Watch Materials: The Move Away From Metal

Luxury watches used to almost exclusively feature metals in their construction, but recently the world of horology has been moving towards ever more ‘modern’ materials. From silicon balance springs to the entirely anti-magnetic movements of some recent Omega watches, the manufacturers of prestige timepieces are experimenting with ever more unusual materials, and with great effect.

According to the performance of the Swiss luxury watch industry over the first half of 2014, there is actually a notable move away from watches that are formed out of certain metals like titanium. Whilst stainless steel and precious metal watch cases are retaining steady levels of popularity, there has been a huge swing towards timepieces that use materials like ceramic and carbon fibre, and these previously scarce materials are becoming increasingly prolific.

Modern Materials…

We’ve already mentioned silicon, and this substance was first adopted by Swiss watch manufacturer Ulysse Nardin, before swiftly finding a place within many watch mechanisms due to its lack of response to environmental changes and magnetism. In a sense, the use of silicon merely replaced the traditional place of metal within watch mechanisms, and now ceramic and carbon-fibre are doing so on the exterior of wristwatches.

Ceramic bezels have been in use for some time (see right), with Rolex recently creating headlines due to the perfection of a two-tone ceramic bezel at Baselworld 2014. However, ceramic is now also being liberally used in and on the cases of high-end wristwatches too, with the Omega Speedmaster Darkside of the Moon that we’ve previously mentioned actually being formed out of a single ceramic block.
Likewise, carbon fibre has been widely used in straps and bezels (see left), and has swiftly become a favourite among timepieces with a military or ‘extreme’ performance theme. Materials like ceramic have previously been derided as inefficient in the past – due to a relatively low toughness – but now advances have minimised these defects, and allowed other benefits like lightweight structures and good temperature or scratch resistances to come to the fore.

…Here to Stay

Traditionally, watchmakers primarily work with metal, but the inclusion of new materials within the high-status collections of manufacturers like Rolex and Omega seems to have finally secured their place in the world of horology. People now want the benefits of these materials both inside and outside their timepieces, and that means that watch repair services must learn to deal with these contemporary materials too.

At Martins of Glasgow, we’ve increasingly noted the appearance of such materials when we’ve been carrying out Rolex or Omega watch repairs, and we’re happy to say that we can still reliably repair any wristwatch that you might have, no matter how unusual it might be! To find out more, please feel free to contact Martin by calling 0141 946 6333 or emailing martin@martinsjewellers.co.uk.