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Watchmakers are pushing boundaries and breaking norms by putting forth new palettes of materials for their watches, as illustrated by the launches at BaselWorld this year. Hiren Kumar Bose picks his favourites
Basel World throws up new surprises every year with watchmakers using new materials or new combinations of proven materials in their quest to make watches lighter, more precise, more reliable, more dependable and much more. Watchmakers are constantly innovating and developing better alloys and materials to make a watch run better, or simply experimenting with a new aesthetic.
In the past, we have had Patek Philippe using silicon escape wheel for a Swiss lever escapement and Rolex creating its new blue Parachrom hairspring made from a new alloy to resist magnetism and increase shock absorbance. Similarly, Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced Extreme Lab with new materials to reduce the need for lubrication while Patek Philippe’s Silinvar featured escapements made of silicon oxide. Several designers and brands are constantly creating and developing their own alloys to make their watches more comfortable and easy to wear. Way back in 2003, Gérald Genta used unique metals such as palladium and tantalum for cases. We have had several watchmakers working with new alloys, like Hublot using AG5 and Magic Gold (combination of pure gold and ceramic), Zenith using Zenithium, and Harry Winston’s Project Z4, with cases made in Zalium— a hard, light, zirconium alloy developed for use in jet engines.
Of the many, Richard Mille has been a brand that has been doing path-breaking work since its inception. In 2001—the year it launched—the eponymous brand built bridges between the watchmaking industry and research in fields such as aeronautics, F1, aerospace and medicine. The founder’s creations have featured ultra-light materials such as alusic, an alloy of aluminum, silicon and carbon, or AG5, made from aluminum and magnesium, with traces of titanium, zirconium, zinc and manganese. He was the first to use carbon nano-fibre which he used to produce a baseplate. As recent as 2010, he came out with a watch which weighed
just 20g including the wristband. Its movement is made from titanium and Lital, a lithium alloy containing aluminum, copper, magnesium and zirconium. Apart from allowing great flexibility for the mechanics, lithium also provides enhanced resistance to impact.
Though not in the same league, Romain Jerome received a lot of attention for its use of steel recovered from the Titanic in its Titanic- DNA line.Tantalum, ceramic, titanium, alusic and even silicon have now found their way into the palette of materials used by Swiss watchmakers. Often derived from aeronautics or space research, these new materials have come into vogue for purely aesthetic reasons or by virtue of specific mechanical properties. New materials can be stronger, lighter, and more affordable than many traditional watch materials and precious metals. A watch made from one of these materials will be stylish and cutting-edge at the same time. We came across these following watches at BaselWorld 2013 which have dared to be diferent and tried to make their mark:
SPEEDMASTER DARK SIDE OF THE MOON
This all-ceramic watch is our favourite material innovation. Ceramic has been around since the 1980s. It was initially introduced by Rado and then used by IWC, Chanel and Hublot. Many brands are using it in various ways, but no one has taken it to the level Omega has. Nearly everything, other than the movement and hands, is made from their new Zirconium Oxide ceramic—the dial, case, pushers, bezel, strap buckle and even the crown. It’s quite an accomplishment.
Sedna gold is the name Omega has given to a new alloy that stunningly blends three elements: gold, copper and palladium. It is an 18ct rose gold, meaning that it has a minimum gold content of 75 per cent. Sedna’s unique rose colour is a result, in part, of just the right proportion of copper; its palladium content helps to ensure that the reddish hue of Sedna gold will be particularly long-lasting. It takes its name from a trans-Neptunian object which astronomers called Sedna—the same name as an Inuit goddess who is said to live at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. The surface of the orbiting object has been described as one of the reddest in our Solar System. Constellation Sedna is the first watch to be crafted in 18ct Sedna gold. The indexes and hands are also made of 18ct Sedna gold, as is the clasp on its strap. The distinctive timepiece has a polished case-body with a brushed bezel emboldened by tone-in-tone Roman numerals. The watch is equipped with Omega’s innovative Si14 silicon balance spring and the industry-changing Omega Co-Axial calibre 8501, visible through a saphire crystal case-back. The Omega Constellation Sedna is water resistant to 100m / 330ft.