The art of watchmaking involves the use of various materials — some rooted in tradition, and others that are newer to the scene.
There was a time when artisans would craft watch components with materials like precious materials, chrome-plated brass, and later, stainless steel. As new manufacturing methods developed, so too did the use of new and innovative materials. Today the range of materials is vast — we take a look at some of the most cutting-edge and how they contribute to the seamless designs we have grown to love.
Before the twentieth century, natural jewels were used as the bearing for wheel trains and other elements that were prone to wear and tear. In 1902, French chemist Auguste Verneuil came up with a method that allowed him to manufacture synthetic rubies, which are still used today to reduce friction and increase accuracy in watch movements.
Precious metals have always been a key material in watchmaking, and gold remains an important element today. It’s used in all its forms, including yellow, white, rose, and red, particularly in watch cases.
Stainless steel was first used in watchmaking in the 1930s and has since grown in popularity. In fact, the material is now the most widely used case material, having overtaken gold. Stainless steel is loved in horology for its resistance to corrosion, as well as the fact that it is so lightweight. Plus, the material is well suited to designs that are sporty and practical.
Although bronze has been used for centuries, it has recently enjoyed a rise in popularity. On the practical side, the material boasts anti-magnetic and non-corrosive qualities, while from a design perspective, it creates a beautiful and distinct look, especially as it ages over time.
Fairly new to the watchmaking scene, silicon often serves as a replacement for metal parts within the movement. When compared to metal, silicon is particularly lightweight, resistant to extreme temperatures, and durable. The material also allows the movement to run at a very high frequency, which results in excellent accuracy.
Among the latest trends in watchmaking are hybrid materials, and in 2017, IWC was the first to use ceratanium, an alloy that combines titanium and ceramic. The material is a rich black shade and is both lightweight and strong.
Titanium only started to be used in watchmaking some decades after stainless steel hit the market. The material actually shares some of the characteristics of stainless steel in that it is resistant to corrosion and very durable.
In 2015, Panerai was the first brand to use carbotech, a tough material made from reinforced carbon fibre. Carbotech is extremely durable, and also has a distinctive look well-suited to utilitarian and masculine designs.