Hands On: Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Tourbillon 150th Anniversary

Wearing the thinnest tourbillon ever.

You can never be too rich or too thin – a quote attributed to Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, but it might as well have come from Piaget, which just debuted the thinnest tourbillon wristwatch in history, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept Tourbillon 150th Anniversary.

Covered in-depth at launch, the AUC Tourbillon is just 2 mm thick, including the case and crystal; that makes the watch thinner than a Swiss five-franc coin. While its record-breaking dimensions are headline-grabbing, it’s the watch’s overall design and ergonomics that make it look and feel almost miraculous on the wrist.

The AUC Tourbillon next to the five-franc coin; it’s also slimmer than the two-franc coin, and equivalent to about 20 sheets of A4 printer paper

Initial thoughts

Record-chasing, whether in terms of thickness, weight, water resistance, or complications, is a common theme in the watch industry, but the results are often gimmicky and impractical. When I heard that Piaget would be introducing the thinnest tourbillon in history, I rolled my eyes. But my perspective changed as soon as I picked up the AUC Tourbillon, a moment that stands out in my memory as a highlight of Watches & Wonders 2024.

The watch is thin, of course, but the immediate impression is one of substance; it feels far more substantial than it looks. This is in part due to the M64BC cobalt alloy case, the extreme rigidity of which makes the watch’s 2 mm thinness possible.

Furthermore, the ergonomics of the case, which is a 41.5 mm in diameter and features slightly downturned lugs, help the watch wear like any normal watch. Though seemingly trivial, the lugs are particularly significant as they contribute to the normality of the watch. On the original concept watch, the lugs extended straight out from the case, giving it an odd fit on the wrist.

Even reading the time feels normal, even if the dial is on the small side. The hour and minute hands are stacked as in a normal watch, and not distributed to separate sub-dials as is the case with ultra-thin record-breakers from Bulgari and Richard Mille.

This juxtaposition of normality and insanity is what makes the AUC Tourbillon special; more-so than if its design had been as crazy as its dimensions. And it had better be special, since the price is over CHF600,000. Never too rich or too thin, I suppose.

Thin is in

Ultra-thin watches have long been a Piaget specialty, dating back to 1957 when the brand introduced the caliber 9P, which was just 2 mm thick. While records for ultra-thin watches have been held at various times by numerous brands, Piaget has always been near the top of the pack in the quest for ultimate slimness. These efforts culminated in the 2021 launch of the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, which set a new record at just 2 mm in total thickness, including the case and crystal.

More recently, Bulgari has invested heavily to become a leader in ultra-thin watches, setting record after record. In fact, Bulgari is once again the overall record-holder for the thinnest (non-tourbillon) watch ever, with its latest Octo Finissimo Ultra COSC, which at just 1.7 mm thick, dethroned 2022’s surprising entry from Richard Mille (although rumour has it Richard Mille has an even thinner watch in the pipeline).

But what Piaget has managed to do is arguably more impressive, fitting a flying tourbillon and a traditional dial layout, with hours and minutes displayed on the same dial, into something that is thinner than a coin but looks, feels, and operates like a normal watch.

Arguably the only aspect that isn’t quite normal is the flat crown, which winds the mainspring by means of a worm screw visible at three o’clock. While the watch can be hand-wound, a purpose-built winding tool is supplied with the watch to make it easier. The winding tool slides over the crown on the outside of the case, enabling the user to wind the watch by turning the larger barrel of the tool.

An unusual view

Unlike other ultra-thin record holders, the AUC Tourbillon offers something else typical of a normal luxury watch: a sapphire crystal case back. Or, if not a case back, at least a small porthole. Though it offers only a partial view of the movement, a necessity of the fact that much of the case back serves as the baseplate for the movement, the display back reveals everything that it needs to: the unusual flying tourbillon.

In fact, the tourbillon is actually flying on both sides, rotating within a large ball bearing around its rim. Furthermore, the balance wheel is also flying, with the balance roller oscillating in a ball bearing of its own. These solutions were required to minimise the height of the movement, but the secondary effect is visual; it’s like having x-ray vision.

This is particularly apparent through the case back window, which affords a view of the underside of the balance roller. This view is impossible with a traditional construction with jeweled pivots. Naturally, even the case back window itself is remarkably thin, made of a sapphire crystal disc that is a mere 0.16 mm thick. Up close, the effect is striking; it looks like you can reach out and touch the tourbillon.

Due to the limited space available, Piaget eliminated the curb-pin regulator that it typically uses on its tourbillon watches, opting for a superior free-sprung balance instead.

Visually, the most striking element of the face of the watch is the large mainspring barrel at six o’clock. Like the tourbillon, it is held in place by a large ball bearing around its edge, rather than from the top and bottom. The spring is necessarily thin, reducing the amount of energy it can store. This is critical considering the watch consumers 30% more energy than it otherwise would thanks to the presence of the tourbillon. As a result, weight reduction was a major focus all the way through the gear train, with even the barrel given an open-worked treatment to save precious milligrams.

