Ceramic is everywhere, but not always easy to see. In the current watchmaking industry, ceramics is one of the most fashionable materials, and its quality is favored by many brands. Behind the highlights, ceramics presents us with a whole new world of different materials applied in different ways. It has various advantages, but also has a few defects that cannot be ignored.
Ceramic materials were first used in watchmaking and date back to the 1980s. First of all, the ceramics mentioned here should not be confused with the ‘ceramics’ used in kitchen cabinets. The high-tech ceramics are involved here. There are many different types of ceramics. They share some common characteristics, and these characteristics are why they are so popular. Among the dozen or more different ceramic materials used in the watchmaking industry, alumina (Al2O3) and zirconia (ZrO2) are the most common.
IWC Engineers Automatic Watch AMG Black Series Ceramic Edition with Boron Nitride Case
Ceramics are resistant to acids and are not easy to oxidize and corrode; ceramics are abrasion-resistant and are not easy to produce scratches; ceramics are hard and difficult to deform. These three characteristics make the ceramic case a great success. In addition, ceramics have also been used in the manufacture of movement parts for a long time, such as ball bearings located under the rotor, which have a very unique operating sound. But that’s not all. Ceramic gears are used in the automatic winding mechanism of IWC’s new 52000 movement. The main purpose is to reduce the wear of parts.
Richard Mille RM 07-01 Women’s Watch with Brown TZP Ceramic Case
It is often heard that ceramics are indestructible, but this is not entirely true. In fact, the manufacturing process of ceramics determines that this material must have both advantages and disadvantages. High-tech ceramics need to be pressed into the mold in the form of powder. The melting point of ceramic powder is extremely high, and it is impossible to melt and then dump it like metal. In contrast, ceramics are made by sintering: powder particles are fused and diffused to form a continuous whole. The advantage of this process is that there are pores inside the ceramic, which makes the material lighter. The density of alumina is 3.9 g / cm3, compared to the density of 4.5 g / cm3 of titanium. On the other side of the coin, pores in the ceramic can form cracks, which can cause catastrophic fracture.
Panerai Radiomir Composite® 3 Days – 47mm 3-Day Power Reserve Watch (PAM00504)
Don’t forget that ceramics are extremely hard, and there is a saying that is too bad. Ceramic structures are inflexible, impact resistant, and fragile. In real life, if you wear a ceramic watch scratching a hard object (such as a rock), nothing will happen; if you accidentally drop it, the case will be spared; but if you throw it forcefully, there is a danger of fragmentation. In terms of performance, ceramics are almost the opposite of stainless steel, which explains why the former is so difficult to process. High hardness and fragile, it is difficult to put proper constraints on it during processing. The forming and sintering stages are particularly critical, and any mistake can lead to serious consequences.
Another advantage of ceramics is that they are highly inclusive and can be combined with other materials to change properties. Richard Mill’s TZP ceramics come from the interaction of zirconia and yttrium oxide for better impact resistance. Hublot has injected liquid 24K pure gold into the porous boron carbide body with a mass ratio of 25% / 75%, which means that this unique alloy can be called 18K. It is both precious and scratch-resistant. This is the unique magic gold of Hublot.
Bell & Ross tested blue ceramic in Aviation BR03-92
Another way to take advantage of ceramics is to induce a chemical reaction in the aluminum watch case. Panerai has put it into practice and the result is a material called ‘Composite’. The aluminum case undergoes an oxidation reaction in a vacuum environment. The aluminum on the surface is converted into alumina. This is the most common form of ceramic and is very scratch resistant. The problem is that the case retains the advantages and disadvantages of the original material: the texture is light and stretchable, but it is prone to dents. Jaeger-LeCoultre is also interesting to create-‘Cermet’ (cermet), which consists of a titanium frame, which is then reinforced with ceramics.
Chanel J12-G.10 watch
Ceramics are both ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing: smooth to the touch and thermally insulated. Unlike titanium or steel watches, which quickly heat up in the hot sun, ceramic watches remain refreshing in summer. Most ceramics are natural black, which is also a popular color in the watchmaking industry. Unlike PVD or DLC surface treatments, the color of the ceramic is permanent, does not wear out, and does not dim over time. Some ceramics are naturally white, just like Chanel’s favorite J12 watch. Some ceramics are chocolate-colored. Ceramics can also be dyed as a whole, and Bell & Ross’s blue and green watches are a good try. In fact, Bellevue and Chanel use the same production facilities.