While Jaeger LeCoultre's Master Ultra-thin Jubilee is diminutive in size, the enthusiastic reception it received at SIHH 2013 foreshadows a timepiece that is set to generate big waves in the marketplace. Provided the production run of 880 pieces in platinum sells briskly, the MUT Jubilee will likely land up as a regular production piece, taking the place of the discontinued and dearly-missed MUT 38 mm. While JLC's masterful ultrathin design is currently receiving a lot of publicity, the ultra-thin market is surprisingly competitive, despite current tastes still trending towards gargantuan timepieces. In this article we'll take a brief look at the finest ultra-thin watches currently available for sale. Where does the MUT Jubilee fit into this marketplace? Read below and judge for yourselves.
1) A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin (5.9 mm thick; Starting at 23,900 USD)
Although Lange has been producing extraordinarily-fine dress watches since 1994, the lineup did not feature a true ultra-thin timepiece until the Saxonia Thin was introduced at SIHH 2011. To the cognoscenti, the development was a pleasant surprise given that Lange was known for solid robust engineering – thick, durable movements sandwiched between impressive cases that outwardly reflected the German ethos. Therefore, it is not surprising to discover that the Saxonia Thin was engineered for performance, not record-breaking. This is epitomized by the L0931.1 movement itself. The manual wind L0931.1 is 2.9 mm thick, which is over a full millimeter thicker than the record-holders in this class of movement. The L0931.1 takes advantage of this extra heft by offering up an impressive 72 hour power reserve, a practical feature for businessmen. Unless you're holed up in the office on the weekend (or pretending to do so to escape a family function), the Saxonia Thin is likely to spend its weekends in the watch box. The 72 hour power reserve ensures that, beyond doubt, the watch will still be running with sufficient torque when you pull it out of the watch box on a dreary Monday morning.
The Saxonia Thin follows the Lange design language, with beautifully thin hands (note the lack of a running seconds hand) and a crisp, austere dial. The case, featuring an attractive combination of brushed and polished edges, is best-in-class. Simply put, for ultra-thin connoisseurs who appreciate the Teutonic design language, the Saxonia Thin will easily stand above all others, records be damned. The Lange Saxonia Thin is available in rose gold, white gold and platinum. As usual, if a steel prototype exists, it is strictly off the record.
2) Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Extra-Thin (6.7 mm thick; Starting at 25,000 USD)
The movement powering the Jules Audemars Extra Thin needs no introduction to those in-the-know. The 2.45 mm thick Caliber 2120, manufactured by Jaeger-LeCoultre, has been powering many of the finest dress watches since its introduction in 1967. As was more typical at the time, the Caliber 2120's development was jointly funded by the most prestigious Swiss firms: Audemars Piguet, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin. The Caliber 2120 is unequalled aesthetically, but the power reserve is unexceptional at 40 hours. Still, managing a decent power reserve is an exceptional achievement when one considers that this full-rotor automatic movement clocks in at less than 2.5 mm thick!
As for the watch itself, the strength of the Jules Audemars Extra Thin's design lies in its curves. The sunburst pattern on the dial lends the watch a dressy appearance and the slender hands are beautifully-shaped, although they are a touch too short for our liking. For a watch without indices, the length of the hour and minute hands is definitely a subjective matter. Fortunately, no such reservations exist when describing the case. The brushed finish on the curvaceous sides of the case is outstanding and must be seen in-person to be truly appreciated. Despite its minor imperfections, the Jules Audemars Extra thin, available in both white and rose gold, remains a very appealing watch.
3) Blancpain Villeret Ultra-Slim 6606 (8.6 mm thick; Starting at 9,600 USD)
Following the departure of the larger-than-life Jean Claude Biver, Blancpain has found it difficult to generate a consistent brand image. The absence of a cohesive brand message may be partially a result of the polarizing designs of some recent Blancpain releases, including the gimmicky X-Fathoms Dive watch and the entire the L-Evolution model line. While Blancpain must address their branding problem, their Villeret and Fifty Fathoms lines contain a number of high end models worthy of your consideration. The Villeret Ultra-Slim 6606 is one such model, featuring a combination of three small complications not ordinarily found on an ultra-thin watch: a running small seconds hand, a date display and power reserve display. Providing proverbial icing on the cake is the 100 hour power reserve, which is a bit of an overkill for an ultra-thin timepiece.
