From the workbench Wednesday, February 22nd 2012
In collaboration with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), Hublot has developed a new alloy, Magic Gold, that’s set to revolutionise the world of watchmaking and jewellery.
Hublot Magic Gold watch © Hublot
Last December, Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of Hublot, called in the national and international press to unveil a major engineering breakthrough: the birth of a new gold alloy both ultra-strong and resistant to oxidation.
Three years of research and development were needed for Andreas Mortensen, Professor at the EPFL, and his team, and for the Hublot team, to create this veritable "fusion" between 24-carat gold and ceramic (boron powder). This new and virtually non-corrosive metal becomes the first gold in the world to be scratchproof, thereby eliminating the traditional weakness of gold and its alloys. The hardness of materials is generally expressed by the Vickers scale (unit of measurement). While “normal” 18-carat gold registers 400 Vickers, Hublot’s Magic Gold obtains a hardness approaching 1,000 Vickers (by comparison, most hardened steels measure 600 Vickers). This new alloy, which is almost completely scratchproof – only diamond, laser and electro-erosion can alter its appearance – is by far the hardest in the world.
The elaboration of Magic Gold follows a complex process that required the installation of a high-tech foundry on the premises of the Nyon based manufactory. Firstly, boron carbide powder is preformed by cold isostatic pressing in moulds resembling the final shape of the piece, be it a watch case, bracelet, ring, etc. The resulting ceramic, among the hardest in existence, is also highly heat-resistant: the preforms are then hardened at very high temperature, creating a rigid and porous structure without modifying their shape. After this operation, the molten liquid gold is infiltrated at very high pressure. This action is carried out in a pressurised inert gas medium at a sufficiently high temperature and pressure to ensure that the molten metal fills the pores of the ceramic, ensuring the “fusion” of the two into a single new material. The 18-carat Magic Gold thus obtained is necessarily composed, like all other 18-carat alloys, of 750 parts per thousand of pure gold. It can therefore be stamped AU 750.
The revolutionary process to create Magic Gold not only opens up new horizons for the watch industry, but also for certain industrial fields, since it can also be applied to materials other than gold (platinum, silver, aluminium). Jean-Claude Biver is already in contact with the firm Ferrari, who are interested in the process for the production of certain aluminium engine parts.
One unknown remains however: what colour should be given to this new alloy? The CEO of Hublot is already sure that it will be the same yellow as gold, but would like Magic Gold nonetheless to have a distinctive tonality that allows it to be readily identified by the naked eye.
The first timepiece manufactured from Magic Gold will be unveiled at Baselworld 2012. ■
Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH
Article published in FH Revue