By Nina Hald
The village of La Côte-aux-Fées, nestling in the heart of the Swiss Alps near the French border, is hardly a place that will raise many eyebrows. Not, that is, unless the eyebrows belong to a connoisseur of high-quality Swiss watches. To the expert, the name of the village is synonymous with that of one Georges Edouard Piaget, founder of the Piaget Swiss watch company.
There’s not much for farmers to do during the cold winter months in this part of Europe. Making watches on contract to various companies is, however, an absorbing pastime and a source of a little extra income for many a Swiss smallholder. But in 1874, 19 year-old Georges Piaget (1855-1931) decided that for him, watch-making was to be more than just a winter pastime. It was to be his life. As time went by and he lived out his dream, he and his company became well known as suppliers of mechanical parts to other companies. One by one, his 14 children followed in their father’s footsteps. The business was developing fast and it was soon necessary to expand the workforce, so local villagers were called in. They brought with them two typical characteristics of the local population: modesty and discretion.
The secret company
The diamond and watch trades are noted for their discretion. Piaget took fiscal modesty so seriously that the name of his company was only revealed to a handful of clients during the first years of its existence. It was only after Georges Piagets’ death in 1940 that a watch was manufactured bearing the name *Piaget*. And there were differences of opinion: company puritans were quite happy with the anonymous profile of sub-contractor, while others saw branding as a necessity if the company were to develop. The company name was patented in 1943, and in 1953 the first Piaget store was opened on the prestigious Rue du Rhône in Geneva. This occasion also marked the presentation of a collection of Piaget jewellery – anonymity was becoming a thing of the past!
The gentleman responsible for the further development of the company’s jewellery range was Yves G. Piaget. He had been born to the Piaget family in 1942. He studied watch-making at the university of Neuchâtel in La Côte-aux-Fées, and later studied gemmology at the Gemmological Institute of America. Once a qualified gemmologist, he travelled around Europe, buying up jewellery from other companies. The jewellery was then stamped with the Piaget logo and sold in the Geneva store.
The name of the rose
A golden trophy in the shape of a rose was the first piece manufactured in Piaget’s own workshop. Yves Piaget is himself a keen rose breeder and has since 1976 been a judge at *The International New Rose Competition* in Geneva. It is thanks to him that the prize in this prestigious competition is a life-size golden rose – *The Geneva Golden Rose* – sculptured at the Piaget workshop. This trophy is one of the most sought-after in the world of horticulture.
Looking to the future, Yves Piaget expressed the ambition to infuse Piaget jewellery with the same sense of flow and dynamism inherent in the moving parts of a watch. Working together under Piaget’s supervision, goldsmiths and watchmakers joined forces to produce expensive jewellery watches. This was the first area in which Piaget made his mark as an innovative stylist.
Gold and platinum
Since 1950, Piaget has employed only two precious metals in his workshops – gold of all hues and, naturally, platinum. Platinum has a ductility equalled by no other metal, meaning that it can be worked and shaped to wafer-thin dimensions while retaining its strength and durability. And it was in the mid 20th century, when there was fierce international competition to produce the flattest timepiece possible, that the name of Piaget gained legendary status.
Time and time again, Piaget has revolutionised the watch-making trade with its ultra-flat watches. Among others, Piaget has designed a piece of just 1.3mm in depth – which is so thin that it could lie inside a 10 $ golden coin; the windable, 2mm thick *9P Calibre*, and the 2.3 mm thin self-winding *12P Calibre* – thus earning the company a place in *The Guinness Book of Records*.
Piaget was also a pioneer in the field of quartz watches in the 1970s. The *7P Calibre* was the smallest quartz watch of its time and paved the way for the jewellery watches that have been synonymous with the Piaget company ever since. Most recently, in 2003, Piaget launched the *600P Calibre*, the thinnest tourbillion watch ever manufactured.
Two of Piaget’s largest jewellery collections, including watches, pay tribute to the five senses:
The *Garden of the Senses* collection, activating our sense of hearing with tiny bells attached to the strap, takes us off on an olfactory voyage through a rose garden, challenges our sight with mazes or mosaics on the dial, or represents the fingerprint of the customer on the dial – in diamonds!
The second collection is *Possession*. Two rings inseparably linked in perpetual movement – a never-ending, concentric *pas de deux*. Purity and eternity are united in the combination of platinum and diamonds. The outer ring rotates freely around the inner one without their ever coming apart. The dance is accompanied by a small chiming sound. Recently, there have been new additions to the rings: accessories, watches and earrings, all pure and discreet in expression, and modern in design. The mobility of these pieces of jewellery produces endless variety, the different elements rotating around their own axes.