Jacob & Co., Harry Winston, Van Cleef and Arpels… There are plenty of brands that were crafting exquisite jewelry well before delving into serious watchmaking. Two more stand out beyond the others, though: Bulgari and Piaget Altiplano Tourbillon High Jewelry watch. The two brands have been dueling to make the thinnest mechanical watch for over a decade, trading the title back and forth several times. And while Bulgari seems to be getting a lot of the spotlight these days (likely given its sportier designs and where the market is right now, Piaget’s timepieces continue to amaze. Its Altiplano collection, which includes its efforts at making the world’s thinnest watch, is an ever-expanding catalog of elegance. Building off the two existing moonphase models, the new Piaget Altiplano Moonphase watches once again combine the brand’s haute joaillerie craft with its horological prowess for four stunning new models. The new Altiplano Moonphases are housed in a svelte 36mm case that’s just 9.78mm-thick. The case comes in 18k rose gold or rhodium-plated 18k white gold and is set with 48 baguette-cut diamonds around the bezel and 12 brilliant-cut diamonds split amongst the straight lugs. The pull-out crown at 3 o’clock is set with a sapphire glass endcap engraved with a P (for Piaget!); not surprisingly, this jewelry watch has just 30m of water resistance. Depending on the model, the watch is paired with a quick-release alligator leather strap with a pin buckle closure in matching metal adorned with a further 14 brilliant-cut diamonds. The form of the case is nothing remarkable (save, perhaps, for the blocky drop at the lugs’ termina that feature on all Altiplano models), and that’s exactly what you want when you’ve got such showstopper dials.
Four dials are available between the rose gold and white gold cases; providing pleasant contrast, the rose gold cases have white gold dials, while the white gold cases offer rose gold dials. The dials are split into two sections. The upper portion of the dial depicts the night sky, with a rainbow of gemstones set against a speckled blue enamel background. Hiding in the sky of each dial is the outline of what Piaget calls “Guardians,” one of four animals representing a cardinal direction and associated with one of the four seasons of the year: the Azure Dragon of the East and Spring, the Vermilion Bird of the South and Summer, the White Tiger of the West and Autumn, and the Black Tortoise of the North and Winter. Adding a bit of intrigue, the Chinese constellations, or Guardians, are all rendered in luminous paint, coming to life in the dark. The bottoms are engraved with what Piaget calls “Palace” decoration—that random-looking striation that resembles wood grain. Add to that patterning scattered diamonds and streaks of contrasting gems, and the overall effect is one of a dazzling meteor shower falling out of the sky above. The dial is completed by the namesake moonphase display: a large aperture at 6 o’clock is partially ringed by diamonds (more diamonds!) and shows the moonphase disc, which is made of a lumed white material and aventurine glass. Two final diamonds are waiting for the owner, covering the fasteners of the Piaget nameplate below the moonphase. One could reasonably argue that with such a dial, a display caseback would be a bit extra. But Piaget has done just that, with a sapphire crystal showing the in-house Piaget 580P Altiplano caliber. The movement features a 360-degree rotor with a deep-blue enamel crescent moon with the Piaget coat of arms (though my first thought was of the Star Wars Rebel Alliance insignia). The 580P has a power reserve of 42 hours at 21,600 vph, with 25 jewels and a hacking feature. The movement is decorated rather underwhelmingly: Côtes de Genève, circular-grained mainplate, beveled bridges, and blued screws—sure. But if you have a dial like these watches and choose to show off the movement as well, shouldn’t the movement be spectacular, too? Instead, we have a “fun” rotor on a movement that looks like an off-the-shelf Sellita. Imagine how elegant it would have been to inlay the enamel crescent into a solid rose gold or white gold caseback!
There’s another angle here that isn’t explicitly mentioned by Piaget: These models seem geared toward the burgeoning Chinese market, where individuals with vast sums of money are buying luxury goods left and right while living in a country and culture steeped in tradition and symbolism. (To be sure, TAG Heuer, IWC, and Cartier have all tipped their hats to the Chinese market this year.) Piaget’s stunning use of Chinese guardians plays to that market, while the resplendently elegant watch allows for a conspicuous display of wealth and success. By making the guardian depictions almost hidden, though, Piaget has crafted four new models that can be appreciated fully by just about anyone.