Material innovation has been one of the most fascinating feats of modern haute horlogerie. This pursuit for agility, robustness, or sustainability has given rise to a fleet of avant-garde watchmaking ingredients like carbon fibre, aluminium, ceramic, titanium, and many more. Going beyond the case-make staples of steel, gold, and platinum, the conquest of material innovation dawned during the early 1960s and bloomed through the golden years of watchmaking – when timepieces transitioned from being marvels of mechanical poetry to nifty tools of utility. Ever since, Swiss, Italian, and Japanese maisons have meticulously formulated in-house alloys and special mixes upping the ante – going lighter, and stronger, yet embracing their distinct design languages. Speaking of breaking records yet retaining a signature design language, Swiss-Malaysian watchmaking maestro, MING just unveiled what could be two of the world’s lightest watches, the LW.01 series. Fresh out of their “Special Project’s Cave”, are two ultra-lightweight timepieces, the MING LW.O1 Manual and LW.01 Automatic, weighing in at a featherweight 8.8 and 10.8 grams respectively. That’s equivalent to a single Cuban coffee bean or a wine cork.
At a “head-only” weight of 8.8 grams, the manually wound version (LW.01M) is believed to be the world’s lightest mechanical watch. Along with its counterpart, the automatic LM.01A, they’re powered by an ETA 2000.M1 movement, which is developed in Malaysia and given a Swiss touch of enhancement by Schwarz-Etienne for MING. Well, this wasn’t the only collaboration associated with this title, it took an entire village to build this featherweight novelty. We’ll talk about that in a bit, but first, let’s talk about LW.01 itself.
On the surface, things seem like any traditional MING timepiece. It’s great to see that they haven’t strayed away from their signature silhouettes for this special project. Interestingly, the timepiece’s dial doesn’t exist – relax, it exists, but not in contemporary standards. What we mean is that the printed crystal glass features five-minute interval hashes which act as hour markers. In order to save weight, MING completely removed the dial from the timepiece and replaced it with a gradient-printed disk which also hides the movement underneath. They’ve used something called an “interference pattern”, which comprises a positive pattern on the top of the disk whereas the bottom bears a negative pattern. Experts at MING believed that the timepiece was so light that it was nearly impossible to believe that it was running – it was only the pattern that reassured wearers that the movement was at work.
For the case construction, MING chose a unique direction. In a traditional construction, the dial is fixed above a movement, and the movement on a baseplate. However, for MING’s mission of shedding weight, they thought out of the box. They combined a dial with a hat-shaped movement bearer measuring approximately 0.5mm thick which connects with ridges to maintain structure. This is supported by 3D struts for added strength and rigidity. This is crafted out of AZ31 Magnesium-Aluminium-Zinc-Manganese alloy from Smiths High Performance – lighter than carbon (1.77g/cc, vs ~2g/cc density), much more structurally dense as compared to 3D printing, and well, as strong as metal. Also, instead of a sapphire crystal, MING opted to use hardened Corning Gorilla Glass 6 via Knight Optical, which was significantly lighter and more resistant to scratches and lighter. The crown is carved out of anodised aluminium and screwed in PEEK composite. All in all, it measures 6.5mm thick and 38mm wide – making it quite slim too.
Inside, the ETA 2000.M1 movement modified by Schwarz-Etienne for MING promises a power reserve of 36 hours. In terms of strap options, you have a choice of a ‘Record’ 1.2-gram single-layer Alcantara strap, a two-tone double-layer Alcantara strap, or a single-layer natural rubber strap, all designed and carefully crafted by Jean Rousseau Paris with a signed AZ31 Magnesium buckle and 20mm lug width.
Let’s talk about the ‘entire village’ it took to develop this featherweight novelty. They first brought in Reto Helfenstein of Helfenstein Mechanik, revered for experience and expertise in handling similar materials in the aerospace industry. The AZ31 Magnesium billet comes from Smiths High Performance in the UK while Keronite handled the plasmaelectrolytic oxidation. Furthermore, Manufacture Jean-Rousseau crafted the single-layer Alcantara straps that weigh just 1.2 grams, yet are soft, comfortable, and crease-resistant. The second buckle option, in aluminium, was designed by DBMG. The movement, enhanced by Manufacture Schwarz-Etienne, figuring out which components of the ETA2000 can be removed/lightened to save weight, along with assembly and final testing.
MING’s Special Projects Cave’s LW.01 series will be limited to 200 total builds, either in manually wound or automatic options. Depending on your choice of strap options, this will fetch you a hefty CHF 19,500 (INR 17.8 lakh before tax) and require a 50% down as a deposit. Deliveries begin in Q4 of 2024.