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Horology’s newest materials

While new models are in short supply this year, brands are working with never-before used materials in their timepieces.

New movements are in relatively short supply this year, as the global economic slowdown has led many watchmakers to play it safe with extensions of tried-and-tested models. Nonetheless, some brands are keeping things exciting with materials never used before in watchmaking.

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Roger Dubuis: Excalibur Twofold

When is a white watch not just another white watch? When it’s made of a proprietary new material that is lighter than ceramic or carbon and – rare for any object in white – will never yellow. Roger Dubuis recently debuted Mineral Composite Fiber (MCF), a material that is 99.5 per cent silica, in its new 45mm Excalibur Twofold double flying tourbillon watch. In an interview with Forbes, product director Gregory Bruttin shared that the material was developed with help from its marketing partner, Lamborghini.

Richard Mille: RM 11-05 Automatic Flyback Chronograph GMT

Richard Mille’s signature RM 11 models don’t fly off the shelves – they are so sought-after, they do not even make it to shelves. This will certainly continue with the new RM 11-05, which has a front bezel of grey cermet, a composite of ceramic and metal. Richard Mille and microtechnologies specialist IMI Group took years to develop their version of the material, which meets the
highest European production safety standards, is as light as titanium and nearly as tough as diamond.

(Related: Omega debuts Speedmaster Dark Side Of The Moon to mark partnership With Alinghi)

Piaget: Altiplano Ultimate Concept

When you have a timepiece that’s just 2mm thick – the height of two credit cards – cases made of regular materials like steel can bend when the watch is strapped on. That’s why Piaget uses an exceptionally rigid, cobalt-based alloy to make the Ultimate Concept’s case, which also doubles as the movement mainplate. Just 0.12mm of cobalt lies between the movement and the wearer’s skin. The watch’s alligator strap, also exceptionally thin to match the watch, is strengthened with a Kevlar lining.

Panerai: Luminor Marina Fibratech PAM 1119

Material innovation has been a major theme at Panerai’s creative nerve centre, Laboratorio di Idee, which recently unveiled Fibratech, a composite made of mineral fibres from volcanic rock. To create this material, the fibres are bound by polymers to form thin layers, which are then fused in a pressure- and temperature-controlled process. The result is a lightweight, tough, matte-grey material with a grained appearance reminiscent of other composite materials such as Panerai’s carbon fibre-based Carbotech.

Louis Vuitton: Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon Poincon de Geneve

Just as some companies have their own take on, say, pink gold – upping the alloy’s copper content to make it redder – more brands are also coming up with their own carbon composites. Recently, Louis Vuitton unveiled its marbleised version, CarboStratum, in the open-worked Tambour Curve Flying Tourbillon. More than 100 sheets of carbon fibre are layered, then heated and compressed at a controlled temperature. The resulting ultra-rigid material is used to form an overlay that wraps over a titanium inner case.

(Related: Watch trends 2020: Rainbow timepieces)