It is the intention of watch designers the world over to create timepieces that arrest attention. There are, of course, many ways in which this can be achieved. Some brands lean on a unique, or, at the very least, identifiable aesthetic to set their wares apart, while others engage in a race for revolution in areas of form or function. One such area that receives a lot of deserved attention, is that of new materials.
The utilisation of new materials in watchmaking is a prickly issue. When I first started my apprenticeship I was convinced that silicon was the future of watchmaking, but it seems my conviction was woefully naïve. It has been almost fifteen years since Ulysse Nardin débuted the Freak, which has been heralded as the first true foray into using silicium in a luxury watch. But why has silicon not spread through the movement as many assumed it might?
Extremely expensive watches are valuable because of their hand-crafted components and the time they take to make. Aficionados of luxury watchmaking seem to care more about the man at the bench, his files, his broken fingernails, the sweat on his brow. The thought of luxury being grown in a laboratory doesn’t marry with the foundations of the craft. Silicon can’t be effectively refinished and must be used as machined, which limits its aesthetic appeal. Furthermore, although accuracy gains can be made by employing new materials within the calibre, it quickly becomes apparent that an all-consuming quest for accuracy above all else will lead us right back to quartz watches and the potential demise of our industry.
Material Advancements Can Add Character, not Class
There is far more scope for new materials being utilised in an attractive and novel way on the Iexterior, and many of the more avant-garde brands have latched onto this idea with gusto. Hublot’s Magic Gold is one of the most fascinating materials I have encountered, and I am intoxicated by Morta, the material used in the construction of Schofield’s Blacklamp model. Richard Mille has also experimented with sapphire cases, bringing an opulent and bejewelled appearance to his wares.
In addition to new case materials, the dial has also become fair game for experimentation. My favourite example of this is the use of meteorite as a dial material, as seen on Parmigiani’s Tonda 1950 Titanium Abyss Meteorite Special Edition.
How these materials will hold their value over time is debatable, but it seems far more likely that their presence on the exterior will have a lesser effect on their investment potential further down the line. Luxury watchmaking, whatever its future, will always have its eyes firmly trained on the past. And that’s the way it’s got to stay.