New Watch! • 20 Oct 2016
The Rise Of Exotics In High-End Sports Watches
In a time not so long ago, watches were essentially made of metal. Whether it was steel, titanium, gold or platinum, all were metallic materials, with known physical properties and their accompanying advantages and weaknesses. In the constant pursuit of better watches, watchmakers have focused on all the components of a watch, and one of the key aspects has clearly been the case and its materials.
Various features, like water resistance for instance, and complications like chronographs have been found in watches for decades, while watches have been made of steel, titanium or gold for centuries. However, as good as metals are, they have inherent properties that leave room for improvements: they are dense, heavy and prone to scratches.
The rise of exotic materials is closely linked to the rise of another trend in watchmaking, the luxury sports watch. A sports watch is made to be used and abused, designed to perform in a relatively hostile environment, and conceived as part of a larger set of equipment for professionals like divers and pilots. Thus, it has to be resistant and comfortable, and do its job well for long periods.
The rise of exotic composite materials started with ceramics that were introduced first by IWC and popularized by Rado and Chanel. More recently, watchmakers like Audemars Piguet have recognised the appeal of this material. Virtually scratchproof and able to be finished like steel with brushed or polished surface, ceramic is also lighter than metals – the best of both worlds in short.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph Tourbillon
Another approach was to mix the beauty and luxurious appeal of gold, a metal that is quite soft, with the superior properties of ceramics. That’s what Hublot did with its proprietary Magic Gold. It’s a unique alloy comprised of porous ceramic that’s been injected with 24k gold. The result is a material that resembles ordinary gold, and is made up of 75% gold so that it can be hallmarked 18k gold, but one that is almost scratch resistant.
Hublot Big Bang Unico Magic Gold
Inspired by aeronautics and Formula 1, watchmakers also often use carbon fibre. The main appeal of the material is its extreme rigidity, allowing for ultra-resistant structures, combined with an ultra-low density and weight: the average density of carbon fibre is 1.8 against 7.8 for steel, 4.5 for titanium and 19.3 for gold.
A carbon fibre watch case can be up to 10 times lighter than a gold case while being even more scratch resistant. This material has taken centre stage in many creations by RME, which used the properties of this composite to create watches that are extremely light and resistant to intense shocks. Take for instance the 19-gram Rafael Nadal watch, which can resist up to a force of 5000G.
RME RM 27-02
Recently, RME pushed the idea even further, by integrating quartz layers in-between carbon fibre sheets to improve rigidity and in an unexpected result, creating random striped patterns for an even more compelling visual result.
RME RM 011 Red TPT Quartz
Overall, even if steel, titanium and gold are still the preferred materials for traditional watches, the investment and research by certain manufactures prove that traditional visual appeal and luxury are not the only important elements. These composite materials are here to stay, since they enhance comfort with lightness, improve resistance to shock and scratches and finally, by making the whole wearing experience even more functional.
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