Posts tagged watch parts

Here's an Insider's Look at How Engineered Ceramics Are Used in Watches

Easily one of the most misunderstood materials on the watch market, engineered ceramic is a high-tech material that is lightweight, durable, scratch proof and impervious to adverse weather and saltwater conditions. Neither a metal nor a polymer, engineered ceramics are a blend of oxides, carbides, nitrates and zirconium that come together to offer long-lasting elegance and hardness.

Used as bezel and bracelet accents in everything from fashion watch brands to luxury brands, engineered ceramics are not all created equal. There are a host of different qualities, and the watch prices range accordingly.

Top watch brands that put a great deal of effort into research and development often blend their ceramics with other materials — including carbon fiber and aluminum — to develop harder, stronger ceramic, and to create colors. Years ago, ceramic was just available in black, but today — although hard to find — there is red, yellow, blue and white.

The first engineered ceramic timepiece to appear in the watch world was from Rado, in 1986. But it took a long time to catch on. It has only been in the past decade — with a wild quest for high-tech materials — that ceramic has taken center stage. Before watches, ceramic was used in the space industry, aviation, auto racing and in medicine. Then, watch specialists figured out how to utilize the material that doesn't scratch and offers lightweight comfort for bracelets and bezels.

Essentially, ceramic watch parts are composed of a specially crafted blend of zirconium oxide and other materials. They are created using extreme heating processes in specially built kilns. After the heating, the material undergoes a subsequent cooling process. Finished ceramic can only be worked with specially made tools with diamond bits, and it is incredibly difficult to work. Thus, the creation of top-quality ceramic watchcases, bezels and bracelets remains exclusive.

Top engineered ceramics are a non-metallic substance that can withstand temperatures of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. The material is incredibly durable, resistant to abrasion and hypo allergenic — making it a great choice for sport watches and dive watches.

While the fashion world also uses ceramic as accents, it is typically engineered to a different degree. Often, a fashion brand will utilize layers of ceramic on top of steel for bracelet links, instead of utilizing solid ceramic, in order to keep the costs down. Still, ceramic — no matter which quality — has an unbeatable luster that keeps a watch looking like new for decades. Check back this week, as we post a selection of some of our top ceramic watches, or stop in the store any time.

Zirconium dioxide ball bearings (photo by Lucasbosch) Zirconium oxide powder, photo courtesy of Rado.

Watches: A Case in Point

We talk a lot in our store about watch design, technology and calibers. In today’s world, everyone who loves a watch seems to care where it’s made, how it’s made, what powers the piece and more. One thing, however, that we don’t discuss as often is the watchcase, even though it is one of the most important design and functional elements of a watch.

After all, it is the case that determines the overall shape of the watch. It is the case that determines the look in terms of profile and appeal. It is the case — and the metal it is made of — that demonstrates our savvy high-tech or noble take on timepieces. And, it is the case that determines water resistance. In short, the case — whose job it is to protect the movement and sit nicely on the wrist — plays a very important role.

That said, not all cases are created equal. A watch case can be artful, thoughtful, simple and elegant. One case may be easier to machine and put together than another case. Cases can be milled from a single block of metal, or can have dozens of their own components.

A brief look at the history of the wristwatch case shows dramatic evolution. In the early years of the 20th century, when wristwatches first started making an appearance on the scene, most cases were round. By the first decade, round gave way to square and rectangular (witness the famed Cartier Tank). The Roaring Twenties yielded unusually shaped geometric cases and ergonomically curved cases. The 40s, 50s and 60s saw a blend of round, square, rectangular cases — all becoming more functional than elegant as we moved into the realm of dive watches, pilot watches and other sports-related timepieces. By the 1970s, the concept of creating a case had become a real work of art. Watch brands sculpted cases of gold and metal-smithing took a leading role. Many brands got incredibly flamboyant with shapes. Possibilities became limitless.

In addition to case shapes, heights and widths, material is key. Today, thanks to so many innovations in machining metal, and thanks to new high-tech materials, the concept of what the case is made of takes on new meaning. While the noble materials of platinum and gold are important, so, too, are stainless steel, titanium, aluminum, ceramic and other alloys.

Also playing a factor in the quality of a case is the attention paid to detail. For certain sports watches, starting a case from a single block of metal and keeping it as a single piece may render it more sturdy and rugged. However, top watch brands like to build complex cases with dozens of parts that demonstrate their abilities to produce a case worthy of the movement inside. Make no mistake, luxury multiple-part cases are no weaker than a solid block case. It all comes down to the gaskets, fittings and precision interplay of parts, screw-down case back and other small details.

Luxury watch brands also take the time to finish top-quality cases with stunning angels, bevels and lugs. In fact, all of these elements contribute to the identifiability of a case. True watch lovers can see a case (not a dial or movement) from across the room and know what brand it is. So the next time you are watch shopping — take time to inspect the entire package. Case made.

How Today's Watches Get Their Glow

The favored material used today to bring luminescence to the watch dial for easy night and underwater reading is Super-LumiNova - developed just about two decades ago in the early 1990s.

Super-LumiNova is non-radioactive and is a strontium aluminate substance created in a host of colors that enable the watch numerals, markers, hands and other dial accents to glow blue, green or even red-orange depending on the mixes used. Over the decades, the material has advanced thanks to a great deal of research and development, and the Super-LumiNova of the early 1990s has evolved into a new intensity that is at least double the strength of the early versions. Super-LumiNova can be as much as 10 times brighter than the previous zinc sulfide-based materials, and is applied in varying strengths.

After absorbing sufficient UV light, the phosphorescence glows in the dark for hours. The pigments, though, must be protected against contact with water or moisture, and so they are generally used only on dials (since they are protected by the crystal) and not on bezels. Super-LumiNova is the current market leader for luminous watch dials.