In watchmaking, one of the most supreme disciplines of all is the creation of complex calibres within a height of only a few millimetres. Inspired by a fascination of reducing the size of cases and movements, watchmakers manage to dream up new creations again and again. The flatter the case, the more complex the construction of the movement, since the parts must of course be adapted to the low height – thus also decreasing in size with it. The unique charm of ultra-thin watches is based not least on their elegant appearance; with incomparable lightness, they literally nestle against the wrist.
The impulse and the imagination inspiring ever-flatter watches have always driven innovation in watchmaking. Armed with ambition, brands such as Bulgari and Piaget have been engaged in a veritable competition for the world’s flattest watch for decades. Until recently, this illustrious record was held by the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra. However, this has now been ousted from its throne by the new front-runner, the RM UP-01 Ferrari. With a constant flood of new creative production processes and innovation to reduce the height of the movements, it’s almost like the space race – and Richard Mille is SpaceX.
We were recently able to see the RM UP-01 Ferrari live at the Richard Mille boutique in Munich and get a nuanced feel for the watch. In this article, we’ll take a look at the fascinating details behind the world’s new thinnest watch, the RM UP-01 Ferrari, to find out what makes its wafer-thin appearance possible and dissect its extraordinary features. Of course, we should first take a look at the flattest watches to date.
The flat-out frontrunners: Piaget and Bulgari
Piaget, the symbol of the ultra-thin wristwatch
Since 1957, Piaget has been a symbol of thin wristwatches and had already used the ‘fusion concept’ in 2014 for its Altiplano 900P – the world’s thinnest mechanical wristwatch at the time, measuring an incredible 3.65 mm thick. This was characterised by the fusion of case and movement, which surpassed the traditional design and thus left plenty of opportunity for innovative spirit.
The Altiplano 900P
At the SIHH in 2018, Piaget unveiled what was then the world’s thinnest mechanical watch, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept. If we cast our eyes from the past to the present, the model, with a height of 2 mm, defined the background for new frontiers of micro-engineering in watchmaking, while clearing the way for what has yet to be achieved. This achievement was possible thanks to a case that was also part of the movement, as well as an integrated crown and ultra-flat sapphire crystal. In addition, the following questions shaped the general consciousness: could this ambitious experiment be produced in significant quantities and are they right for everyday use?
The Altiplano Ultimate Concept
Piaget found its answer at Watches & Wonders 2020, focusing on the Altiplano Ultimate Concept, which was no longer an experiment, but rather emancipated into a fully developed, field-tested wristwatch available for purchase. The watch is so thin that there is only 0.12 mm between the cobalt movement and the skin of the watch wearer. So little height presents another challenge: the way the time is displayed also had to be completely rethought. Instead of a dial with two hands mounted on top of the bridge, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept has a dial that lies below the bridge. Irrefutably technically sophisticated, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept contains 283 individual parts despite its ultra-thin height, and its innovations led to 5 patents being filed.
Personally, I think that this ambitious watch retrospectively combines a very successful combination of research and development efforts. In addition, the watch can be highly self-configured. Thus, buyers can determine which colour the case, the plate, the dial –everything – should have. Thus, the Altiplano Ultimate Concept not only sets no limits in terms of technology, but also in terms of self-expression.
Bulgari’s record-breaking icon
The Octo Finissmo has established itself as a figurehead of Bulgari’s watch division since its launch in 2014 and has since set several world records. At Geneva Watch Days 2020, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Chronograph Skeleton was unveiled. At 7.4 mm high, it was the thinnest automatic watch at the time to feature a monopusher chronograph and tourbillon. It was thus the sixth creation of the maison to stand upon the world record podium.
The Bulgari Octo Finissmo Tourbillon Chronograph Skeleton
In March 2022, Bulgari’s Octo Finissimo Ultra demonstrated who was the winner in the competition for the world’s thinnest watch, knocking the Altiplano Ultimate Concept from first place. With an astonishing overall height of 1.80 mm, the timepiece threw aside all doubts at the time. Through its design, Bulgari, like Piaget, breaks with old traditions and elevates them to new dimensions. In an innovative way, the Octo Finissmo Ultra uses the caseback as the main plate on which the 170 components of the BVL 180 calibre are installed.
The Bulgari Octo Finissmo Ultra
With an engraved QR code on the ratchet wheel of the barrel, the tradition of the modern virtual world empowers itself. With this code, the owner can unlock exclusive content in the Metaverse. The wearer enters a virtual world with exclusive content such as interviews and a 3D flight through the movement – creating a very narrow bridge between the virtual and real world. In addition, each watch is associated with NFT artwork that guarantees the watch’s authenticity.
