The fundamental mechanical principles that make a watch function have not materially changed for decades. In fact, all the refinements and improvements you see in watch calibres these days are more a matter of innovation than outright invention. Travel back in time, somehow, and present a modern mechanical watch to an ancient Swiss watchmaker in the Jura mountains. Chances are he’ll know exactly what is going on. He may be taken aback by the accuracy of modern manufacturing and the microscopic details that go into watches these days.
But the innards themselves will seem utterly familiar. Which is not entirely a bad thing. Indeed, you could say it is a testimony to the enduring legacy and durability of traditional watchmaking.
Where real invention is taking place today is in the world of materials. From classic brands such as Breguet to debutantes such as HYT or U-Boat, watches are being crafted out of a variety of unusual and high-tech alloys, steel and synthetic substances. Each year at Basel, brands display the outcome of their research and development in the form of timepieces that are sometimes bizarre, often attractive, and always interesting.
Many of these may seem outlandish today. But there is no telling which of these materials will capture the public’s imagination tomorrow. Indulge presents a selection of this year’s material innovations:
U-51 Chimera Bronze
This young Italian brand has crafted a case out of naturally aged bronze measuring a hefty 46mm in diameter. The bezel and the back of the case are locked together by external tubing and a customized key that ensures water resistance.
(Left to right ) U-boat, U-51 Chimera Bronze; Rado, HyperChrome Golden Horse Limited edition; Omega , Seamaster Planet Ocean Ceragold, Hublot, Seamaster Planet Ocean Ceragold.
HyperChrome Golden Horse Limited edition
The bezel, side inserts and caseback in this piece are crafted from Rado’s proprietary Ceramos material. A unique platinum
finish is achieved through final polishing with diamond wheels.
Seamaster Planet Ocean Ceragold
Resting on the case is a polished black zirconium-based ceramic bezel ring with the Ceragold diving scale. Ceragold is a nine-step manufacturing process developed by Omega that is used to create ceramic components finished in gold detailing.
Big Bang Ferrari Magic Gold
Hublot, the true pioneers in materials development,launched new watches made from magic gold, a new fusion of 24-carat gold and boron carbide ceramic. The end product is an 18-carat gold alloy that is harder than most hardened steel. Hublot says it can only be scratched by a diamond.
A reservoir system connected to the watch mechanism is located at the 6 o’clock position. While one below compresses, the second expands, and the other way round, resulting in the movement of a liquid in the capillary tube. The liquid then shows retrograde hours, minutes and seconds.
(Left to right) HYT, H1; Romain, Jerome Space nvaders; Breguet, Heritage phases de lune retrograde 8860
Jerome Space nvaders
Yet another young brand with a reputation for limited-edition watches crafted from scarce, historic materials. This new watch has an integrated caseback embedded with fragments from Apollo 11. Also included is a medallion in proprietary moon silver alloy.
Heritage phases de lune retrograde 8860
The dial centre is crafted from engine-turned mother of pearl. But hiding inside is a Breguet specialty: the flat balance spring and in-line escapement not in
steel or metal alloy, but in that most high-tech of materials—silicon.