It’s the odd one out in the window of the upscale watch store on Geneva’s Rue du Rhône; the interloper among its yellow, white and pink gold brethren. Set among a flurry of Oyster Perpetual Dayjusts and Cosmograph Daytonas, the latest Cellini Moonphase from Rolex is a shade different, being crafted from Everose gold, an alloy of gold, copper and titanium with an exceptionally durable sheen. How exactly Everose gold is produced remains a closely guarded secret – which is the case for every alloy to come out of brands’ R&D labs these past years, and whose variety and properties have transformed this precious metal’s palette.
After the 1980s, a decade remembered for its bling, big bucks and Madonna’s gold teeth, the 1990s ushered in a new era of yellow gold-meets-steel. Pink gold made its debut around 2000 and, with just a little imagination, gave customers the illusion they were living a life of discreet luxury in an East Coast resort. Not quite so naff as its predecessors, the following decade turned out to be more environmentally aware, and with a non-conformist streak. “At once a perfection and an absence of origin, a closure and a brilliance” – Roland Barthes captured the mood of this era and the objects that saw daylight then. But what of gold?
All that glitters
Why did watchmakers decide to create their own gold alloys at that precise moment? Probably because they needed to distinguish themselves from what had gone before. First this meant breaking with subjective connotations: yellow gold is brash, white gold can seem bland, pink gold is lukewarm. Then there was the desire to fly in the face of convention: forty years before, any respectable firm wouldn’t have been caught dead dabbling with precious alloys. Today they are a means of expression. Rolex, which has its own foundry, is a precursor in the field. It buys in 24k gold which it transforms into Everose gold through the addition of copper (22%) and titanium (2%). This produces a gold whose colour remains unaltered, doubtless thanks to the titanium content, titanium being chemically highly stable.
Moving along, Hublot, with Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, practices its art of fusion to produce Magic Gold, home to Unico, the brand’s in-house calibre. The added value from this alloy is its hardness. Perfectly scratch-resistant, it clocks up a score of 1,000 Vickers, more than twice that of conventional 18k gold which tops out at 400 Vickers.
At Omega, 18k Sedna™ gold is an alloy whose combination of gold (minimum 75%), copper and palladium confers a unique red hue and a particularly long-lasting lustre. Ceragold™, meanwhile, revolves around a process by which 18k gold numerals and graduations can be incrusted into ceramic, on a bezel for example. And while Chanel lays exclusive claim to beige gold, it is giving nothing away as to how it is made.
Changing the face of gold
Not all new golds are pages torn from Merlin’s handbook. Sometimes the recipe calls for a dash of history, a shot of technique and a personality from the world of jewellery: Carolina Bucci. Behind the success of the Royal Oak Frosted Gold is a secret of a different kind.
The watch owes its sparkle to a meticulous surface treatment that draws on a traditional hammering technique, known as Florentine finish. In practice, the gold is beaten with a diamond-tipped tool which leaves tiny indentations in the surface of the metal, and produces a sparkle similar to that of precious stones or diamond powder. There are no druids stirring a cauldron filled with mystery ingredients; this gold owes its transformation to the human hand.
In a different vein, Chopard doesn’t seek to alter gold but to influence how it is obtained, and help improve the lives of the miners who extract this raw material through its “Journey to Sustainable Luxury” project. The Fairmined gold which the brand uses is produced by artisanal mines that implement responsible practices, such as working conditions and environmental protection. Buyers pay a premium above the set gold price that is reinvested in community projects. Gold with an ethical shine.
Did you know?
Gold and traditional gold alloys
Gold is a malleable metal and therefore has to be combined with other metals to produce an alloy that is sufficiently hard to be used in watchmaking and jewellery. These metals, in various proportions, determine the colour of the gold alloy. Nickel is a common cause of skin allergy and for this reason is no longer used in gold alloys.
Yellow gold: 75% gold – 12.5% silver – 12.5% copper
Pink gold: 75% gold – 5% silver – 20% copper
White gold: 75% gold – 15% silver – 10% copper
White gold can be given a whiter appearance by plating with rhodium or by adding palladium to the alloy.
Different gold colours can be produced by varying the type of metal and the proportions in the alloy:
Blue gold: 75% gold – 25% cobalt or iron
Violet gold: 75% gold – 25% aluminium
Green gold: 75% gold – 25% silver
The karat (k) is the unit of measure of the amount of gold in the total metal per 24 parts. Pure gold is 24k (at least 99.99% gold). 18k gold contains at least 75% gold and no more than 25% other metals. Jewellers also use 14k gold (58% gold) which is softer and therefore easier to work with.