Of course, with extra utility comes extra thickness. The hand-wound (and now in-house) Calibre 11C5 powering the Villeret Ultra-Slim is 3 mm thick. Fully cased-up, the Villeret Ultra-Slim is not-so-slim; in fact, it is only a few hairs under 9 mm, which is roughly five human hairs if you were curious. In the ultra-thin arena, a few extra hands here and there tend to add up. Even if we discount the ultra-thin credentials of this timepiece, the Villeret Ultra-Slim is still a very attractive dress watch. Thanks to a set of finely-applied Roman numerals, the dial exudes a classical aesthetic. While we can recommend the Villeret 6606, we must point out that the legibility of the dial is not optimal due to the hour and minute hands being close to the same length. We also note that the legibility of the white dialed stainless steel model, in particular, is reduced due to the pairing of silver hands with a white dial. While the rose gold version is appreciably legible thanks to a black dial stamped with a flinqué (sunburst-like) pattern, the ~10,000 USD rose gold premium is a bit difficult to justify.
4) Breguet Classique Extra Thin 5157 (5.4 mm thick; Starting at 17,800 USD)
We’ll avoid discussing the controversial history of Breguet in order to focus exclusively on this beautiful timepiece. Breguet watches are admired for their signature design features: the choice of an engine-tunedguilloche or a hand-painted enamel dials; the coin-edged case; the classic blue-steel loop hands; and, last but not least, the admirably-finished Lemania movements. The 5157 has all of these hallmark features, except for the choice of an enamel dial. The Breguet 502.3 movement, sporting an adequate 45 hour power reserve, is now considered an in-house Breguet movement, although it was originally a Lemania design. Watch aficionados generally consider the movement finishing of Breguet watches to be very good, if a tiny bit inferior to the best work coming from the “Big 3” Swiss houses (Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin). On the other hand, Breguet watches have a truly-unique aesthetic, so the 5157 is your “one and only” if you like the Breguet aesthetics and you’re in the market for a true ultra-thin. The 5157 is available in two gold flavours: yellow and white.
5) Jaeger Le-Coultre Master Grande Ultra-Thin (8.6 mm thick; Starting at 8,200 USD)
While we previewed the JLC MUT Jubilee in an earlier article, JLC has a second production piece that is worthy of inclusion in this list: the Master Grande Ultra-Thin (MGUT). Unlike the Jubilee the MGUT is outfitted with an automatic movement, the JLC Caliber 896. To be frankly honest, at 4 mm thick, the 896 is not a true ultra-thin movement, nor does it have an impressive power reserve (43 hours). What the Caliber 896 does have in spades is robustness; like all Master Control watches, every MGUT watch is subjected to JLC’s rigorous “1000 Hours Control Test”. If you’re uninterested in following another hyperlink, just note that the rate tolerances of the “1000 Hours Control Test” are marginally stricter than the COSC tests (-1/+6 vs. -4/+6 seconds/day) and all of the JLC tests are carried out on fully-assembled watches (whereas the COSC tests are carried out on the uncased movements).
Design-wise, the MGUT is quite sharp. The dauphine hands are nicely polished, although we wish they were partially brushed to improve legibility. The sunray dial and triangular applied markets lend the watch an aura of elegance, a theme that is carried through to the generously proportioned 40 mm case. As with many JLC watches, the MGUT strikes us as a no fuss, no nonsense design and it is the perfect choice for those looking for a high quality office watch that is unlikely to draw unwanted attention.
6) Piaget Altiplano Date (6.4 mm thick; Approximately 20,000 USD)
Ever since the 43 mm Altiplano Anniversary was introduced to the market in 2010, collectors have been demanding an automatic Altiplano with a more modest diameter - something in the range of 38 - 40 mm in diameter. Piaget emphatically answered these demands, debuting a 40 mm Altiplano at SIHH 2013. The big surprise here is the inclusion of a date window, a feature not found on the 43 mm Altiplano Automatic. This is a true record-setting watch; at 6.36 mm thick, the Altiplano Date is THE thinnest automatic date watch ever produced. As for the movement itself, the 3 mm thick 1205P is also a record holder: it is the thinnest automatic date movement ever produced. The beautifully-finished 1205P has a 40 hour power reserve, which is very respectable for such a thin movement.
