Technological innovations have made it possible for luxury watch brands to experiment with new materials in a bid to create unique designs and even revolutionise high-performance mechanical movements. Many high-end brands are using quality raw materials to boost the sturdiness and resilience of their timepieces, addressing a number of areas such as shock protection, weight and durability. These brands consider innovation an integral part of their DNA, part and parcel of what they do every day to ensure their legacy. One of the newest materials to hit the market is Italian watchmaker Officine Panerai's use of composite materials. The brand has used the material to illustrate technical innovation and its deep-rooted history. Previously used only in the aeronautics industry, and for car and motorcycle races, composite materials allow the brand's watchmakers to deliver sophistication and extremely precise workmanship. '[Composite] materials are truly innovative in the field of fine watchmaking. The Panerai composite is a material whose features and performance are exceptional, being practically immutable over time,' says Jean-Sebastien Gerondeau, managing director of Officine Panerai, Asia-Pacific. Unlike other techniques used in watchmaking, the aluminium cases are immersed in a chemical bath where, at very high temperatures, the metal undergoes an electrochemical process that modifies its structure while still allowing it to remain faithful to the original geometry. 'The result is a material that is extremely homogeneous, solid, of matt appearance and soft to the touch,' Gerondeau adds, noting it is lighter than titanium and harder than steel. The material has so far only been used in Panerai's Special Edition Radiomir Composite Marina Militare 8 Giorni watch (HK$109,100). The timepiece, which features a hand-wound mechanical movement, showcases 191 components and 21 jewel movements developed and built entirely in house. The mechanism has a balance frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour, and a remarkable eight-day power reserve. Meanwhile, Audemars Piguet became the first watchmaker, in 2007, to launch forged carbon in its timepieces after two years of development. 'Most watches are in steel, gold or titanium, so forged carbon, which is used for the case of the watch, really gives the timepiece an entirely different and distinctive look. The material is also very light, resistant and looks good,' says David von Gunten, CEO of Audemars Piguet in Hong Kong and China. The fact that the material has been used for men's and women's watches is testament to its versatility. The material sits equally well in the Royal Oak Offshore Ladies Chronograph (prices start at HK$208,000), as it does in the sporty industrial alternative for men (prices start at HK$228,000) The chronograph for women features a case and octagonal bezel in lightweight forged carbon, a red accented black dial with a tapisserie grid pattern. Though the material has been used primarily to accentuate the aesthetics, the raw material has also been used to enhance parts of the movement, including improvement to its shockproof properties and strengthening of resistance. The brand's core values of tradition, excellence and audacity underscore its efforts in seeking new materials. 'Our one value that is different to other high-end brands is that of audacity. That is why we have a wide product offering,' von Gunten says. 'We don't focus only on classical designs, but also trendy and sporty ones too. Forged carbon fits really well with our ethos of audacity. Research and development is very important to us as it addresses the value of audacity in our DNA. We place a lot of emphasis on new materials.' For its 165th anniversary, A. Lange & Sohne has issued honey-gold versions of three of its iconic timepieces - the Tourbograph 'Pour le Merite' (HK$3.95 million), the Lange 1 Tourbillion (HK$1.334 million) and the 1815 Moonphase (HK$190,000). The innovative gold alloy not only gives the watches a warmer hue but is also resistant due to its hardness compared to normal gold. Hublot has also used a raft of new materials, including kevlar, magnesium and ceramic, in its watch designs over the past five years, according to Jean-Claude Biver, the company's CEO. The use of magnesium has allowed the brand to launch the Mag Bang (HK$196,800), its lightest chronograph. 'Light and super-light materials will most likely define the next trend, as well as new colours like grey-green, grey-brown and, of course, black,' Biver adds. Richard Mille has also worked with tennis world No1 Rafael Nadal on their special edition (HK$4,012,000) that uses a lithium-containing alloy used in rockets, satellites and Formula One, but ceramic remains a popular material for use. Jaquet Droz's Grande Seconde Ceramic Black (HK$118,000) and Bulgari's Octo Bi-Retro Steel Ceramic from the Gerald Genta Collection (HK$129,500) are among the new models with ceramic coating. Jaeger-LeCoultre has also boosted its Extreme Lab series with the new Master Compressor Extreme LAB 2 (HK$412,000), a mechanical chronograph with a GMT-function, especially developed for use in the most extreme environments. This blend of sporting spirit and technical prowess is housed within a rugged watch case with external chassis, made of the light and extremely resistant TiVan15 titanium alloy and outfitted with a scratchproof high-tech zirconium ceramic bezel. Though brands will continue to explore the ways in which new materials can be used to refine their products, they will likely tread cautiously when using new materials for mechanical movements. 'Our strategy is to continue using standard materials to produce our watch movements,' von Gunten says. 'Our objective is to help clients look after their watches for a very long time. It is important we can service watches in the future as well as we can today, but new technologies may not be able to offer that sustainability. That's why we are not rushing into any new materials that will impact the movement of our watches.'