Traditionally, gold has been the standard material used for watches, but over the years styles and looks have changed. Materials widely used in the automotive, medical, and aerospace industries have permeated horology, inspiring watchmakers to experiment with new lightweight elements and fusions such as Carbon Fiber, Ceramic, Diamond-like Carbon (DLC), Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD), Gold, Rubber/Silicone, Stainless Steel and Titanium.
Carbon thermally decomposed into braided fibres and surrounded by resin
- Contemporary style
Aviation, military, space, aeronautics, and medical instruments
Made of zirconium oxide, a non-metallic material created by the action of heating and cooling
- Durable, lightweight, scratch-resistant, smooth and modern
- Can be produced in a variety of hues and finishes
Jet engines, a heat shield that protects NASA space shuttle
Amorphous carbon material that displays some of the typical properties of diamond, used as a coating for metal watches. Once the carbon is blasted onto the surface, it is cooled down extremely quickly, somewhat similar to how synthetic diamonds are made.
- Ultra-hard with strong resistance to wear and scratches
- Low friction; slick
- Resilient to damage or coating dents from physical shock
Engines of modern super sport motorcycles, Formula 1 race cars, NASCAR vehicles, aeronautics
A metal in which fineness (the percentage of pure gold versus the percentage of base metals) is expressed in karats. 18 karat gold (75 percent pure gold) is standard for watch cases and high-grade jewellery in white, yellow, rose and red gold.
Pure gold alloyed with other metals
Pure gold alloyed with silver, palladium, or rhodium.
Pure gold alloyed with percentages of copper. The more copper added, the darker the hue. A small percentage of silver or zinc can be added for a desired tone.
Physical Vapor Deposition
Steel with a vacuum coating of oxides, carbides or nitrides, deposited by ionic attraction
- Increased durability
- Reduced friction on metal components
Military, automotive, and aerospace
Rubber & Silicone
A rubber-like material comprised of silicon, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen
- Heat and cold resistant
- Good weatherability
- Water repellent
- Pleasant to the touch with a high-grade feel
Medical applications, consumer electronics, office automation, automobiles, electrical wiring, food
Made of iron-carbon alloy mixed with chromium and nickel
- Highly corrosion-resistant
Architecture, monuments, bridges, automotive and aerospace structures, surgical instruments.
Titanium alloyed with iron, aluminium, vanadium, molybdenum, or other metals
- Lightweight, durable, dent and corrosion-resistant
- Highest strength-to-weight ratio
Aerospace, naval ships, performance/racing automotive, wide range of medical instruments and sporting goods
This is the “glass” that covers the face of the watch and protects it from dirt and water. There are three major types of crystals produced and used in watchmaking:
This transparent, lab-grown element has exactly the same chemical composition of natural sapphire but at a fraction of the price. It is used because sapphire is the second hardest known element, right after diamonds. This makes it extremely scratch resistant and useful for watch crystals. The downside to this is that it can chip or shatter if impacted. Sapphire is also the most expensive type of crystal, costing several hundred dollars to replace.
Mineral crystals are simply made of glass. They have been used in watchmaking for hundreds of years. Mineral crystals are relatively easy to scratch, and these scratches cannot be buffed out. They are inexpensive compared to sapphire crystals, usually costing less than one hundred dollars to replace if damaged.
Similar to plastic, acrylic is the most affordable type of crystal but also the most prone to scratching and can crack if impacted. Minor scratches can be buffed out and acrylic crystals can be moulded into elaborate shapes that sapphire and mineral crystals cannot.
Many watches have glow-in-the-dark hands and hour markers. The substance used for this purpose has evolved over the years. Originally, Radium was used in the 1950s but was found to be highly radioactive and was replaced with a substance called Tritium. Tritium had much lower levels of radiotoxicity and was considered a much safer alternative to Radium. You can tell if a watch has Radium or Tritium markers because it will have the letter ‘T’ or ‘R’ printed on the dial, usually flanking the country of origin(ex. T-Swiss Made-T, or R-Swiss Made-R).
Radium, in the form of radium chloride, was discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898. Currently, other than its use in nuclear medicine, radium has no commercial applications; formerly, it was used as a radioactive source for radioluminescent devices and also in radioactive quackery for its supposed curative powers. Today, these former applications are no longer in vogue because radium’s toxicity has since become known, and less dangerous isotopes are used instead in radioluminescent devices.
Radium was formerly used in self-luminous paints for watches, nuclear panels, aircraft switches, clocks, and instrument dials. A typical self-luminous watch that uses radium paint contains around 1 microgram of radium.
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The emitted electrons from the radioactive decay of small amounts of tritium cause phosphors to glow so as to make self-powered lighting devices called beta lights, which are now used in firearm night sights, watches, exit signs, map lights, knives and a variety of other devices. This takes the place of radium, which can cause bone cancer and has been banned in most countries for decades. Commercial demand for tritium is 400 grams per year and the cost is approximately US $30,000 per gram.
Since tritium is a low energy beta emitter, it is not dangerous externally (its beta particles are unable to penetrate the skin), but it can be a radiation hazard when inhaled, ingested via food or water, or absorbed through the skin.
A brand name under which strontium aluminate–based non-radioactive and nontoxic photoluminescentor afterglow pigments for illuminating markings on watch dials, hands and bezels, etc. in the dark are marketed. This technology offers up to ten times higher brightness than previous zinc sulfide-based materials.
Super-LumiNova is based on LumiNova pigments, invented in 1993 by Nemoto & Co., Ltd. of Japan as a safe replacement for radium-based luminous paints. This type of phosphorescent pigments, often called lume, operate as a light battery. After sufficient activation by sunlight or artificial light, they glow in the dark for hours. Larger markings are visible for the whole night. This activation and subsequent light emission process can be repeated again and again, and the material does not suffer any practical ageing.