“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” – Confucius

Sunny side of Zurich with Piaget

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Piaget caught the last rays of the summer sun with a lovely event at the Lake Zurich. We delved into the different artisan crafts of the Maison and held a number of museum pieces in our hands.

After a few grey days, the sun revisited Zurich last week. Piaget needed no more, and invited its guests to enjoy ‘the sunny side of live’ in the picturesque little dwelling of Horgen by the shores of Lake Zurich. The spacious terrace of lake restaurant L’O was turned to an easy going Piaget club with lounge chairs and vivid white-orange pillows, jewellery posters framed by the hills of the Gold Coast and a bar serving delicious refreshments. 

Small stands exhibited various artisan crafts of the brand, giving the opportunity to converse with the representatives who know their area inside out. One could challenge him or herself with recreating Piaget’s iconic “Palace decor pattern in wax, design jewellery by painting gemstone layouts or even set up colour gradients using synthetic gemstones. I spent about an hour learning about semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, onyx and turquoise and how using these evolved in Piaget’s rich creative history.

Altiplano Ultimate Concept

The Altiplano Ultimate Concept was the ambassador of Piaget’s engineering at the watchmaking stand. No wonder, the company has always been in the forefront of the race for the thinnest calibers. Interestingly enough, Valentin Piaget’s motivation for shaving off tenths of millimetres was less in achieving another horlogerie feat, but originated more in enabling his design ideas.

The razor movements of the late ‘50s (such as the 2mm thin Calibre 9P in 1957 and the 2.3mm automatic Calibre 12P in 1960) have made signature comfortable timepieces and applying thicker hard stone dials possible, which resonated perfectly with the demands of the high society the brand was dealing with. The functionally simple, but structurally highly complex Altiplano Ultimate Concept was exploded at the stand. Striving for 2mm total thickness (not just the movement, but the entire watch) while keeping structural rigidness, has posed significant challenges in terms of architecture, selection of materials as well as machining processes. For example, the mainspring barrel and the winding mechanism have taken many unsuccessful shapes before the final design conceived. In fact, the end product utilises an open barrel with no central pivot, but an inner race to hold the mainspring that turns around the outer ring via tiny ceramic ball bearings. This allows a large diameter, enough to have a longer mainspring that keeps the watch running for over 40 hours. 

The Altiplano Ultimate Concept is in the elite circle of paper-thin models (Richard Mille RM UP-01 and Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra) and wearing it compares to nothing else. Still, it could not compete with some of the historic pieces that were passed from hand to hand gently.

Piaget Private Collection

Watch aficionados invited to Horgen were spoiled with outstanding examples from the Piaget Private Collection. Alain Borgeaud, who has been with Piaget for more than 32 years and is now responsible for the patrimony of the company, introduced the heritage watches. These embody not only the expertise but also the style, the creativity and the audacity of the Manufacture and provides a glimpse to the taste of the society Piaget served.

The loud and buzzing 60s and 70s had a great influence on Piaget’s creations. In 1967, based on the ultra thin movements, they started creating watches with dials in coloured hard stones, such as lapis-lazuli, jade, rubellite, onyx, tiger’s eye or hawk’s eye. 

Piaget Manchette bracelet watces are great messengers of this. The one with the special wide vertical tiger’s eye dial and yellow gold cuff shown to us is from the early ‘70s (just like these two references auctioned by Phillips in November 2019).

Another sun-catching beauty was the forerunner of today’s Limelight Gala collection (one example shown at the gemstone stand). The white gold soft fabric-like “Palace decor” treated bracelet and the surrounding diamonds ‘dégradé contrast with the astonishing deep blue lapis lazuli dial. 

I love the mesmerising colours of opals. The 1972  Australian opal and diamond white gold jewellery watch looked breathtaking at the lake. It showed a new hue with each degree of rotation. The dial and the decorative leaves are all opals, preciously set on white gold. Inside is the P9 movement.

I’ve never seen an example of the Piaget ref. 9731 – the “TV-Screen” shaped case with rounded edges and corners was in production between 1964 and 1986 and only about 400 pieces were created. The yellow gold timepiece has blue and green lacquered translucent round apertures on the dial, revealing parts of the manual-wind 9P1 calibre.

Davis, Warhol, Dalí

The brand would soon be a symbol of the ‘beautiful people’ who made things happen in this era. The Piaget events became the place to be and people attending these events – the Piaget Society. The circle of famous clients and friends included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Warhol, Miles Davis or Salvador Dalí. We had the chance to discover pieces from a few of these icons. 

Miles Davis (1926-1991), legendary American jazz musician, trumpeter and composer was a watch collector too. As the story goes, he always had a selection of watches in the backstage and he would chose one according his mood before the show. He was spotted many times with a Breitling Navitimer, a yellow gold Rolex Day-Date or even a Memovox from Jaeger-LeCoultre. This Piaget Polo skeleton watch belonged to him too, and is really special. It is an ultra-thin timepiece featuring unusual lugs and a double diamond bezel is framing the delicate skeleton movement.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was the leading figure in the American pop art movement. It is safe to say that he was one of the 20th century’s most influential artists. He had about seven Piaget watches and none of them was special order – he bought the pieces to complement his style in New York. After his death, some of these were auctioned in New York by Sotheby’s in 1988 and are now part of the Piaget’s Private Collection. The bold yet sleek yellow gold watch with applied indexes is one of them. These watches became the inspiration to the Black Tie watch released in 2017. The other Ref. 9088, is a heavy piece: a 24 karat (0.999 pure) yellow gold ingot-shaped watch from 1974. The tiny watch face hidden under a sliding cover and is powered by the ultra-thin 9P caliber.

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) Spanish surrealist artist, who ‘spent much of his life promoting himself and shocking the world’ – as the Smithsonian Magazine put it. In 1966, with the help of Huguenin Frères he even minted his own currency in different sizes and values. That time Yves Piaget collaborated with Salvador Dalí on watches, jewellery and accessories which integrate Dali d’Or coins. A necklace from 1967 was exhibited at the Piaget lounge with a circular coin depicting the profile of Salvador Dali and his wife Gala within a branch-like frame on a textured chain. 

With the ability to sense and set styling trends, Piaget has never been a pure watchmaker. Decisions like betting on ultra thin watches and sticking to it for decades, have been part of a greater plan to offer free flow to aesthetic creativity. Pieces that left Piaget’s workshops show a deep commitment to originality are still stunning and in vogue today. 

Photo credits: Loupiosity.com
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