in Geneva (this year, inflated balloons had to “sit” in the audience instead of spectators), during which it announces the winners, i.e. the most interesting watches of the year. Watches compete in fourteen categories and an international jury selects the best one from among the nominated candidates (this year there were 84). The major distinction awarded by the GPHG is the main prize “Aiguille d’Or”, and it is what representatives of the nominated brands and people associated with the watch industry await the most. I had quietly hoped that a watch from a small, independent brand would win this year (for instance, the sensational Central Impulse Chronometer by Bernhard Lederer or the intriguing Lunations Harvest Moon by Stepan Sarpanev), but unfortunately it did not come to pass.

The winner was the ultra-flat Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept, whose case is only 2 mm thick and the entire watch weighs only 21 g. Altiplano was not my favourite, as I did not treat it as this year’s novelty (the jury evaluates watches that have been premiered in the last 12 months). I saw it two years ago at the SIHH in Geneva, where it was shown as a concept model. I remember coming to Piaget’s booth a few more times after the official presentation. Just to take a closer look at this gem again. And I’m not the only one: there was a line all the time to the special room where you could see the Altiplano Ultimate Concept. After all, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept was quite a surprise. Admittedly, I assumed that sooner or later Piaget would come up with something spectacular, because there had been competition among several manufacturers for some time over who would create the world’s flattest watch.

Well, dieting is very trendy nowadays, so even watches begin to apply the principle of “slim is in”. But when I picked up this watch, I couldn’t believe it was real. The very flat case felt too delicate to be worn on the wrist. This is just an illusion, of course. By creating the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, Piaget’s constructors once again showed their skill. No wonder, since the company is a real specialist in the field of very flat movements. So far, Piaget has created over thirty of them, most of which are still in production. This company also holds several records, such as the creation of the flattest automatic movement in the world (as noted in the Guinness Book of Records).

But let’s go back to this year’s winner of “Aiguille d’Or”: despite the word “Concept” in the name, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept has ceased to be a concept model and this year went into mass production, although in this case it is difficult to talk about mass production. The Altiplano Ultimate Concept is made exclusively to order, so each customer will decide what the watch will look like. The possibilities are many: from the way the case is finished, through the colours of the bridges, dial and hands, to the type of strap (reportedly there will be as many as 10,000 combinations available).

Of course, the new Altiplano is an option for the chosen ones, but watching the report from the GPHG gala, I thought that it was primarily a watchmaking genius that was honoured. With the cancellation of trade fairs (the organizer of the Watches & Wonders showroom has already announced that next year’s edition is being cancelled and will only be held online) and the arrival of a new wave of Covid-19 cases, everyone is understandably focusing on the issues caused by the pandemic. When the struggle for survival continues, such issues as tradition and watchmaking passion move away into the background. Although the lockdown now is no longer as shocking as it was in spring, many people are wondering what to do next. Among the 84 nominated watches that reached the finals of this year’s GPHG edition, there were many models referring to the best watchmaking traditions. Let’s hope that next year there will be various industry events (maybe some of them delayed), including the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève gala. And above all, there will be plenty to show.

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