Watchmaking is enjoying a new relationship with innovative materials, which is great news for the wearer as most of these materials enhance how a watch feels.
After a relatively uniform couple of years, we have seen a good deal of invention with watchmaking, including new alloys, composites and mixtures of several materials as brands look to prove their uniquity, inventiveness and enhance wearer comfort. Undoubtedly these new developments are about looking to the future but, more importantly, they remind us that watches are sensorial and even sensual objects.
Within this context of feel and relationship, IWC has created the Big Pilot’s Watch Shock Absorber XPL. An ultra-light aluminium movement is mounted on a spring made of titanium and BMG (Bulk Metallic Glass), a metal featuring a structure similar to that of glass, allowing extreme fracture-resistant abilities, all housed in a ceratanium case. This titanium-based metal-structured ceramic completes the piece’s proven ability to withstand forces of up to 30,000G (the gravitational constant), more than double the best existing performance.
Brand meets brawn
In the 2000s, many new watch materials, often adopted into the watch industry from other high-performance sectors and sports, were adopted and made part of the brands using them. Sometimes representing simple alloys, they were even registered for the exclusive benefit of the user. Purnell has resumed this branding practice with its WPM ‘White Purnell Microfiber’ a lightweight and resistant material that is perfectly white.
Montblanc, for its part, has named a yellow gold with a touch of iron, Lime Gold 18K, adding a slightly green touch to its 1858 Split Second Chronograph, enhanced with lime-coloured hands and appliques.
Diversity by design
Conversely, Richard Mille makes a point of keeping things simple, referring to existing materials by their actual names, especially if they are already intriguing. The new RM 21-01 Aerodyne features a baseplate made of Haynes 214. Composed of nickel, chromium, aluminium and iron, this steel-like alloy is used in critical aerospace components subject to extreme temperatures and oxidation such as the RM 21-01 will never endure.
Nonetheless, the shape of this alloy, a honeycomb pattern with a slightly stretched profile, provides both structural rigidity and technical desirability. Panerai is equally concerned with strength but also the environment. Its EcoTitanium
experiment is composed of over 80% recycled metal. Alternatively, Corum’s Admiral sees a move upmarket with the use of a multilayer carbon composite intermingled with gold flakes.
All of the above examples reflect a fundamental watchmaking quest: to constantly redefine the idea of precious.
As an example, Omega has introduced a new bronze alloy for its new Seamaster 300 Bronze Gold. It is composed of 37.5% pure gold, supplemented by silver and palladium, making it basically a 9K gold – which is not particularly valuable as this metal goes. However, the mix is more to do with the bronze component, which delivers a slowly
Silver has fallen out of favour with watchmakers, the metal tarnishing too much to suit contemporary requirements. A few watch models have attempted to reintroduce silver, but these efforts were usually aborted. Tudor has decided to revive the cold grey gleam of a silver alloy with a new material for its Black Bay Fifty-Eight 925, also replacing the
traditionally used copper with another metal – kept a closely guarded secret – to protect the Black Bay from the inside.
Signing of with some sparkle
Playing with compositions and materials is an art, which can sometimes put the fun into function, as Roger Dubuis reminds us with its Glow Me Up timepiece. By day, it is an Excalibur Flying Tourbillon featuring a bezel set with baguette-cut diamonds. But by coating the rail holding these stones with Super-LumiNova, the brand has turned it into a night-time extravaganza with stones that glow in shades of blue, green, yellow and purple. While some might call it a disco, many will enjoy the brilliance of diamonds in the dark?