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Making A Case for Watchmaking Materials...

Making A Case for Watchmaking Materials

How well do you know your watch cases? We list each material’s advantages.

The movement is the heartbeat of a watch, while the case shields the movement from external elements that could jeopardise its performance and consistency. Just what are your requirements and expectations? We analyse every material forming the watch case, lay out their benefits and let you be the judge.

Aluminium

The award-winning Bvlgari Aluminium Chronograph scoops the 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève Iconic Watch Prize and features a 40mm aluminium case.

Resistant to corrosion, high reflectivity to certain electromagnetic waves, high tensile strength, light weight, anti-magnetism and recyclable – not that you will want to do so with a watch – aluminium seems perfect for watchmaking. Not to mention, aluminium is so versatile that a variety of finishing techniques such as sandblasting and polishing can be applied with ease. Even aircraft is made of aluminium nowadays. With so much to offer, we are really amazed that not many watchmakers are looking at this metal as their default choice for watch cases. But perhaps this idea will take off in the near future, who knows?

Bronze

Though not a dive watch per se, the Admiral 42 Bronze is Corum’s ode to seafaring and encased in 42mm bronze.

The past several years have seen the copper-derived alloy experiencing a Renaissance in watchmaking as watchmakers presented their popular dive models in bronze. Any watch connoisseur will tell you that buying a watch is a highly personal choice. From the type of complications, to the kind of materials and the list goes on, everything has to be just right or there is no deal. Arguably there is nothing more gratifying than a bronze watch that ages with you and bears the imprint of your life as it develops a unique patina over time. So unique that you will never find another bronze watch that looks identical to the one you own, thanks to the natural occurrence of oxidation that gradually transforms its colour from metallic brown to teal. Because of its durability and resistance to corrosion, bronze was commonly used in the fabrication of underwater hardware in the olden days, and hence the tie between bronze and dive watches.

Carbon fibre

Zenith defies convention to unveil the Defy Classic Carbon whose 41mm case and bracelet are fashioned from carbon fibre.

There are reasons why the F1 persists with carbon fibre for the construction of its cars. It counts high stiffness, high tensile strength, low weight, high chemical resistance, high temperature tolerance and low thermal expansion as its advantages. Essentially, it has no chink in its armour, so to speak. More importantly, this space-age material looks cool. While it is customarily seen in weave patterns, watchmakers are increasingly utilising carbon fibre as some sort of composite to achieve swirling patterns. Because of how it is formed during manufacturing and the subsequent machining process entailed, each pattern is one of a kind and exclusive to a particular watch. So despite paying for a non-limited edition, you are actually taking home a unique piece.

Ceramic

Blancpain introduces the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback with a 43.6mm black ceramic case and green ceramic bezel.

Modern ceramic used in watchmaking is decidedly high tech. Also unlike metal, ceramic is impervious to scratches, magnetism, ultraviolet rays and chemical erosion. All this explains why ceramic is perfect as the choice for a watch case and why a ceramic watch continues to be in tip-top condition after years of wearing. Although ceramic may give the false impression that it is heavy, on the contrary, it is relatively light. Since ceramic contains no traces of metal, it is hypoallergenic. For those with sensitive skin, you are advised to get a ceramic watch.

Gold

Omega’s new Master Chronometer-certified Speedmaster Moonwatch is available in 18K Sedna™ gold or 18K Canopus gold™.

The precious metal has long been a symbol of luxury and wearing a gold watch often means you have achieved success in life. Over the course of watchmaking history, watchmakers constantly experimented with the mixture of gold and other elements in order to produce the perfect recipe for the gold alloy that is both sumptuous and durable. The sweet spot they found is 18K gold and watchmakers tend to put their own spin by imparting 18K gold with other splendid hues such as yellow gold, pink gold, rose gold, white gold and more. Others go the extra mile by formulating their signatures and trademarking their own recipes.

Platinum

Part of the Privé collection, the Tank Asymétrique in platinum from Cartier features a 47.15mm x 26.1mm case.

Rarer and more precious than gold, platinum is undisputedly the most luxurious metal in watchmaking. When a brand offers a watch in platinum, it is usually of high importance such as a commemorative piece. It goes without saying that these platinum watches are produced in very limited numbers. Because platinum is dense, malleable and ductile, it requires special handling and craftsmanship. Platinum customarily appears in watchmaking in the form of 950 platinum, allowing this noble alloy to be durable without jeopardising platinum’s advantage – its ability to remain untarnished therefore maintaining its brilliance.

Sapphire

The experimental Bell & Ross BR X1 Skeleton Tourbillon Sapphire sits squarely in a 45mm transparent case.

Few things are as tough as the diamond, but sapphire crystal with its rated 9 hardness on the Mohs scale comes close. While the dials of modern watches are protected by sapphire thanks to its superior scratch resistance and clarity, watchmakers are beginning to see value in housing the entire watch within this synthetic crystal, especially with skeleton models designed to bare all. Due to its hardness, machining sapphire into watch cases is complex, time consuming and costly. But judging by the amount of new sapphire watches appearing on the market, it seems the brands are getting more proficient at it – to our benefits of course.

Silver

The Zenith Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Silver is made of sterling silver 925 in 45mm.

Prized for its gorgeous sheen, silver is a versatile material that has been used by craftspeople across disciplines. From cutlery to goblets, skilled artisans from the Victorian period showcased their flair and dexterity on these homewares crafted from silver through magnificent engravings. Silver was also famous as a form of currency. In its alloy form, sterling silver was used in England where it was known as pennies. What makes silver a good choice for wearables such as watches? Health benefits. Research indicates that this metal is anti-bacterial and helps boost the immune system. Need more convincing to start wearing a watch made of silver?

Stainless steel

Partnering with Australian lifestyle brand Deus Ex Machina, Breitling’s retro-inspired Top Time Deus Limited Edition comes in 41mm stainless steel.

The most ubiquitous metal of which a watch case is forged from, stainless steel is an iron-based alloy. Throughout history and across cultures, iron is synonymous with strength. And as such stainless steel exhibits good strength to withstand impacts arisen from daily wear and tear. Apart from being corrosion and stain resistant (it says so in the name), stainless steel retains its silvery lustre over time. For collectors who like their watches with a satisfying heft, a stainless steel watch coupled with a stainless steel bracelet makes perfect sense. It is no surprise that sports watches offered in stainless steel are often hot commodities.

Titanium

The IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition “SFTI” is an amalgamation of 44mm black zirconium oxide ceramic and Ceratanium®, which combines the benefits of titanium and ceramic in a single titanium alloy.

Known for its robustness, titanium is highly resistant to chemical corrosion and rust and it has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal. Apart from being non-tonic, titanium is less dense than stainless steel, thus lighter in weight. The aforementioned advantages make titanium an increasingly popular choice among watchmakers as the preferred material for watch cases. For large watches and especially those equipped with bracelets, titanium reduces the weight culminating in an overall pleasant wearing experience.

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