New materials are arguably more important than mechanical complications in the world of haute horlogerie. Luxury watchmakers have long invested in groundbreaking materials to house sophisticated movements and match connoisseurs’ tastes.
Instead of precious materials such as gold and platinum, Roger Dubuis has used a rare “cobalt chrome” in its latest release, the Excalibur Quatuor Cobalt Micromelt, which is expected at next year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie.
The alloy used to cover the 48mm-diameter case, bezel, case back and crown is produced in an ultra-exclusive MicroMelt technology that is often applied in aeronautics and astronomy. The result is a high-performance alloy that is completely biocompatible, extremely corrosion-resistant and durable. The movement coated with physical vapour deposition creates a striking contrast with the cobalt chrome case. Inside the case is the house’s 590-part RD101 Quatuor movement, which features four sprung balances and five differentials that compensate for the rate variations caused by the effects of gravity on a watch, which is traditionally achieved by a tourbillon. The hand-wound timepiece bears the prestigious Poinçon de Genève certification, and has a water resistance of 50 metres, along with a power reserve of about 40 hours. Only eight pieces are available.
Materials used in cars and aircraft often inspire ideas in luxury watchmaking. Independent watchmaker Richard Mille looked at materials used to build private jets in order to create its RM 50-02 ACJ Tourbillon. A collaborative project between Richard Mille and Airbus Corporate Jets, the timepiece features a titanium-aluminum case. The alloy is extremely rigid yet much lighter than classical titanium alloys – a material often used in the Airbus’ jet turbine blades. ATZ White ceramic, based on aluminium oxide powder injected at a pressure of 2,000 bars, is used to create a second bezel. The material is best known for its scratch-resistance and colour retention, and is also one of the hardest in the world, after diamonds.
The watch is limited to 30 pieces and only features complications such as the tourbillon and split-seconds chronograph. The timepiece also has a power reserve of about 70 hours.
Panerai also uses titanium alloy in its Lo Scienziato-Luminor 1950 Tourbillon GMT Titanio, which was launched earlier this year. The timepiece uses two different types of titanium for a slew of different components in the piece. Grade 2 titanium is featured for its strength and corrosion resistance while Grade 5 titanium is used for its high-tensile strength and low ductility.
The result is a piece that’s light and hypoallergenic. This complicated tourbillon calibre is also Panerai’s first in titanium with fine skeletonised bridges and plates. The weight of the movement P.2005/T is 35 per cent lighter than the P.2005/S skeletonised version.
Panerai created a complicated skeletonised movement and case with Direct Metal Laser Sintering technology which builds a three-dimensional object, layer by layer, with a fibre-optic laser using powdered titanium. Each layer is only 0.02mm thick. The piece also has a six-day power reserve with three spring barrels. The hand-wound movement has complications such as GMT, 24-hour indicator, tourbillon, and a power reserve indicator that is visible through the watch’s sapphire crystal case back.
Ceramic is increasingly used for watch cases. Durable yet lighter than steel or titanium, it appeals to watchmakers, especially for their sports or diving models. Omega’s Planet Ocean Deep Black line is built from a single block of ceramic, with helium escape valves at 10 o’clock. Ruggedly large at 45.5mm in diameter, it also carries the Omega Master Chronometer calibre 8906. All Master Chronometer movements pass eight tests set by the Swiss Federal Institute for Metrology and are resistant to 15,000 gauss. They can also withstand sea pressures at a depth of 600m, at 60 bars.
Special black bezels were created with a blend of rubber and ceramic. On coloured models, the first 15 minutes are in blue or red Liquidmetal, with a matching “He” on the helium escape valve.
The fully ceramic watches have brush finished cases and dials in the coloured examples, while they are polished in the all black and Ceragold models. The watch comes with a four-year warranty. Additional reporting by Pin Lee