The thinness of the components also impacts the finishing, which is clean and neat but necessarily devoid of the extravagant anglage and steelwork that often (partly) justifies this kind of pricing. This is not a criticism, since there simply isn’t space and finishing is not the point of this watch.

That said, thought has clearly been paid to finishing, which is remarkably consistent and attractive. The grained main plate contrasts nicely with the circular-brushed chapter rings for the hours, minutes, and seconds, the last of which serves as a frame for the tourbillon.

On the thicker components that allow for decoration, it is evident that finishing was applied. This includes the larger screws that are blued but also chamfered on their slots and edges. The open-worked barrel cover, on the other hand, is finished with bevelling on its spokes, but of the stamped variety, a necessity due to its thinness.

Despite being relatively thin, the plates for the keyless works are finished with mirror-polished anglage

Concluding thoughts

Overall, the AUC Tourbillon is a complete package. It’s shockingly thin, visually dynamic, and ergonomically satisfying. While record-breaking for its own sake can be gimmicky, it feels authentic coming from Piaget, a brand with decades of consistent emphasis on ultra-thin watches. Of course, these attributes come with an inevitably hefty price tag, but I couldn’t think of a better way for Piaget to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

Key facts and price

Piaget Altiplano Ultimate Concept Tourbillon 150th Anniversary
Ref. G0A4951

Diameter: 41.5 mm
Height: 2 mm
Material: M64BC cobalt alloy
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: Cal. 970P-UC
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds on the tourbillon cage 
: Manual
Frequency: 28,800 vibrations per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 40 hours

Strap: Calf leather

Limited edition: No, but only made to order
Availability: At Piaget boutiques and retailers
Price: Approximately CHF600,000

For more, visit Piaget.com


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Hands On: Louis Vuitton Tambour Einstein Automata “Only Watch 2024”

Both weird and accomplished.

The surprising, and to some shocking, Louis Vuitton Tambour Einstein Automata created for Only Watch 2024 is over the top in both aesthetics and complexity. Based on the brand’s automata wristwatch that’s available either as a Chinese mask or vanitas skull, the Einstein Automata has the air of a mad scientist’s creation.

Depressing the pusher at two o’clock starts the automata, which also serve to tell the time with a jumping hours display in Einstein’s forehead and the minutes indicated by the atom symbol pointer at eight o’clock. Made in-house at its Geneva manufacture of La Fabrique du Temps (LFT), the watch illustrates Louis Vuitton’s impressive matchmaking capabilities, while also bringing to mind the extravagant, casual style of its streetwear.

Initial thoughts

When I first saw images of the Einstein Automata, I knew I had to see it in person. And in the metal the watch certainly lives up to expectations, it is bizarre, impressive, and wearable, all at the same time.

It is bizarre because Einstein is accurately portrayed – the likeness is done well – yet rendered in alien colours of pale blue and silver. It’s impressive because the dial is enamelled and engraved in-house while the movement is exceptionally complex. And it’s wearable despite being a very large watch because the case is in stainless steel, unlike its regular production counterparts that are in gold.

Do I like it? I do. But I can imagine a lot of people won’t and I can understand why.

It’s a near-47 mm watch with an extraterrestrial version of Einstein on the dial and a low estimate of CHF340,000, so it’s definitely not for everyone. But Louis Vuitton has to be applauded for expending resources and effort in creating something genuinely different for Only Watch.

A scientific dial

The Einstein Automata brings new meaning to “scientific” dial. It simulates a chalkboard covered with scientific formulas that are actually subtle references to Louis Vuitton and Only Watch, like “2023=LV+OW²” for example.

On the right of the formulas is Einstein’s visage that replicates the famous 1951 photo of the scientist sticking his tongue out – original, signed examples of which have sold for over US$100,000.

The chalkboard dial is executed in miniature enamel painting – the “chalk” writing is actually enamel painted by hand. It’s perfectly rendered and the resemblance to actual chalk marks is uncanny.

Einstein’s head, on the other hand, is grisaille enamel, a technique that artfully removes layers of fired enamel to reveal the darker surface below. This results in the monochromatic grey-blue appearance of the face.

Like the recent Voyager Flying Tourbillon with its stained glass-like plique-à-jour enamel dial, both the dial and face of the Einstein Automata are the work of Nicolas Doublel, the lead artisan at Louis Vuitton’s enamel workshop inside LFT.

Einstein’s hair and moustache are 18k white gold and engraved by Dick Steenman, another of the key artisans at LFT. Notably, Mr Steenman’s work extends outside the dial, with the hair forming the pusher for the automata and insert beside the upper lug, both of which are steel to match the case.

The crown bears a relief representation of an atom

Mechanically, the Einstein Automata is nearly identical to the standard version of the Tambour Automata. Pushing the button at two o’clock activates the four automata on the dial.

The first pair indicate the time: the round aperture in Einstein’s forehead goes from showing “T=?” to the current hour, while the minutes are indicated by the atom symbol that is actually a retrograde hand. The white-painted tip of the atom symbol swivels to indicate the current minutes before returning to zero.