Turning the case over, we note that the thinness motif carried over to the dial, where it is expressed in the sharp stick hands and the narrow index markers. The recessed seconds subdial adds a bit of interest and versatility to the dial. As others have expressed (albeit with the larger 43 mm model), the generous diameter and sharp dial of the Altiplano Date lend it a versatility that many other ultra-thin watches lack. The Altiplano date would not look out-of-place with jeans and a t-shirt, which means it is likely to see action on the weekend. Overall, it's difficult to find fault with the Altiplano Date - perhaps the minute hand could be lengthened a touch. In our opinion, the Altiplano Date is the second most attractive ultra-thin watch currently made, edged out narrowly by its sibling, the sans-date Altiplano Automatic. If you're in the market for an ultra-thin watch, Piaget deserves your consideration. The Altiplano Date will be available later this year in both white and red gold.
7) Vacheron Constantin Ultra-fine 1955 (4.1 mm thick; 30,600 USD)
Thanks to the release of the Jubilee, the Historiques Ultra-fine 1955 is set to become the second thinnest mechanical watch in production. If consolation is needed, the Historiques Ultra-fine 1955 is powered by the thinnest mechanical movement currently in production - the legendary Caliber 1003, which is only 1.64 mm thick. In terms of aesthetics, the Historiques Ultra-fine 1955 is in a class of its own, a faithful homage to the Vacheron Constantin Ref. 6099. As is typical of a Vacheron Constantin dress watch, the Historiques Ultra-fine 1955's case has spectacular lugs: here, they are shaped like the arms of Vacheron's Constantin's Maltese cross. Similarly to the Piaget Altiplano, the thin indices and stick hands continue the ultra-thin motif that is technically expressed in the case and movement.
At 36 mm in diameter, there is no doubt that the Historiques Ultra-fine 1955 was designed for formal occasions. As such, the 31 hour power reserve should not become an impediment towards the enjoyment of this fine timepiece. This is the sort of watch that you will want to wind up and strap on for the most special of occasions - you may even find yourself looking forward to attending functions that would be a nuisance otherwise. When not in use, you will be tempted to take the Historiques Ultra-fine 1955 out of the watch box to gaze upon the beautifully-finished gold-plated movement bridges.
The Historiques Ultra-fine 1955 comes in pink gold.
8) Zenith Heritage Ultra-Thin (7.60 mm; Starting at 5,300 USD)
We will end our survey of the ultra-thin market with a relatively affordable entry, the Zenith Ultra-Thin. As of 2013, Zenith has revived its reputation under the stewardship of Jean-Frédéric Dufour; the pain inflicted on traditionalists by the Defy Xtreme is slowly becoming a distant memory. Unveiled in 2010, the Heritage Ultra-Thin has received an enthusiastic reception from watch enthusiasts. The question is, does it belong in your collection?
Let's consider the positives. The Elite movement is a well-constructed manufacture movement, which is blessed with an attractive aesthetic and decent finishing. The technical elements are just as respectable - 50 hours of power reserve packed into a 3.47 mm thick automatic movement. The faceted hands and applied markers lend the Heritage Ultra-Thin a retro elegance, a look that works very well overall. For those of you who prefer painted Roman numerals over applied indices, Zenith has you covered with an alternate dial option.
Like the JLC MGUT, this watch is an ultra-thin in name only. Still, the 7.6 mm thickness is not much of an issue; the Heritage Ultra-Thin will fit comfortably under most shirt cuffs. Truly, the only weakness of the Zenith Heritage Ultra-Thin is it doesn't stand out as exceptional in this crowd. It is not as stylish as the Vacheron or the Piaget, nor is the movement exceptionally thin, well-finished or robust. So what we're left with is a well-rounded 40 mm watch that is somewhat affordable in its stainless steel guise. The Heritage Ultra Thin is produced in many dial options and is available in rose and white gold, in addition to stainless steel, although the 7,000 USD gold premium is once again difficult to justify. We hope that the Zenith will win over many fans as the scrappy (but meritorious) underdog of this group.
In case you are wondering, if we had to choose a winner from this group of eight, it would be the Piaget Altiplano Date. As for the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Jubilee, we'd be tempted to slot it in as our second favorite ultra-thin watch, but we will reserve final judgment until we've had a chance to examine all of the new releases in-person.