December 19th, 2019 (last updated)
While ceramic is not a new material within watchmaking, it has become increasingly more popular in recent years. One explanation for this could be that materials other than stainless steel and precious metals are now far more accepted and even demanded within luxury watchmaking.
Combined with the benefits that high tech ceramics are light in weight and very wear resistance, make it that they offer significant advantages over their metal counterparts. However, making a ceramic watch case is quite challenging as both its firing and cooling process can be somewhat challenging to predict and requires therefore quite some finesse.
One of the early adopters of ceramic in watchmaking was IWC. Already in the 1980s did the brand use ceramic to craft cases for the Fliegerchronograph as well as the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar. Quite daring was the latter not only available with a black ceramic case, but also with a white one.
Ever since have watches with ceramic cases be a reoccurring phenomenon at IWC. Sometimes they are part of their regular collection, while at other times the brand launches limited editions with ceramic cases. A recent example of this is the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph TOP GUN Edition “Mojave Desert” for which IWC used a sand-colored ceramic with a matte finish, of which only 500 pieces will be made.
Ceramic also plays a significant role in the watch collection of Chanel. It was the year 2000 when the brand launched its J12, inspired by the beautiful J-Class racing yachts. It was initially launched in all-black, as both the case and bracelet where made from ceramic.
Making a bracelet from ceramic adds another level of complexity to the watch, as it is far more challenging to make a bracelet from ceramic links than it is from stainless steel ones. The all-black J12 was joined in 2003 by an all-white version, and a grey one was joining the line-up in 2011, while this year we saw a complete, yet subtle, redesign of this iconic watch.
Creating colored ceramic, especially light and bright ones, is a very hard thing to do. Very high temperatures are needed to create the ceramic, at which the color pigments simply burn up.
This sounds like a perfect challenge for Hublot, as serial innovator, to take on, which they also did. They developed a completely new process that combines heat with pressure, allowing them to create colors that would previously not be possible to achieve in ceramic. One example of this is a vibrant red, but also green and even light blue are part of the color palette in ceramic that Hublot has mastered, making this unique material even more popular.