The world of wristwatches is a competitive one, and since pretty much everyone who makes a watch knows how to make one that can keep accurate time, makers need to find other ways to persuade buyers to purchase their particular models.
Adding gold or precious gems has long worked, but there are plenty of companies that make such watches. Similarly, adding complications, such as a tourbillon or a moon phase indicator is getting a bit old hat, too, as there are probably hundreds of models out there that offer those complications.
So what’s next? Lately, a number of watchmakers have been working on making their timepieces thin. There’s no real definition of what constitutes a “thin” watch, but many buyers seem to prefer wearing a watch that has minimal thickness between the crystal on the top and the back of the case on the bottom.
With that in mind, a number of makers have been working to make their watches thinner, often while including the sorts of complications that help make sales. It’s one thing to make a watch with a tourbillon, but it’s something else to make one that’s super-thin.
These days, a “thin” movement is one that’s less than 3mm thick. That’s about one-eighth of an inch, for those who measure in Imperial units. Making a fully functional watch with minimal thickness is tough, but makers are upping the ante by adding more features and making the movements automatic. That’s harder, because the rotor that winds the watch has to have some thickness itself.
One thing that can make it difficult to make a thin watch is the case itself. Why? Because a thin movement necessitates a thin case, and a thin case isn’t going to be very sturdy. The case needs to be able to protect the movement, and if everything is so thin that it can be flexed or damaged, then the entire process is a waste of time. Coming up with a thin case that is strong enough and durable enough to protect the movement is itself quite a challenge. Fortunately, there are a lot of strong, thin materials available today that weren’t available a few years ago, such as sapphire and carbon fiber.
The “thinness wars” aren’t really new; Piaget started to shake things up back in the 1950s when they created a watch, the 9P, that was only 2 mm thick. Things have taken off lately, however, with a number of prominent makers of luxury watches taking up the challenge.
Bvlgari is one of many brands of luxury watches that have joined the party, having produced the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon, at 1.95mm, and the Octo Finissimo Automatic, which is somewhat thicker at 2.23mm. Most wearers would gladly sacrifice a quarter of a millimeter to add the self-winding feature.
Piaget is still in the game, but Breguet may have raised the bar quite a bit with their Classique Tourbillon Extra-Thin Automatic 5377. Adding a tourbillon is a feat in itself, but this time, the entire movement is only 3 mm thick and on top of that, the watch is fully automatic.
It won’t surprise you to discover that almost all of the companies making such watches are high end manufacturers. You’re not going to see these sorts of offerings from Timex or Guess, but luxury brands are using them to help distinguish themselves from their competition.
If you like a thin watch, there’s a lot out there from which to choose.