The Rise Of Ultra-Thin Calibres (And Why You Should Care) Part 1 of 3

For many years, the luxury watch industry was used to bombastic wrist-behemoths stuffed with whatever complicated nonsense their manufacture’s resident genius could conceive. The trend for large watches – an aesthetic desire that had functional consequences – vastly increased the real estate high-end horologists had at their disposal. The results of this prosperous era ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, but times are changing. Austerity looms large in the mind of the humble watch consumer, and in periods of financial uncertainty, zany extravagance is often shelved in favour of class and politesse.

skolorr - Parmigiani PF 701

The Parmigiani PF 701 is one of the best looking ‘base’ calibres on the market

There is a problem, however. The recent age of exuberance (and engorgement) may well have left us tired of provocative timepieces, but we’ve also become quite accustomed to an extremely high level of functionality. A reversion to simplicity –– putting quality over quirkiness –– is in motion. But no watch designer worth their salt is thinking that’s the end of the matter; that everyone is sick of flying tourbillons and week-long power reserves, that people have had enough of deeply engraved, hand-enameled dials, or that consumers no longer desire complications on their classically-styled watch……

No, the truth is that many fans of haute horlogerie don’t want to get rid of all the great stuff the last twenty years has gifted the industry. Rather, they’d like to see it reined in, refined, reborn. But to do that we need to go back to basics. We need a base calibre that can operate as a foundation for whatever we want to add on top. And what does that mean? It means that ultra-slim, is, quite suddenly, ultra in.

Designing an ultra-thin calibre is tricky; getting it to work is somewhere between luck and sorcery.

Slim-line calibres are nothing new. The record-setting examples are truly mechanical marvels, and objects of intense, otherworldly beauty. But they are also unsuitable for this new dawn. Why? Because they’re simply too thin.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s really quite simple. Manufacturers of exceptionally slim movements have, in the past, concerned themselves with limited runs, or at least manageable volumes. That’s because designing an ultra-thin calibre is tricky; getting it to work is somewhere between luck and sorcery.

nomos_duw_3001_detail thin calibres

The NOMOS Glashütte DUW 3001 automatic calibre measures in at just 3.2mm in height

No one involved in their production would ever claim that they’re the easiest movements to work with in the world. At those thicknesses, plates and bridges flex; end-shakes (the up-and-down play of pivots between jewelled bearings) can be crushed by the slightest knock to the case; active materials that lasted years when twice the thickness are no longer fit for purpose.

Building an ultra-slim calibre is not as straightforward as sitting down at the drawing board and halving the tolerances and measurements of an existing timepiece. You must start from the ground up. It’s a complete redesign; it’s never a short cut for a brand to release a slim-line movement.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll introduce and analyse two independent manufactures that have taken pains to create something that has the ability to carry the complications we’re used to, while adhering to the new trend for old-fashioned diameters. Check back soon to learn more.