Thin is in as watchmakers think in two dimensions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 July, 2010, 12:00am

There was a time when men's watches were characterised mostly by their ruggedness and size - the bigger, the better. Today, however, many men prefer something smaller, slimmer and more delicate.

The trend first appeared last year when Bulgari released a slim watch named after its founder, Sotirio Bulgari, to celebrate the brand's 125th anniversary. Then Dunhill partnered with Jaeger-LeCoultre half a century after their first collaboration, to bring back an old-timer: the Alfred Dunhill Facet watch (3). This ultra-slim rectangular timepiece with the eponymous faceted glass is an update of a watch that debuted in 1936. Powered by Jaeger Le-Coultre Calibre 822 with hour, minute and small seconds at 6, the new Facet watch has a silver-coloured dial with blue, baton-style hands and is a stunning accessory for a tailored grey suit.

More evidence surfaced at the recent SIHH watch fair. Even Panerai, famous for its voluminous pieces, launched the P.999, a new hand-wound mechanical movement only 3.4mm thick but with 19 jewels, a 60-hour power reserve and a balance wheel oscillating at 21,600 vibrations per hour. This movement allows for new models such as Radiomir Oro Rosa (4), which is smaller, lighter and more elegant than the brand's usual pieces, but maintains its military DNA. I usually don't like pink gold but matched with Panerai's masculine style - especially its classic dial with big numerals - it works quite well. It's a piece that would look perfect on a man with long but perfectly coiffed hair, a la Bradley Cooper.

Many theories have been put forward to explain the phenomenon of thinner watches and one of them is that since the world has emerged from recession, people are still thinking lean. The more pragmatic explanation may be that as more watchmakers have set up manufactures to produce their own movements, they enjoy more flexibility to produce pieces with different dimensions.

Thin movements are fascinating. At the thickness of a biscuit you have all the parts perfectly assembled to tell time. The title of thinnest self-winding movement currently available in the market has been claimed by Piaget with its Calibre 1200P at 2.35mm. It is inspired by the brand's 12P launched in 1960, the thinnest movement at the time. The 1200P runs Piaget's iconic Atiplano watches, and allows the cases to be as slim as 5.25mm, supposedly also a record.

But what really draws me are the 'anniversary edition' pieces, especially the style in white gold. The black hand-guilloche dial with silver-coloured baton hour markers and baton hands is understated yet brimming with style. It's worn by the man who tells you a lot about himself without saying much.

The elegance of slimness is also well illustrated in Blancpain's ultra-slim self-winding piece under its Villeret line (Ref. 6223-1127-55) with second hand, date and white dial. This boutique watchmaker is famous for extracting the virtue of simplicity. Its new slender movement, with only a few hundred made a year, displays distinctive workmanship. I find the new Villeret to be the most striking in platinum or steel - a confident masculine fashion statement that combines honesty and charm.

Vacheron Constantin is another brand famous for slim, fine watches. This year the brand has recreated pieces from its 'Les Historiques' range, drawing on its heritage. One of the results is the round Historique Ultra-fine 1955 (1). Powered by Calibre 1003, the thinnest manual-winding movement at 1.64mm, the watch feels like a second skin on your wrist. The case is matched with an Alligator mississippiensis skin strap, giving an air of elegance suited to a man who frequents private club houses and enjoys single-malt whisky.

Although I prefer simple watches, there are times when some sparkle is called for, such as a semi-formal evening banquet. You may want to don the Midnight watch (2) in white gold with baguette diamond set rim, onyx and diamond dial, extra-flat mechanical movement and alligator strap by Van Cleef & Arpels.

Complete with matching cufflinks, the piece's sparkling stones contrast with the black dial for a most eye-catching effect, while maintaining a good degree of calm and cool. It goes on the wrist of a man who's not afraid to be the centre of attention but never seeks it.

Regardless of whether you like slim, the most important thing is, let yourself take time to sit back and appreciate these little accessories on your wrists - and you might come to realise that they give you more than just the time.

Shopping list

Alfred Dunhill, Prince's Building, Central, tel: 2524 3663.

Blancpain, 10 Ice House Street, Central, tel: 2140 6668.

Bulgari, Chater House, Central, tel: 2523 8057.

Panerai, Prince's Building, Central, tel: 2522 9373.

Piaget, 1881 Heritage, Canton Road, TST, tel: 2301 2199.

Vacheron Constantin, Ocean Terminal, TST, tel: 2735 8481.

Van Cleef & Arpels, Pacific Place, Admiralty, tel: 2918 1661.