Watches + Jewellery

Piaget: The Groundbreaker

From super-skinny queen of the psychedelic Sixties to fashion-forward maven, there’s only one Piaget

Laura Mccreddie-Doak | 15.10.2019

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It’s fair to say Piaget has a passion for playing with proportions. The brand founded in 1874 by farmer Geroges Piaget in the small, quintessentially Swiss village of La-Côte-aux Fées has been whittling millimetres off case heights since 1957 – the year it unveiled its now-famous hand-wound Calibre 9P. At just 2mm thick it was a revolution in watchmaking, heralding the concept of making ultra-thin movements and watches a complication in its own right.

YVES PIAGET IN THE company CERTIFICATION WORKSHOP, GENEVA 1975  I GETTY IMAGES 

Psychedelic beginnings

The design was a landmark, but Piaget had been performing exercises in scale before that. Just a year earlier, it had launched a platinum-cased women’s watch that was miniscule – just 18.6mm across – while one of its older tricks was a 2.3mm high movement that could be fitted into real gold coins. For all that it might have seemed like a gimmick, the Calibre 9P and its successor – the 1960’s record-breaking 2.3mm automatic Calibre 12P – allowed Piaget to experiment with unusual shapes and styles. One that, as the psychedelic aesthetic of the 1960s and 1970s began to influence watch design, the brand ran with.

Leading the way for women’s watches

More than any other watchmaker (Andrew Grima’s collection for Omega aside), Piaget consistently upped the ante in women’s watch design over that time. Its back catalogue boasts bold coral, malachite or lapis lazuli dials; bracelets in innovatively hammered gold; dramatically oversized cuffs that demand to be worn pool side with a kaftan and accessorised by a three-olive martini. Echoes of these incredible watches can still be seen in the Limelight Gala and Exceptional Lady collections, although these days quartz movements mix with ultra-thin calibres.

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In subsequent years, Piaget has continued to shed millimetres from its cases. Of the 35 calibres the brand has created and produced in house, 23 are among the thinnest of their kind, including 2014’s ground-breaking Altiplano 900P. Just 3.65mm for the whole cased watch (for comparison, an average automatic can be 12mm), it achieved this feat by, among other things, fusing the movement to the case back so the mechanics become the dial-side decoration.

"More than any other watchmaker Piaget consistently upped the ante in women’s watch design"

COMING SOON from PIAGET

1960s

The 1960s had seen another dramatic shift for the brand – into that of crafting fine jewellery. Today, not only does Piaget produce some breath-takingly complex decorative pieces, it translates those skills into the exquisite gem setting that is found on many of the brand’s watches. It’s one of the few Swiss manufactures that has everything from engineers and technical watchmakers, to lapidaries, gem cutters and setters under one roof.

Initiated into the Richemont family in 1988, Piaget has come a long way from its founder’s farming roots. It has evolved to become a progressive, fashion-forward brand – it remains one of the few to have a female CEO – known for marrying exceptional watchmaking skills with the kinds of flights of fancy that are more readily associated with an On|Off-scheduled fashion designer. In the relatively conservative world of Swiss watch brands, at least.


Which Piaget watch should I buy?

If you want to channel Piaget’s fashion-forward past, the Possession cuff is your reference. However, if you want to get in on ultra-thin, then it has to be the diamond-set bezel version of the Altiplano 900P. There’s something about having the mechanics of the watch so exposed that feels a touch transgressive; when paired with diamonds it takes on an extra level of wearing-fur-naked in watch form.

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