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Watchmaking’s material world
Trend Forecaster

Watchmaking’s material world

Friday, 23 October 2020
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

“The desire to learn is the key to understanding.”

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6 min read

Ultra-light, extra-resistant, super-luminescent, unbreakable… watch brands continue to push the envelope for the materials used to encase our watches. Here’s a selection of this year’s innovations.

Only a few years ago, carbon and ceramic were the outliers. Not anymore, as brands have researched and developed every possible alloy and composite, not forgetting futuristic materials borrowed from industries such as aerospace and telecommunications, or from extreme sports like Formula 1 or offshore sailing. Even then, explorations into alternative materials continue to turn up more than a few surprises. These watches from 2020 are the proof.

Breitling Endurance Pro

Part of the Professional range, the Endurance Pro bills itself as the “ultimate athleisure watch”. This translates into a chrono with the sport-watch credentials of a thermo-compensated SuperQuartz™ movement that is also stylish enough for daily wear. Another standout feature is the ultra-lightness of its Breitlight® case: a non-magnetic material that is 3.3 times lighter than titanium, thermally stable and hypoallergenic, as well as highly resistant to scratching, traction and corrosion.

Endurance Pro © Breitling
Endurance Pro © Breitling
Bulgari Aluminium

As an ultra-light material for watches, aluminium has been around for a while. It’s a regular feature at Swatch and has also been used for certain Apple Watches. A mechanical watch cased in aluminium, on the other hand, has always been something of a rarity – except at Bulgari whose Aluminium has popped up like a rabbit out of a hat. Some may remember the black and white sport-luxe watches the Italian jeweller introduced in 1998, in a head-turning mix of aluminium and rubber. Updated for contemporary tastes, the new Bulgari Aluminium is fitted with mechanical movements including a chronograph.

Aluminium © Bulgari
Aluminium © Bulgari
Chanel J12 X-Ray

2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the J12. Last year, anticipating this milestone, Chanel went about a subtle revamp of its icon, refreshing its design without altering the identity that has underpinned its success. This year sees the introduction of the J12 X-Ray, a limited edition of 12, fitted with a specially skeletonised Calibre 3.1 in-house movement. Transparency is the name of the game as the case, bracelet, dial, plate and bridge for the going train are all rendered in sapphire: a technical tour de force worthy of this world-first that didn’t go unnoticed, given the difficulty of machining a material this hard.

J12 X-Ray © Chanel
J12 X-Ray © Chanel
Girard-Perregaux Laureato Absolute Crystal Rock

For its latest addition to the Laureato Absolute range – a “more sophisticated, more contemporary” evolution of the original Laureato from 1975 –, Girard-Perregaux brings us an imposing 44mm chronograph with a case in Carbon Glass. Remarkably solid as well as ultra-light (the entire watch weighs in at just 94 grams), this high-tech material is produced from layers of carbon fibre and fibreglass which are heated at high temperature then compressed into a homogenous whole before milling into the required shape. And because the layers form uneven strata, every single case is unique.

Laureato Absolute Crystal Rock © Girard-Perregaux
Laureato Absolute Crystal Rock © Girard-Perregaux
Hublot Big Bang Millennial Pink

Materials technology is second nature at Hublot. As are novel colours, starting with this Millennial Pink, an impossible to define, gender-neutral shade that lies somewhere between grapefruit and apricot. Before this 42mm through-tinted aluminium case could exist, Hublot’s engineers had to develop an anodization process that both decorates and protects, as well as giving case and components the desired pastel shade. Remarkable resistance to scratching and knocks is a further benefit. Onboard with this new colour is Lapo Elkann, creative chairman of Garage Italia.

