There is an enormous amount of attention paid every year at watch events like SIHH and Baselworld to movements and their tiny, fantastically geared complications. The fact is, of course, that movements matter. But lost in the sea of calibre numbers is another essential piece of watch technology and engineering: material design. This year’s SIHH was full of it.
Yes, the difference between an ETA 2824-2 and an in-house Rolex caliber makes a difference in value and performance. But have you tried holding a stainless steel watch and then a different version whose case is made entirely out of carbon fiber? How about an enamel dial and a meteorite one? Those things, my friends, differentiate.
Interesting material design has been happening more and more in high watchmaking in recent years, too, because watchmaking continues to be pushed toward innovation and halo products. That means more carbon fiber, more ceramic, more titanium, and more metals and composites you’ve never heard of before — the vibraniu and adamantium of horology. Here are watches that stand out first and foremost for their unique materials from SIHH 2019 so far.
Carbotech: Panerai Submersible
The Submersible is Panerai’s most sporty, tough watch, which makes it the perfect proving ground for the brand’s tough material, Carbotech. Panerai first introduced the stuff in 2015; it’s a reinforced carbon fiber material that’s extremely tough and run through with a very sexy looking grain. Add a titanium case back and it should be pretty unbeatable.
Ceratanium: IWC Double Chronograph Top Gun
Titanium meets ceramic in IWC’s new material with a cool name. The titanium alloy combines the lightness and strength of titanium with the scratch-resistance of ceramic; it’s not just a coating, like DLC, but an actual bonding between the two materials. IWC first made Ceratanium in 2017, and released it in a 50th anniversary Aquatimer. Its blacked-out look is just as good on IWC’s new Double Chronograph Top Gun pilot’s watch — and builds the brand’s tool watch cred, to boot.
Enamel: JLC Master Ultra Thin Moon Enamel Series
The new Ultra-Thin models have drawn some heat from certain sectors who wonder whether the Perpetual Enamel, for exmaple, is truly “ultra thin” at nearly 10.55mm. But open your eyes! Nobody cares about thickness when they’re mesmerized by absolutely pristine hand-engraved guilloché, especially when it’s made using a special enamel that scintillates in the light. JLC has had in-house master artisans doing hand-guilloche enamel work since 1996, and it shows.
Carbon Glass: Girard-Perregaux Laureato Absolute Carbon Glass
Carbon glass: You haven’t heard of it before because it’s never really been a thing in watches. Now it is, thanks to GP’s Laureato Absolute Chronograph, which looks like it was mined from a deep space asteroid. Girard-Perregaux stresses its extreme stiffness — apparently it’s stiffer than steel by a factor of 100 — impermeability, and a very low density that the brand says allows it to nearly float in water. (We need to test that one out.) Its crazy looks come from blue glass fibers incorporated during its high-temperature injection.