From TAG Heuer to Cartier and H. Moser & Cie, watchmakers are seen using unconventional materials and gemstones – or the very least, innovative ways of working them – for some of the year’s exciting novelties.
As far as being an essential everyday accessory, watches are as traditional or classic as they come.
While technical specifications have evolved – movements are, after all, getting more accurate, dependable, long lasting and advanced, timepieces strapped on a wrist can generally be ubiquitous in form.
Well, not if you scrutinise the details that is.
This year in itself saw watchmakers embracing some of the most unconventional materials for their designs. If not that, they employed innovative techniques to ensure their creations stood out.
Tag Heuer used lab-grown diamonds, while Cartier turned to electrochemical engraving. To prove that absolute black is the “new black”, H. Moser & Cie even coated an entire watch with the darkest man-made substance on earth.
All these show that the timepiece your wear can sport more than just the usual gold, platinum or steel – despite its familiar silhouette.
Not to mention, watchmakers are also playing closer attention to their choice of materials for sustainability sake.
Made To Catch The Eye
Diamonds are not uncommon in decorating watches, but lab-grown ones can be.
When TAG Heuer unveiled its new Carrera Plasma in March, it caused a stir. The already gorgeous timepiece was seen covered in diamonds produced using chemical vapour deposition technology.
What does it mean and how does the process work, you ask?
According to the watchmaker’s website, a “seed” of diamond is put into a vacuum chamber with certain gases – then ignited using high powered microwave radiation. This results with the materials bonding and growing into a crystal structure.
More interesting is that the dial is a sum of crystals produced as one single diamond plate. In addition, lab-grown diamonds are used to embellish other features like the indexes and counters.
“We want to create a new and breath-taking vision of mastering carbon and diamond design, as well as cutting-edge light effects,” reads the statement from CEO, Frederic Arnault.
Certainly, the Tag Heuer Carrera Plasma proved that challenging conventions can help in making you become the talk of the industry.
The latest Tank Louis Cartier collection is also a set apart from the rest.
These watches have dials with a visually unique look. Using electrochemical engraving, they have markings that seem to change shade depending on the light reflected.
The two models may take on a monochromatic appearance at first glance, but stare at them longer and you will notice the vibrancy that is rich in hue and depth. High-precision (almost invisible) engravings are behind the so-called optical illusion.
Carried out in different directions, the markings form a group of sections and areas that recreate the graphic pattern featured on the dial of a Cartier Must watch from the 1980s.
It is hard to believe that this visually puzzling Tank Louis Cartier dial (available in red and anthracite grey) is actually just in one colour throughout.
Cue the clever comments about the watch having “two faces”, or prepare yourself for jokes about wearing a watch that can literally reveal its “true colours”.
Now, that is a perfect conversation starter at parties.
Forefront Of Trends
As vivid colours can help watch designs catch the eye, the lack of it, in a broader sense of things, is able to serve the same function.
H. Moser & Cie used the blackest non-naturally occurring material known to man for the Streamliner Chronograph “Blacker Than Black”.
It follows a number of the watchmaker’s previous timepieces using dials coated in Vantablack. What is different though, is that this one is largely covered with the material – and not merely the dial.
Seen at the Watches & Wonders trade show in April, the Streamliner Chronograph “Blacker Than Black” disappeared when placed against a Vantablack screen. All you could see are the watch hands “floating” in the air.
Sadly, it remains as a concept watch for now. The coated case is apparently too fragile for everyday use and handling.
Yet, it still is exciting to think about how a single different material can change how a watch looks.
Previously, H. Moser & Cie used Vantablack for the dial of the Endeavour Perpetual Moon Concept (2018), a trio of Vantablack Black Hands models (2020) and Swiss Alp Watch (2021).
The name Vantablack is an acronym for “Vertically Aligned Nano Tube Array Black”. The company that invented the material says it absorbs 99.965 percent of light, which made it the blackest of all blacks at the time.
Of course, other watch models have also played around with materials.
Worth mentioning is the Cartier SolarBeat Tank Must, which is solar powered. To keep with the “green” theme, the strap has been manufactured using scraps of apples grown for the food industry.
Omega’s Moonshine Gold is a proprietary alloy that was debuted back in 2019 for the 50th Anniversary Apollo 11 Speedy. It is now the watchmaker’s pride and joy, with several of the 2022 novelties bearing it.
It has to be said that the materials watches are fashioned from matter, and not just aesthetically too.
Breitling, for one, has been issuing a new kind of certificate of authenticity for its timepieces. Using blockchain technology, it tags and records a watch’s materials and components – allowing a person to easily discover when, where and how every component was made.
This fits in with the sustainability narrative.
While the blockchain certificate does not really have to do with the use of new materials per se, it does show that collectors care and pay attention to what their treasured watches are made from.
Material is hardly immaterial in the watchmaking world – certainly as the years go by.