Big Bang Millennial Pink © Hublot
Big Bang Millennial Pink © Hublot
IWC Pilot's Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition "SFTI"

IWC adds to its Top Gun line of pilot’s watches with the Edition SFTI chronograph, which uses Ceratanium® for parts of the case. Based on a titanium alloy, it is the latest innovation from IWC’s materials engineers. The blanks for the case components are machined followed by a furnace process during which oxygen diffuses into the material. A phase transformation takes place and the surface takes on properties similar to those of ceramic. Ceratanium® is as lightweight and unbreakable as titanium with the hardness and scratch-resistance of ceramic.

Pilot's Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition
Pilot's Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition "SFTI" © IWC
Officine Panerai Luminor Luna Rossa GMT - 42MM

In 2002 Officine Panerai took the wraps off a number of innovative materials straight out of its “laboratory of ideas”. This year’s Luminor Luna Rossa GMT – 42mm combines two of them. First Carbotech™ for the bezel, a lightweight carbon fibre-polymer composite with superior shock-and corrosion-resistance. Then Scafotech™ for the dial, another innovative composite made this time from carbon fibre residue that is collected from the hull and hydrofoils of the AC75: the yacht that the Italian team and Panerai partner Luna Rossa will be sailing as Challenger in the upcoming America’s Cup.

Luminor Luna Rossa GMT – 42mm © Officine Panerai
Luminor Luna Rossa GMT – 42mm © Officine Panerai
Omega Seamaster Diver 300M titanium-tantalum-Sedna gold

The latest watch in the Seamaster Diver 300M collection is a combination of gold, titanium and tantalum. Omega’s proprietary Sedna™ gold, an exclusive alloy of gold, copper and palladium, is paired with grade 2 titanium that is heat-treated for greater strength. As for the blue-grey tantalum, it is rarer than gold, harder than steel and highly corrosion-resistant while its inertness makes it a valuable alternative to platinum. Dense, pliable and highly conductive of heat and electricity, tantalum is a particularly difficult material to work with – hence its rare appearances in the watch world.

Seamaster Diver 300M titanium-tantalum-Sedna gold © Omega
Seamaster Diver 300M titanium-tantalum-Sedna gold © Omega
Richard Mille RM 27-04 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal

Materials are a critical element of a Richard Mille watch, as recently evidenced by the RM 11-05 whose bezel is in grey Cermet: a metallic zirconium matrix with ceramic inserts that is lighter than titanium and almost as hard as diamond. The RM 27-04 Rafael Nadal introduces another exclusive material, TitaCarb®, for the case. This high-performance polyamide is reinforced with an injection of 38.5% carbon fibre. Exceptional tensile strength of 3,700 kg/cm² makes it one of the toughest composites ever, with a fracture resistance close to that of steel.

RM 27-04 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal © Richard Mille
RM 27-04 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal © Richard Mille
Roger Dubuis Excalibur Twofold

Roger Dubuis goes further in its high-tech explorations with the Excalibur Twofold. Firstly, its signature double flying tourbillon takes up residence inside a case sculpted from an ultra-white Mineral Composite Fiber. Secondly, every angle of the bridges is coated with Mineral Composite Fiber then highlighted with a lume that shines in the dark for 60% longer than standard. Thirdly, this capacity to light up the night continues on the wrist, courtesy of the strap in rubber that emits a glow thanks to LumiSuperBiwiNova technology.

Excalibur Twofold © Roger Dubuis
Excalibur Twofold © Roger Dubuis
Urwerk EMC Time Hunter Desert Sage

The sand-coloured case of this EMC Time Hunter sports a grainy finish, obtained by an unprecedented surface treatment, and is teamed with a camouflage canvas strap, giving it a military look as well as its Desert Sage nickname. It is, Urwerk promises, “a fighter and a tough nut to crack whose shell withstands the test of time thanks to a ceramic-type lacquer treatment.” Information provided by an electronic module enables the wearer to monitor and fine-tune the rate of the mechanical movement – hence why the EMC Time Hunter Desert Sage is part of the UR-Chronometry collection, dedicated to chronometric precision.

EMC Time Hunter Desert Sage © Urwerk
EMC Time Hunter Desert Sage © Urwerk
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