In a world where bigger, better, faster is increasingly the norm, ultra-flat watches are a symbol of how excellence can also be found in restraint
If you follow cars, and supercars in particular, where there are so many parallels with watches, you will recognize the incessant pursuit of speed and power. The view that bigger is better has taken hold of the industry, so that bhp figures and track-day performance now seem to matter more than aesthetics. The same parallels have at times been evident in watches, but not always – and particularly not in the gloriously counter-cultural field of ultra-thinness, where reductionism is paramount, and where we find some of today’s most spectacular watches.
The ultra-flat, ultra-thin (as you will) arms race is almost certainly the result of a growing appreciation of just how difficult it is to strip a mechanical watch down to the very limits of what is necessary for it to function. Historically (although not that long ago), it was agreed that an ultra-flat watch was anything under around 7-8mm, case included. As brands such as Piaget and Bulgari have pushed the limits further and further, that measure now seems almost corpulent. At SIHH in January this year, Piaget unveiled a working concept called the Altiplano Ultimate 910P, which, impossibly, is only 2mm thick – case, glass, movement, the works. Meanwhile, Bulgari’s Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Automatic, also announced this year, is only 3.95mm thick. Both are world records.
Aside from an opportunity to wonder at the brilliance of Switzerland’s finest, an ultra-flat watch also creates an aesthetic moment. A cinched wristwatch is a
distillation of a watch’s design codes, giving the watchmaker a tableau to showcase in acute detail the whys and wherefores of his creative vision. Added to that, a slender timepiece slips under a cuff with ease, becoming a delicious statement of restraint. Sometimes, smaller is better.
Here’s our selection of ultra-flat watches.