Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tech Talk No. 4: Ceramic Watches

Rado's been doing them since the late 80s. That's right. How can you forget those slick lookin' cuff-like black Rados?

But let's just get this whole "first-to-the-market" thing straight.

IWC was the first watch company to produce a watch with a ceramic (zirconium oxide) case watch, in 1986, in a perpetual calendar Da Vinci. All you other ceramic shadys are just imitatin'… I can quote their press release here, but you can easily find it online (perhaps not as easily as you'd find many many websites proclaiming that Chanel were first…).

The first ceramic watch - from IWC: the Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar in 1986, 
using Zirconium Oxide

I am surprised that IWC doesn't trumpet this fact more. Maybe they don't need to. Only they can answer that.

Here is a little bit of background: That first IWC ceramic model was produced in very small numbers because the material was difficult to machine. Over the years, technicians and engineers have acquired a lot of experience in the manufacture and machining of this extremely scratch-resistant, non-magnetic and acid-proof ceramic. The case blanks can now be formed more efficiently and with greater accuracy than before. They are sintered at temperatures between 1500 and 2000 degrees Celsius, followed by cooling in a complicated process to enable the material to attain all of its outstanding properties. Diamond tools are required for the intricate finishing of the blanks.

Now that's off my chest, let's talk about the use of ceramic for watch cases. What's so good about them and what's not so good? The first thing to know is that there are several types of ceramics. However, I could not, for the life of me, find out exactly what sort of compounds are used by which watch company. "High-tech ceramic" says nothing to me. So, all I have managed to find out is that IWC uses zirconium oxide. If Rado or Chanel or Hublot or anyone else want to chime in on why their version of ceramic is better, email us -

So, to make it easy:

Ceramic watches

The Good:

* Scratch and dent resistant (note I do not use the word "proof" since that's a bit too absolute…)
* Resistance to acidity
* Hypoallergenic

The Bad:

It will shatter…so the bad isn't so bad as long as you don't drop the watch onto something hard… You shouldn't anyway, regardless of case material…

In summary - Ceramic is very HARD but it is not TOUGH.

The toughness is the material's ability to absorb energy.

Hardness describes a material's ability to resist scratches and dents. So, like a diamond, ceramic is very hard, but strike it at the right place, and it will break. Just as long as you don't drop it, it will remain looking like new after many, many years. But do keep in mind that like every other material, there are differing levels of quality, so one ceramic watch may not be as hard as another. You can get very cheap ceramic watches, and I can almost guarantee that it'll break a heck of a lot quicker, and easier than something from say, the powerhouses of IWC, Rado and Chanel.


1 comment:

initialjh said...

hey, that's the same stuff as my kitchen knife - superbly sharp but I can't drop it or chop with it... :(

but pls keep up the tech talk - love it