Dior VIII Grand Bal Fil de Soie caseback Dior VIII Grand Bal Fil de Soie caseback

Five of the most unusual materials used in watchmaking

Watchmaking is a competitive arena, and brands sometimes explore new materials in order to create a buzz of attention. Here are at five of the more unusual substances used in high-end watches.


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09 May 2016

For centuries, watches were in brass, and later, in many other types of non-oxidising metals such as gold, platinum, stainless steel, titanium and aerospace alloys. These are accompanied by rubies, which are now synthetic and are used to reduce friction in bearings. Watchmakers are always looking out for new materials, such as the light and strong carbon fibre composites used in Formula One racing and competition sailing. Some of the more extreme tendencies in this direction are watches by maisons such as Romain Jerome that have incorporated part of the metal from the Titanic into their Titanic DNA limited edition, and Artya that in 2010 launched a watch with a dial made from fossilised dinosaur dung (the official name of this type of fossil is “coprolite”). Here are five less extreme examples of inventive spirit in our material world.

cemento2Concrete: Cemento by Giuliano Mazzuoli

Giuliano Mazzuoli got the idea for his “Cemento” from some builders mixing some concrete for work in his garden. He developed a careful polishing process to preserve the material’s characteristic grey-green colour. Cemento is a large piece, 45 mm in diameter and 13.5 mm thick, but it wears comfortably, with a Tuscan calfskin strap and deployant steel buckle. It is water-resistant to 5 bar (50 metres), and houses an ETA 2824/2 self-winding movement providing 40 hours power reserve. The simplicity of the dial, with applied metal indices, creates a perfect contrast with the flecked texture of the concrete. www.giulianomazzuoli.it

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LUXOSPFC267 3000600 HA3141 RHDMeteorite: Tonda 1950 Special Edition by Parmigiani Fleurier

This piece by Parmigiani Fleurier features an “Abyss blue” or black dial in meteorite, a material that is from 4 to 4.8 billion years old. Meteorites formed as left-overs from when the solar system was taking shape, and so they are a bit older than the earth itself. When look at a watch like this, you see the hours, minutes and seconds, while the unimaginable age of the inky-dark dial helps put our own dimension of time into the broader context of our home, the universe. The crystalline beauty of the material that fell to earth is enhanced by the rhodium-plated metal indices, and Parmigiani’s characteristic delta hands with luminescent coating. www.parmigiani.ch

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FC-302P4S6Porcelain: Frederique Constant Classics Art of Porcelain

This watch by Swiss watch manufacturer Frederique Constant has a very classical appearance, with Roman numerals printed onto a dial that is not made of the usual enamel, but of porcelain. This material is hard to work, and has to be fired at temperatures reaching 1,400°C, but when finished, it guarantees an exceptional durability. The dial is made by the Zsolnay Porcelain Manufacture in Pécs, Hungary, and it is carefully shaped to create the slightly domed surface that is characteristic of a dress watch such as this. It is framed by a stainless steel case, very wearable at 40 mm diameter, with a touch of classical style added by the fluting around the case middle. www.frederiqueconstant.com

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Dior-VIII-Grand-Bal-Fil-de-Soie-goldSilk: Grand Bal Fil de Soie by Dior

These watches introduced in 2014 are part of the Dior VIII collection, with the Dior Inversé calibre in which the oscillating weight is placed on the front of the watch, instead of its usual position under the movement. It brings the watch to life, swinging back and forth with every movement of the wrist, and in this version it is in gold decorated with green or gold silk thread that seems to magically connect the peripheral part of the rotor to the centre. More than most fashion-brand watches, the Dior VIII Grand Bal Fil de Soie is the perfect expression of the couturier’s art. The rotor is decorated with as much as one-and-a-half metres of silk, expertly threaded into a delicate but strong gossamer composition. www.dior.com