The RM UP-01 Ferrari: Slimness in new dimensions
What is it about ultra-slim watches that excites us? Is it the maximum amount of technical know-how that goes into these masterpieces, the rush of geometry and innovation? I think it’s a mixture of everything. Richard Mille’s uncompromising answer to this question is the RM UP-01 Ferrari. In collaboration with Ferrari, Richard Mille can feel that the RM UP-01 Ferrari is the winner of the race for the world’s thinnest watch, and Ferrari here symbolises the engine that helped achieve the goal. The new flattest watch in the world stylises itself as an evocative timepiece that brings with it an unheard-of sense of planning and innovative spirit on the part of the two collaboration partners. This model not only breaks with the brand’s established stylistic codes, but also pushes new boundaries of possibility by taking on the challenge of ultra-thinness. With a thickness of just 1.75 mm, the RM UP-01 Ferrari is a visionary piece that is the result of years of work, dozens of prototypes and more than 6,000 hours of development and laboratory testing.
We recently had the pleasure of seeing the RM UP-01 Ferrari in the Richard Mille boutique in Munich. To me, the watch seemed almost surreal in its lightness and ultra-flatness, exceeding all my expectations with its 1.75 mm. To visualise the flatness of the timepiece even better, we held a 2-euro piece next to the case for comparison and to our amazement, the thinness of the watch exceeded that of the coin. Try it for yourself; take a 2 Euro coin and imagine a watch so flat that it undercuts the coin’s thickness by 0.20 millimetres.
With the RM UP-01 Ferrari, the technology dictates the look and not the other way around. This is primarily noticeable in the case, which has a tonneau shape with a length of 51 mm and a width of 39 mm. Grade 5 titanium was chosen as the material for the case, which combines the advantages of lightness and extreme resistance. Last but not least, it gives the watch its technical look. Both the front and the caseback have a satin finish, while polished bevels on the edges complete the aesthetic. A total of 13 spline screws hold the case together.
The time display, housed on the central axis of the front, also manages to wrest an elegant new effect. For me, numerals and indices around the groove bring the spirit of Richard Mille to the watch. Two discs directly connected to the gear train indicate the hours and minutes. Above them lies the protective sapphire crystal. Next to it is the balance wheel, which can be seen at work through a 0.2 mm thick glass. The iconic Ferrari emblem, the Cavallino Rampante, has been laser engraved, as have all the other markers on the case. Not wanting to compromise on the thinness of the watch, Richard Mille has integrated two crowns into the case of the RM UP-01 Ferrari: one for function selection, the other for setting the selected function. To wind and set it, both fingers and a special winding tool can be used.
Of course, Richard Mille previously offered a small taste of what the manufacture has to offer in terms of flat watches with the RM 67-01 Extra Flat, with a height of 7.75 mm. But no one really expected the launch of the RM UP-01 Ferrari. In this respect, it is interesting to note that Richard Mille never called the RM UP-01 Ferrari the thinnest watch, and it is up to each individual to decide whether this should be seen as vanity.
The RM 67-01 Extra Flat
The collaboration with Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi in Le Locle to obtain additional expertise was definitely conducive to achieving ultra-thinness. Unlike the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra, Richard Mille takes a traditional approach, with the movement sitting on its own mainplate rather than being integrated into the caseback. This decision makes the RM UP-01 Ferrari suitable for everyday use, as absolute shock resistance is guaranteed under all circumstances.
To reduce the thickness of the calibre to a minimum, Richard Mille’s engineers combined an ultra-thin escapement with a variable-inertia balance made of titanium. They even released the extra-thin barrel with an extraordinary, patented hairspring. The hands were transferred directly to the wheels for this purpose. The rotor oscillates at a frequency of 4 Hertz and can be regulated with six weights, while the mainspring barrel offers a power reserve of approximately 45 hours when fully wound.
For me, the RM UP-01 Ferrari skilfully navigates the territory between technology and elegance. It is the product of a successful interplay of the most important aesthetic and conceptual elements of Richard Mille and Ferrari at the same time. The RM UP-01 Ferrari leaves its competitors in the dust; only the future can tell who will be able to outdo it in thinness and how long it will retain its pole position. In any case, it is a milestone for Richard Mille and for the watch industry. Richard Mille is being duly rewarded for this technological masterpiece; interested parties can purchase the watch for a mammoth CHF 1,700,000. Candidates can apply to buy the watch at one of the Richard Mille boutiques and cross their fingers in the hope that they might be accepted.