Piaget: master of ultra-thin watchmaking

Debbie Hathway talks to Cynthia Tabet, Global Product Marketing Director at Piaget, about the 2021 watch launches.

Watch aficionados regard Piaget’s hard stone dial watches not only as jewellery but as works of art. The black opal from the new limited editions presented for Limelight Gala is bound to be one of the most desired. Is there a story you would like to share about how the opal came to Piaget?

Thank you very much for your appreciation of this piece. It is true that sometimes stones can be a source of inspiration for our designers but in general everything starts with the design. And then it is up to our gemologists and artisans to make it happen. In the case of the Limelight Gala High Jewellery, the opal comes from Australia as this is where we find the best quality. Then the hard part begins: cutting very thin slices of opal and stiffening them. I say « the hard part begins » because at each step of the process – cutting, machining, glueing – there is a high risk of breaking the opal.

 

Piaget Limelight Gala

I love the mother-of-pearl dial too, which seems to be more prominent this year. What inspired the selection of mother-of-pearl for these pieces?

Our original idea was to combine the softness, refinement and femininity of the mother of pearl with the strength of the Limelight Gala. Engraving the palace decor on mother of pearl appeared the right choice for us, despite the difficulty of engraving a material that is naturally very thin (not more than 3mm) and that can be fragile. This is the first time we are engraving the mother of pearl in this way.

 

Limelight Gala is such a colourful range – how do the designers refine the colour palette for each new collection?

Because everything starts with design, you need the best possible gemologists to source stones that are of sufficient quality, true to the colours on the drawing and can be cut to fit the different diameters we are looking for. We refuse to use chemical additives in our production process so, in the case of the Limelight Gala Rainbow, we had to mix different types of stones to find the perfect colours – sapphires of different colours but also green tsavorites.

Preparations for the 2021 watch launches must have begun before the global lockdown… I’m wondering if all the jewels were obtained and colours confirmed before the travel and sourcing challenges posed by the pandemic?

I confirm the drawings were completed before the beginning of the pandemic. However, some stones were sourced during the pandemic and you are right to say that it further increased the challenge. The quality and depth of colour required as well as our ethical standards made sourcing a challenge. All our suppliers must be certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council, so we took a multi-sourcing approach. We worked with several suppliers in different parts of the world to keep to our product plan.

Altiplano Ultimate Concept

What inspired the decision to feature the red and blue straps this year? What other colour straps are available and are these new shades or already existing in the collection?

We believe colour is definitely an identifier of Piaget. Throughout almost 150 years of history, Piaget has used colour on its dials, notably by using hard stones, or on its bezels with coloured precious stones. Therefore, it was very natural for us to adorn our collections and specifically our iconic Altiplano with colourful bracelets. So, in addition to the shiny blue and shiny red you are mentioning, our clients may choose from a wide range of colours including taupe, white or pink (all matt) and shiny black. And we will extend this strategy to other collections in the next few years to provide our clients with the option to change their bracelet (and therefore their watch) according to their mood or the occasion.

The caseback of the Altiplano is one of the prettiest I’ve seen, resembling the petals of a rose. Was the 2mm thin Altiplano Ultimate Concept designed to be worn by men and women?

 

We try to create the most extraordinary pieces, not masculine or feminine pieces. It is up to our clients to define if they like watches with small or large diameters, if they want a watch with complications or if they want to have some diamonds on the bezel. It is true though that women mostly buy watches that are not too thick as these are not always comfortable to wear when you have a thin wrist.

The dimensions of the Altiplano Ultimate Concept (AUC) make it easy to wear for women and men.

 

 

 

 

Preserving the savoir-faire

What is being done in-house to perpetuate the savoir-faire for ultra-thin?

Piaget is indeed the undisputed reference in ultra-thin watches. This is our history, our DNA. Piaget was born as a watchmaker and very quickly specialized in ultra-thin. I recently read an archive dating back to 1913 presenting Piaget as an expert in ultra-thin components. Since then we have been breaking thinness records – until the release of the AUC which is the thinnest mechanical watch ever – but always with this same spirit. Ultra-thin is technical prowess but at the service of elegance, at the service of our designers’ creativity.

So to answer your question, we perpetuate this savoir-faire through our manufacture in La Côte-aux-Fées, where we continue to develop our ultra-thin movements and transmit this savoir-faire from watchmaker to watchmaker. We invite our collectors from around the world to visit our workshops and understand the challenge of creating such watches. We push our designers to use ultra-thin as a space for creativity.

The Piaget Polo Skeleton measures a wafer-like 2.4mm. What is the hierarchy of thinness across the range?

As you are rightfully saying, for the first time we have leveraged the ultra-thin savoir-faire in our Piaget Polo collection with the Piaget Polo skeleton. The movement measures 2.4mm in a watch case depth of 6.5mm. Ultra-thin is not about a collection, but about a Maison. The original Piaget Polo was born in 1979 and was equipped with an ultra-thin movement. The AUC is definitely the thinnest watch in our collection (2mm only). And below 5mm you also find the Altiplano Ultimate Automatic, the little sister of the AUC, which uses the same technique of merging the movement and the case.

Collective achievements

If you have more than one craftsman able to set diamonds on the minuscule components of an ultra-thin watch movement who gets to do it? How do you choose who will be responsible?

Our challenge and responsibility as a Maison with secular know-how is to transmit this savoir-faire, these exceptional skills. To make them live and grow. In some cases like the AUC, we have only one watchmaker able to assemble the watch. For this reason, we recently started a training programme to ensure he transmits his fabulous knowledge. And we have the same kind of situation when it comes to the setting of movements or assembling of complications such as the tourbillon. Nothing is about competition. It is about collaboration, mutual support, and collective achievements.

An extract of this article was published on Wanted Online.

Share this