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.