In recent years, many watch brands have focused their efforts not only on setting new records in thinness but also in increasing the level of complication and complexity in ultra-thin movements and cases. Ultra-thin watchmaking is something relatively few companies excel in, and for very good reasons – added expense, technical knowledge and time to develop. Still, making an ultra-thin movement, whether its simple or complicated, is considered a statement of watchmaking at its finest.
The Development of Thinner Watches
The evolution of the ultra-thin watch didn’t begin until the development of the Lépine caliber, designed by Frenchman Jean-Antoine Lépine, in the mid 1700’s. Before then, pocket watches were designed to be fairly thick to accommodate verge escapements – mechanisms that translated rotational energy into lateral impulses. Not only did verge escapements add an unavoidable height to watch movements, they were pretty lousy timekeepers (because of the lack of a constant force mechanism). In short, while these types of watches were extremely beautiful, they were also incredibly bulky and thick.
With the shift in men’s style erring on the side of slim cut garments towards in the beginning of the 1800’s, watchmakers needed to respond by pushing the limits of watch thinness. Luckily, the Lépine caliber was designed with a much flatter cylinder escapement and introduced the bridge and mainplate systems we still see today.
Jean-Antoine Lépine’s solution did away with the top plate and substituted a series of cocks and bridges to hold the upper pivots of the train wheels in place. It dramatically altered the way watches were constructed and, by the 1900’s, refinements in manufacturing techniques made it possible to design incredibly thin movements – like the LeCoultre caliber 145 which to this day holds the record for the thinnest hand wound movement in history.
Making ultra-thin movements was, and is, extremely technically challenging. It’s the domain of a very few specialist watchmakers which is why it’s an incredible achievement to break a world record with any movement. Some of our favorite brands – Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Vacheron Constantin – have managed the impossible all so that you can showcase a piece of history on your wrist each and everyday. Here are our favorite pieces that have won the title of world’s thinnest watch:
The World’s Thinnest Mechanical Watch: Piaget Altiplano 900P