Watches & Materials
These days ceramic materials are increasingly popular alongside or as a replacement to metal in watch cases. We have discussed ceramic before but it bears repetition given the sheer volume of ceramic watches available on the market today. Extremely popular are Chanel J12 collection watches with ceramic cases and bracelets, as well as watches from brands such as Hublot, Audemars Piguet, Bell & Ross and IWC which use ceramic for entire cases or for watch bezels. Ceramic is still relatively limited in colour to mostly black and white, but it is popular for being very hard and extremely scratch resistant. Little sounds better when spending the money on a luxury watch than the fact that it will resist looking worn.
Most watch cases however are made from metal – mainly steel. The most common steel is an alloy known as 316L, but there are also others. Rolex is known to make the best steel, but most high-end brands will have nicely milled solid steel cases which tend to be very satisfactory. Good examples are the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Chopard Mille Miglia collection and steel watches from Breitling. A good steel case can cost much more than a cheap one, and the way they are made and polished is just as important as the base metal used.
While steel is popular it doesn’t always carry the connotation of a luxury metal. This is where various shades of gold as well as platinum are popular. Lately most gold watches use 18k pink or rose gold as opposed to yellow gold. Rolex has their own gold alloy known as Everose. Lots of brands play with different gold colours which is where you get materials such Hublot’s King gold and Omega’s Orange gold. Gold is a luxurious but soft metal which is heavier than steel but more prone to scratching. The same goes for platinum, which is actually much more likely to scratch than even 18k white gold. These materials often look a bit like steel, but are going to be heavier and of course made from metals with much higher intrinsic values. Gold does have certain anti-corrosive properties which means it will look good in the long term so long as it is polished from time to time.
Titanium and other light metals such as zirconium are quite popular (though zirconium cases are quite rare). Titanium is about half as heavy as steel and twice as strong. However, titanium is more likely to scratch than steel. Steel is really the most scratch resistant among the basic metals, especially when it undergoes a hardening processes. Titanium today is sometimes paired with 18k gold for an attractive and sensible look. You can find pieces such as this from brands such as Cartier, Hublot, Montblanc and Audemars Piguet. Aluminum is rarely used in high-end watches given the softness of the metal, although aluminum is very light. Titanium has mostly replaced aluminum as the light metal of course. However, aluminum does hold color quite well. So you see brands like Bremont using aluminum inner rings on some of their timepieces. Silver is very rarely used in watch cases.
There are other materials used in high-end watch making, but none are as popular as the above mentioned ones. Still today you see use of carbon fibre on watch dials (especially) with a lot of frequency. Hublot for instance actually produces some watch cases entirely out of carbon fibre. Carbon in a compressed form is used to produce Audemars Piguet Forged Carbon watches. One of the most difficult to produce materials for high end watch cases is synthetic sapphire crystal. Used almost universally for watch crystals, synthetic sapphire is occasionally used as parts for watch cases when brands wish to put up with headache of manufacturing the parts because non round or basic pieces are very difficult to machine.