Another automaton indicator is the power reserve indicator, which is inside the window that’s part of “E=LV²” at 10 o’clock.

And the last two automata are decorative. Einstein’s tongue goes up and down, while his left eye changes to show the various shapes of the Louis Vuitton monogram.

The atom minute hand has a diamond set on its axis


The LV 525 movement inside is largely identical to that in the regular production automata watches. But instead of a mask or skull bridge, it has an open worked bridge forming an atom that is also set with three brilliant cut diamonds. The diamonds, as well as the screws securing the bridge, represent electrons, while the nucleus is represented by the pivot jewel of the centre wheel.

The back is engraved “Only Watch 2023” as the auction was originally scheduled for November of last year

The movement otherwise has the same pink gilt finish on its bridges as found in the standard model. Made up of over 400 components, the LV 525 has a 100 hour power reserve thanks to a very large barrel, which is also required to keep the automata going, since they are driven by the same mainspring.

Key facts and price

Louis Vuitton Tambour Einstein Automata – Only Watch 2024
Ref. Q1EN4Y

Diameter: 46.8 mm
Height: 14.4 mm
Material: Stainless steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 30 m

Movement: LV 525
Functions: Jaquemart with four automatons – jumping hour, retrograde minute hand, power reserve indicator, as well as eye and tongue of Einstein
Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3.5 Hz)
Winding: Hand wind
Power reserve: 100 hours

Strap: Leather with steel folding clasp

Limited edition: Unique piece
To be sold at Only Watch 2024 on May 10, 2024
Price: CHF340,000-440,000

For more, visit Christies.com.


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Glashütte Original Introduces the PanoMaticInverse “Dresden Tribute”

A hand-engraved homage to the city.

A tribute to the German city of Dresden, the PanoMaticInverse Limited Edition depicts the city where the predecessor of Glashütte Original was founded in 1845. It retains the inverted movement construction that characterises the model, displaying the escapement on the dial, but here the three-quarter plate on the front sports a hand-engraved rendering of Dresden landmarks, the Frauenkirche and Academy of Fine Arts, while the bridges on the reverse are engraved with the Elbe promenade.

Initial thoughts

Although the brand itself was founded after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Glashütte Original (GO) has its roots in the very beginning of watchmaking in the Glashütte area. Because the brand was formed from the East German state-owned watchmaking enterprise, it was vertically integrated from the beginning, making it a true manufacture.

It is somewhat under-appreciated compared to its neighbour, A. Lange & Söhne, although the two brands focus on different segments of the market, with Glashütte Original offering more affordable timepieces. The brand’s steel watches, for example, usually retail for under US$15,000. However, GO is capable of German haute horologerie, as demonstrated by its top-of-the-line timepieces like the Senator Chronometer Tourbillon.

The PanoMaticInverse “Dresden Tribute” is one of the brand’s high-end offerings, with a retail price of US$47,400. Even though that’s a big number, the watch delivers substantial tangible quality. In addition to the hand-engraved bridges on the front and the back, it features a platinum case and of course and in-house movement.

The only weakness of the PanoMaticInverse, and the wider Pano collection, is its visual similarity to the Lange 1. The Lange 1 arrived first with this type of aesthetic, so the Pano styling inevitably feels derivative.

The inverse movement construction displays the balance wheel and the hand-engraved balance bridge on the dial side.

Hand-engraved artistry

A limited edition of 25 watches, the new PanoMaticInverse captures Dresden’s historical landmarks on the front and back. Abandoning the traditional striping on the dial-side three-quarter plate, it is instead decorated with a hand engraving of the dome and “lantern” of the Frauenkirche, the church in the centre of the old city, and in the foreground, the nearby Academy of Fine Arts that faces the Elbe river. In the background are a hot air balloon, birds, and clouds.

The decoration continues on the back. The movement is fitted with a skeletonised rotor that depicts the “lantern” of the Frauenkirche, while the bridges on the reverse are engraved with the promenade along the Elbe river, including the bridge that spans the water.

The watch is otherwise similar to the standard model.

With the signature Panorama Date at one o’clock, the time is indicated by blued steel hands on a clear sapphire dial set on top of the three-quarter plate. Although the movement is more monochromatic than usual due to the engraved decoration, it still retains familiar elements of fine finishing, including blued screws and bevelled edges along the bridge and cock.

The platinum case measures 42 mm wide and 12.3 mm high. Inside is the self-winding in-house cal. 91-03 with 45 hours of power reserve. One of the unusual features of the movement is a GO signature, the duplex swan’s neck regulator that promises finer regulation and better accuracy.

Key facts and price

Glashütte Original PanoMaticInverse Limited Edition
Ref. 1-91-03-01-03-61

Diameter: 42 mm
Height: 12.3 mm
Material: Platinum
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 50 m

Movement: Cal. 91-03
Functions: Hours, minutes, and small seconds
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 45 hours

Strap: Blue alligator strap with platinum folding clasp

Limited edition: 25 pieces
Availability: Available at Glashütte Original boutiques and retailers starting April 2024
Price: US$47,400

For more, visit glashuette-original.com


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