Pros & Cons of Ceramic in Watches

Ceramic in Watches: What are the pros and cons?

 

Gone are the days when watch materials are limited to steel and gold. Over the past half-century, major industry players have experimented with different materials – such as the lightweight but tough titanium, the mystical meteorite, and the distinctive-looking Carbotech.

One of the most popular materials to date is ceramic. From patented ceramic bezels (like Rolex’s Cerachrom) to full-ceramic watches, what exactly makes the material desirable – and what should you look out for?

Let’s explore the pros and cons of ceramic in watches:

 

Da Vinci
from left: Omega Seamaster Cermet, IWC Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar ref. 3755, Rado Ceramica

 

 A BRIEF HISTORY OF CERAMIC IN WATCHMAKING

On a quest to create scratch-proof watches, several companies experimented with the material as early as the 1970s. A few milestones were made before the 21st century:

1973 – Omega began working on the Seamaster Cermet. Its case was made from their proprietary ceramic material cermet, made from aluminum oxide and tungsten carbide.Launched 8 years after, it was made available only through special order, and priced significantly higher than their flagship watch, the Speedmaster.

1986 – IWC Schaffhausen followed with the IWC Da Vinci ref. 3755. It was one of the first luxury watches made with a ceramic case; and the first perpetual calendar chronograph that used the material. It also came with a choice of a black or white case.

1990 – Swiss brand Rado launched the Rado Ceramica, the first watch to have a ceramic case and bracelet.

While these watches were not commercially successful, they provided proof that working with ceramic presented many possibilities.

 


 

BREAKTHROUGHS IN CERAMIC WATCHMAKING

In the mid-2000s, watch industry heavyweights Rolex and Omega made several breakthroughs in the use of ceramic.

 

Submariner Hulk
Rolex Submariner Hulk Green Dial Bezel Watch ref. 116610LV comes with a Cerachrom bezel

Cerachrom – In 2005, Rolex patented their own ceramic, dubbed Cerachrom, for use on the bezels of their Professional watches. Made from extremely hard ceramic material, it is virtually scratch-proof, and fade-proof. The diamond-polished surface gives it an exceptional lustre.

Rolex GMT-Master II “Batman” – In 2013, Rolex achieved what was thought of as impossible – to create a ceramic bezel with two colors, but produced as a single piece.

 

GMT-Master Batman and Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon
pictured from left: Rolex GMT-Master II “Batman” ref 116710, and Omega Speedmaster “Black Black” Dark Side of the Moon

It would have been easier to put two pieces of ceramic together, but Rolex went for the more difficult route. The process begins with creating the bezel as one color, and then adding the other color before the bezel hardens. The result is a bi-color, single ceramic ring, with no bleeding of color and gradual fading. Rolex is the only brand in the world to do this patented process.

Omega Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon – In 2014, Omega launched the Dark Side of the Moon, an all-black Speedmaster. Made of zirconium dioxide ceramic, it was the first watch to have its main components, including the dial, crown, buckle, and pushers, to be made out of ceramic.

Other ceramic watches use DLC or PVD material to match the watch’s ceramic body or bezel; the Dark Side of the Moon is crafted entirely from a single block of ceramic. A technical feat and one of Omega’s greatest successes in recent  memory.



PROS AND CONS OF CERAMIC IN WATCHES

With the popularity of ceramic in watchmaking, you’re probably considering adding a ceramic watch to your collection. Let’s break down their pros and cons:

 

Seamaster Planet Ocean
Omega Planet Ocean Master Chronometer 600M Watch with black ceramic unidirectional rotating bezel with orange rubber

PROS

Resistance to wear and aging
Ceramic is well-known for its exceptional hardness, especially when compared to steel and gold. They are also impervious to ultraviolet rays produced by the sun, which causes fading in other materials. These properties make ceramic virtually scratch-proof and fade-proof.

Lighter than metals
Despite its durability, ceramic is actually lighter than most metals and weighs close to aluminum on the scale. This makes ceramic comfortable and light on the wrist.

Skin-friendly
As most ceramic watches don’t contain metals, they are also hypoallergenic. For people with sensitivity to metals, a ceramic case or bracelet is ideal.

A good material for all-black watches
Blacked-out watches continue to gain popularity; and ceramic is a great material to use for these models. Unlike coated metal watches, the color of ceramic is a property of the material itself, making it more resistant to fading and wear.

 

Tudor Fastrider
Tudor Fastrider Black Shield Mens Watch with black ceramic case and matt black ceramic bezel

CONS

Brittle and may shatter
The main disadvantage of ceramic is that it can be brittle and may fracture if it falls from a certain height.

Lack of unique appeal
Ceramic watches hardly age, which is good if you want to keep a watch for the long haul. For some collectors however, the downside is the watch can be difficult to identify among other similar watches. They may also not be appealing to those who love vintage watches, whose fading, yellowing and patina give them appeal and character.

Ceramic has quickly risen as one of the favorite materials of watch brands and it looks like it’s here to stay. Brands have come up with visually interesting and innovative uses for the materials. We’re just as excited as you are to see what’s next.

 

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SEE MORE OF THE WATCHES IN OUR VIDEO:

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PHOTO CREDITS: Omega Seamaster Cermet and Rado Ceramica from Ebay.
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