Tough time: tech-savvy materials add intrigue to the new performance watches

The smartest of watch designers are drawing upon tech-smart, durable materials (inspired by the likes of Nasa) to keep things ticking over...

Black Ceramic Limited Edition Design
(Image credit: Coppi Barbieri)

Seiko: Created in 1960, the Grand Seiko mechanical strand continues its diverse design trajectory with an emphasis on tech-smart materials and movement engineering. Here, the fusion of high-intensity titanium and black zirconia ceramic renders the 46.4mm case of the Grand Seiko Black Ceramic 25 per cent lighter than steel. Black Ceramic Limited Edition, £10,000, by Grand Seiko

Tudor: The Nasa-derived PVD coating that injects the Black Bay Dark with a particularly utilitarian feel is a sharp contrast to Tudor’s vintage-led design character. The rich, satiny finish is another draw, while the choice of a bracelet- or pilot-style leather strap offers a shift in tone. Black Bay Dark, £3,050, by Tudor

Bell & Ross: The stress-resistant, lightweight properties of forged carbon are favoured by the aeronautics industry. Now, aviation watch specialist Bell & Ross has reinterpreted the mix of heat-compressed fibres and resin for horological use. The BR-X1 Carbon Forgé has a water-resistant, single-unit case with a marbled matt finish. BR-X1 Carbon Forgé, £15,600, by Bell & Ross

Photography: Coppi Barbieri

As originally featured in the December 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*213)


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Hublot: Sapphire is an attractive proposition for mechanical watch designers, allowing a view of inner workings and a futuristic look. But at almost diamond strength, it needs specialist attention to fulfil its horological potential. Having sought out the experts, Hublot has ventured beyond the one-off design approach that the material typically demands to create the Big Bang Unico Sapphire All Black in an almost impossibly extensive run of 500 smoked-sapphire pieces. Big Bang Unico Sapphire All Black, £48,000, by Hublot

Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin

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Patek Philippe: The performance credentials are a given – screw-down crown, water-resistance to 120m, luminous hands and markers – but it is the aesthetic detail played out in opposing materials, textures and finishes that give the Aquanaut its perennially luxurious appeal. Aquanaut 5167A, £13,750, by Patek Philippe

Vacheron Constantin: The new Quai de l’Ile may look as sleek, subtle and dress-ready as a Vacheron should, but – offered in stainless steel and with tough-wearing tungsten components – the emphasis on durability and shock-resistance lets you know it is designed for the demands of everyday use. Quai de l’Ile, £11,700, by Vacheron Constantin

Panerai, Audemars Piguet

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Panerai: As the Tuttonero, the classic Luminor 1950 diving watch adopts a more stealthy character in matt black ceramic. With zirconium oxide powder as its base, the material adopts a smooth, consistent quality, which, after a complex polishing process, results in a luxuriously tactile effect. But that belies its performance credibility: it easily defies scratches, corrosive elements and extreme temperatures. Tuttonero Luminor 1950 3 Days GMT Automatic Ceramica, £11,600, by Panerai

Audemars Piguet: One of the most powerful performance timepieces, the Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph combines an armoured mix of titanium, sapphire and ceramic to subtle effect. But then, as the determined offspring of Gérald Genta’s groundbreaking 1972 Royal Oak luxury steel design, its genes are impeccable. Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph, £33,500, by Audemars Piguet

A Lange & Söhne

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A Lange & Söhne: Layers of tinted sapphire glass add fascination to the dial of the Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase Lumen. Particularly compelling is the moonphase dial, coated with luminous UV pigment before its moon and 1,164 stars are hand-engraved. In lower lighting, it glows, highlighting the layers and lending the entire dial a holograph-like quality. Once properly set, the moonphase dial is so precisely engineered to consider lunar cycles as to require a reset by just one day every 122.6 years. Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase Lumen, £59,100, by A Lange Söhne


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Rolex: Developing new materials and integrating them into its design vision is key to the Rolex approach. The new Yacht-Master’s high-performance rubber strap – the first ever offered by the Swiss marque – features a flexible metal core, offering sturdier form and a more assured fit. 'Yacht-Master 40', £16,650, by Rolex

Caragh McKay is a contributing editor at Wallpaper* and was watches & jewellery director at the magazine between 2011 and 2019. Caragh’s current remit is cross-cultural and her recent stories include the curious tale of how Muhammad Ali met his poetic match in Robert Burns and how a Martin Scorsese Martin film revived a forgotten Osage art.