The search and application of new materials is one of the main trends in watchmaking nowadays. Manufacturers more and more often go beyond classical techniques, trying to improve them, and even offer something radically new. The purposes of the search for new materials are improving the strength and durability of watches, searching for new design solutions and protection against counterfeiting. For the more original and complicated the material of the watch is the more difficult and expensive it is to forge. Let’s consider main innovative materials used by the manufacturers of Swiss watches in our days.
It is widely used in manufacturing of watch cases as well as bracelets. The main advantage of ceramics, due to which this material has drawn the attention of watch manufacturers, is its strength combined with resistance to temperature changes. Watch of ceramics is light and comfortable to wear: it doesn’t scratch skin or become hot from heat and doesn’t get cool in the cold. Ceramics has a smooth glossy surface, resistant to scratching, and perfectly matches decorative elements, precious stones and ornaments. Even after lasting contact with skin ceramics doesn’t change color and looks like new, unlike most metals.
Ceramic Officine Panerai Special Editions 2013 Luminor Submersible 1950 Ceramic Automatic PAM 00508
However, despite the resistance to scratching, ceramics is more vulnerable to straight blows than metal. That’s why many Swiss watch brands use ceramics as a basis for creating more advanced alloys. It is commonly alloyed with tungsten, which significantly increases the strength of the material. Apart from this, due to the complexity and costly manufacturing of this alloy, it is bypassed by the counterfeiters.
This metal is lighter and more resistant to deformation than steel. Despite high strength, titanium is more susceptible to scratching than steel, so the watch of this material always has an additional protective coating. Titanium has been used for a long time in the manufacture of watches, and it can be considered the classics. It is also worth mentioning that Swiss manufacturers do not use it in pure; they prefer making different alloys on the basis of titanium.
Titanium Vacheron Constantin Overseas Dual Time 47450/000W-9511
The use of this rare metal has become a trend among Swiss watch brands of late. It is harder than steel, and as ductile as gold. Thanks to these qualities, tantalum easily brings shocks and is not prone to scratching. In addition, tantalum is quite resistant to chemicals and does not cause allergies. Oxidation of this metal can give it different colours. That enables manufacturers of greater colour variations. Due to high hardness, tantalum is quite heavy. Thus Swiss watch brands try not to produce watches with a fully tantalum body, using it only for some fragments. But there are also models with cases entirely made of tantalum, for example, Hublot Big Bang Tantalum Mat Chronograph and Panerai 192 Tantalium Chrono.
Tantalum Girard-Perregaux Haute Horlogerie Tourbillon Bi-Axial Tantalum 3 Sapphire Bridges 99810-81-000-BA6A
Swiss watches made of other alloys
Elite watches manufacturers don’t stop on application of the above mentioned metals. Many brands such as Hublot, quite boldly experiment with the material of cases in their watch models. They do it in search for new colours. For example, for the King Gold Carbon watch (the Big Bang series, released in 2013) Hublot has developed a special material King Gold. It is based on gold with increased content of copper and platinum addition. The alloy has a unique rich color, more resistant to time and oxidation.
Stainless steel + carbon Cvstos Evosquare Evosquare 45 Chrono Evosquare-45 Chrono Black Bicolor
Another example is a series 165 Years Homage to F.A. Lange by a Saxon brand Lange and Sohne dedicated to its founder Ferdinand Adolph Lagna. For models of this series (Tourbillograph, Lange 1 Tourbillon and 1815 Moon Phase) the Honey Gold alloy was made. Here gold contained copper, manganese and silicon. Thanks to the last element Honey Gold was one and a half times harder than stainless steel.
PVD, DLC, AlTiN coating
To isolate metals from the external environment impact various coatings are applied. The most common of them are PVD, DLC and AlTiN. Such coatings serve as a solid shell of the watch, not only increasing its strength, but also preventing colour change. Thanks to modern coating technologies, they are not erased and serve for a very long time.
DLC coated Zenith Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 GMT 96.2431.693/21.C740
It has become the main material of the front and back cover of Swiss watches long time ago. It is made of artificially grown sapphire, and its treatment is a difficult and expensive procedure. Sapphire glass is very resistant to scratching. It can be scratched only by diamond. Due to such stability it remains perfectly smooth, and if you pour a few drops of water on it, they will quickly gather in one drop, and will not flow around the edges as on ordinary glass, which surface can never be absolutely smooth. Despite the strength sapphire glass isn’t prone to straight punches. In addition to the stability and smoothness, sapphire glass provides anti-reflective effect, which is achieved by coating the glass with a special anti-glare coating (on one or two parts). So, you will clearly see the time on the dial even at noon in a bright sun.
It’s a material, which is very widely used for manufacturing belts of sports watch models. Rubber straps are more comfortable during active movements and much more practical: they are easily washed, do not deteriorate from sweat (unlike leather straps) and don’t scratch skin (unlike metal ones). Rubber is also used for making protective gaskets for covers and winding crowns in water resistant watches. This material has become so habitual that it is even used for decoration of some models of watches for athletes and divers.
However, along with models of new materials models considered to be true classics are still produced: watches with cases of steel and gold and straps of alligator skin. The resistance of the metal to scratches and impact of the external environment (this primarily motivates watch manufacturers to search for new materials) is not so important for many connoisseurs of Swiss watches. The thing is thanks to these natural changes watches get vintage look, which is also now fashionable. Many people find a special charm in light graze and darkening of the case, which are the tracks and true symbols of time.