Engineered Ceramic Timepieces
by roberta naas
Affordable ceramics can be found in a host of different formats, from watches with ceramic bezels to those with full ceramic cases and bracelets. The TechnoMarine Cruise Ceramic watch ($3,400) is a black ceramic three-hand in a 36mm ceramic case with a bezel set with 136 diamonds. Timeless Collections, 211 S. Main St., Breckenridge, 970-453-7500. Fendi’s Ceramic Chrono ($1,495) is created in a stunning rich blue ceramic case and bracelet. It houses a Swiss-made chronograph movement with a big date window and is water resistant to 50 meters. Fendi, 208 S. Mill St., 970-920-3100. From Modus, this Black Ceramic bracelet and case watch ($375) features an ergonomically curved 44mm case set with crystals on the bezel. It offers calendar functions and a sub-seconds dial, and houses a quartz movement and sapphire crystal.
Just about 30 years ago, Rado unveiled a revolutionary new product—the high-tech ceramic watch. It was touted as ultra-scratch-resistant and super durable, thanks to a material Rado borrowed from the space industry: engineered ceramic. A pioneer in the field, Rado ventured where no other watchmakers had gone before and came out a winner. The brand continues to lead in the field of ceramic timepieces, recently succeeding in building the world’s thinnest high-tech ceramic watch. The True Thinline spent several years in development and houses a movement as slender as a credit card. This watch, along with a host of other Rado timepieces, made the Malan Breton runway during New York’s prestigious Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week this past fall.
“We have been the leaders in high-tech ceramics, having engineered the finest materials first,” says Robert Brennan, Rado’s US brand president, during the recent opening of the company’s first boutique in the Americas, in St. Maarten. “It is important to offer not just durability, but also feel, fit, and technology, as well as fashion appeal.”
While most brands use ceramic in either black or white, in the past few years several companies have developed ceramic watches in colors such as midnight blue, chocolate brown, hues of pink, and silver. Among the labels who create these fashion-forward pieces are Fendi, which offers its Ceramic Chronograph model in five signature colors, including blue, gray, and brown; and Bell & Ross, which produces an Aviation blue ceramic BR03 in a surprising matte finish.
The composition and beauty of ceramics have made them a big seller with the fashion-conscious consumer who is active and athletic. The versatility of the material can take the wearer from the slopes to après-ski, dazzling the crowd at the Caribou Club when worn to a romantic dinner. “Our Ceramic Chrono watch is a popular timepiece in Aspen because of its rugged construction and its stylish panache,” says Dario Parrilla, vice president of sales for Taramax, which distributes Fendi timepieces. “Ceramics are particularly relevant when it comes to the sporty-chic lifestyles that Aspen women lead.”
Engineered ceramic was developed in the 20th century for use in space vessels, in ceramic brake discs, and in medical and electronic equipment. Additionally, composite ceramics (those that make use of multiple materials, such as zirconium oxide, alumina, silicon carbide, and tungsten carbide) can be found in armored vehicles, airplanes, and even armored vests. Today dozens of brands— from the luxury field all the way to the fashion arena—are unveiling timepieces made of this high-tech material, working with metallurgists to develop their own specially blended ceramic materials. It is proof positive that this centuries-old craft still has a visionary element.
This Rado True Thinline ($1,700) is the world’s thinnest high-tech ceramic watch. Its movement is as slim as a credit card, and the case measures just 5mm thin. The watch features a sapphire crystal dome, a super-thin rubber strap, and a ceramic buckle. Trice Jewelers, 6885 S. University Blvd., Centennial, 303-759-9661. Invicta’s Russian Diver Skeleton Ceramic watch ($350) is created in a 42mm ceramic case with flame-fusion crystal and is water resistant to 50 meters. JCPenney, Glenwood Springs Mall, 970-945-6436. From TW Steel, this ceramic bezel watch ($625) is crafted in steel with a rose-gold PVD case and white dial with a date widow and a white leather strap. Hyde Park, Cherry Creek Shopping Center, Denver, 303-333-4446
Ceramic renders a watch virtually scratch-proof— theoretically, a 30-year-old ceramic watch, even one regularly worn, would still look brand-new today. The nonmetallic material is engineered to meet strict specifications, created via extreme heating and a subsequent cooling process. It has an exceptionally high melting point and can withstand temperatures beyond 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the type of ceramic. It is incredibly hard, lightweight, resistant to abrasion, and hypoallergenic, making it a coveted material for watch cases, bezels, and bracelets. Ceramic watches are also appealing for sport and dive pieces, as they withstand chemical erosion and possess antimagnetic properties.
But not all ceramic watches are the same. Some companies fuse their ceramic with other products, interspersing it with steel for bracelets or using thinner layers of the material on their pieces to keep costs down. The ceramic of a luxury watch is typically of a different caliber than that of its affordable fashion counterparts. However, it cannot be denied that the shiny finish of all ceramic makes it a pleasure to behold, drawing the attention of luxury and fashion watch brands alike.
Certain brands are further experimenting by combining ceramic with new materials. This melding of traditional craftsmanship with space-age technology proves that the men and women building fine watches are innovators as well as artisans. Panerai, for instance, has developed a composite of aluminum and ceramic that it uses for the case, bezel, and winding crown bridge on the matte-finished Panerai Luminor Marina Composite 1950 3 Days Automatic watch. It is created via an electrochemical process that transforms aluminum particles, making the material extremely lightweight but incredibly hard and durable. “The development of this material and its application to watchmaking is not at all simple; it requires both the technical know-how and years of fine-tuning,” says Angelo Bonati, CEO of Officine Panerai.
“If you consider the watchmaking geniuses of centuries ago, like Abraham Louis-Breguet, they were avant-garde in their day,” says Jean-Claude Biver, chairman of the board of Hublot, which uses ceramic on many of its Big Bang watches. “If these materials had existed in their world, they would have used them. We must not close our eyes; we must live with the future.”
photography by kenji toma