What Are The Pros & Cons Of Ceramic Watches?
If one thing is for sure, it’s that watch fans love to wear their watches… obviously.
Unfortunately, with wear usually come the signs of it: dings, scratches, dents and more. Naturally, once enough of these accumulate, many horology aficionados will seek out to have their watches refinished or “polished”, hoping to restore them to their original luster.
Indeed, the refinishing will often help a watch return to its original condition or at least close to it, but it will rarely be perfect. Moreover, the process also removes metal from the surface of the timepiece.
Afterward, the bevels on the case will not be quite as sharp. Likewise, a brushed surface may not retain its initial texture.
And maybe most importantly, deep down inside, many owners will hold an unsettling sensation that their beloved timepiece is no longer whole.
How Scratch-Resistant Is A Ceramic Case And Bracelet?
Ceramic is the material to answer all of these concerns. Ceramic will not scratch. It will not dent. It will not get dinged. It’s also resistant to any kind of ageing.
For instance, Rolex bezel inserts used to be made of aluminum. These were prone to fading with time and exposure to the sun. Ironically, faded bezel Rolexes have become extremely desirable in the modern-day for their unique character but Rolex found them imperfect and therefore unacceptable.
Rolex Cerachrom Ceramic Bezel Precursor
Consequently, the brand set out to independently devise, produce, and roll out ceramic (“Cerachrom”) bezel inserts throughout many of their sports model lines. Along with the scratch-proof characteristic, these bezels will also retain their original color practically forever.
Lastly, ceramic is very light. Although not quite as light as aluminum and certainly not as expensive, its inherent hardness makes it one of the most ideal case materials ever used.
Polishing A Ceramic Watch
Polishing a watch is done as a remedy for deep scratches or surfaces imperfections that develop with regular wear. These don’t occur in or develop with ceramic so there is no need to ever polish a ceramic watch.
More specifically, when you polish or refinish a watch, you are removing the top layers of that metal. This evens out scratches or deep gouges and reveals the “fresh” metal that was hiding below. When it comes to ceramic, you simply are not able to remove a top layer of material as you can with other metals or composite materials.
All in all, the positives covered up to this point make it sound like ceramic is the ideal material for a wristwatch. There must be some downsides…right?
Do Ceramic Watches Break Easily?
With how scratch-proof ceramic watches can be, it may be equally as surprising to know how prone to cracking and even shattering they are.
Zirconium Powder Pressed Into Shape Of Watch Before Sintering.
Where a stainless steel or precious metal watch would dent or scratch when dropped, a ceramic timepiece will fracture (crack). Watch manufacturers are constantly on the search for stronger ceramics but this flaw remains mostly unresolved to this day. It’s not clear how much force is required to crack a piece of ceramic such as that used in watches, but a fact remains: it’s a lot less than it would take to make a metal watch crack.
Unlike a bone fracture, once a piece of ceramic cracks or otherwise splits apart, there’s no fixing it. No glue will be effective at holding two pieces of ceramic together permanently and inorganic, nonmetallic materials such as ceramic can’t be soldered as you would with metal, for example.
This means that a bezel must be replaced entirely if a hairline crack develops. Likewise, a fracture on a case lug means a complete case replacement is in order.
This kind of repair, where an entire component must be replaced, is likely accompanied by a lengthy service invoice. This leads us to our final drawback: the price.
Ceramic is very hard and therefore very hard to work with. Oftentimes colors will not develop properly when baked and must therefore be discarded. The brittle nature can also lead to parts breaking in the middle of the manufacturing process.
A large initial population at the beginning of the manufacturing process is whittled down to a few final products, and this is before extensive quality control tests are performed. It quickly becomes easy to see how intricate manufacturing processes and high rates of refuse translate to elevated retail prices.
All things considered, new ceramic watches are released every year, which begs the question – have we reached critical mass?
Are Ceramic Watches Still In Style Or Are They Overdone?
Pretty much all watch brands that offer a watch with any kind of ceramic component will make sure to let you know of its presence, if nowhere else, definitely on the price tag. This “phenomenon” is even more evident when an entire timepiece is crafted from the scratch-resistant material.
Speedy Ceramic Case After Sintering & Diamond-Tool Milling
The extreme demand, even after considering the high prices associated with ceramic watches, helps to answer the previously posed question – Yes, ceramic watches are very much still in vogue. In fact, any kind of ceramic component on a watch, notably its bezel, is heavily marketed and a huge selling point that has proven successful over and over.
Watch fans have not become bored of ceramic in the least bit, and brands have noticed. This, in turn, has led them to discover new chemical and metallurgic processes to produce ever-intriguing varieties of ceramic that quickly make their way into the newest model releases.
A sort of positive feedback loop has spawned, and truth be told, there’s no end in sight. In this case, we’re pretty sure this is a good thing. Though we’ll let our favorite ceramic watches below explain why.
Top Ceramic Timepieces
1. Hublot Big Bang Black Magic Ref. 301.CI.1770.RX
Hublot’s Big Bang Black Magic watch has earned the top spot on our list of the best ceramic watches due to its revolutionary past as well as its iconic essence.
When it was released in the 2000s, the first Hublot Big Bang made some serious waves. The watch was cunning in its construction as it embodied Hublot‘s motto, “The Art Of Fusion”.
A luxury timepiece on a rubber strap had not been successfully done before, but Jean Claude Biver’s Big Bang proved it possible.
The Big Bang Black Magic we’re highlighting here is a close relative of that first Big Bang, albeit with a few enhancements. Hublot recognized that their clientele was wearing their timepieces without fear and they moved to improve on the materials used.
Unlike that first Big Bang which was marked by a steel case and only a ceramic bezel, this Black Magic features a full matte black ceramic case and bezel along with a carbon fiber dial. The watch will be eternally recognized as a sports watch icon, and its design is sure to inspire endless watches in the future.
In fact, it already has. Hublot quickly noted the positive response and moved to integrate ceramic throughout many of its other models, including the Classic Fusion and Big Bang King collections.
Nevertheless, the Big Bang remains uneclipsed, particularly in this all-ceramic blackout variation. Intended to stand the test of wear and time, the Big Bang Black Magic has proven itself a landmark for ceramic sports watches to aspire to.
2. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin Ref. 26522CE.OO.1225CE.01
Some may say that the Royal Oak from Audemars Piguet is the perfect wristwatch. They may even venture to opine that it could never be improved upon.
That is until they’ve learned of the Royal Oak Tourbillon Extra-Thin crafted entirely of black ceramic. The essential aspects of the classic model are uninterrupted while other key aspects have been completely upgraded.
The dial still possesses the Tapisserie texture, but in this case, it “emanates” from the open-worked tourbillon placed at 6 o’clock. Lightly balancing the tourbillon across the dial are the Audemars Piguet marquee, along with surrounding luminous hour indices.
The case is the familiar Royal Oak design yet is highly elevated by the black ceramic. The different material makes for an even more striking contrast of textures between the high-polish and brushed finish surfaces.
Lastly, the bracelet. Arguably the biggest trademark of the Royal Oak line, it steps into a whole new dimension now that it’s constructed of black ceramic. A truly outstanding timepiece with an outstanding price and limited production, sure to remain desirable for as long as its ceramic composition holds its sheen.
3. Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Co-Axial Chronograph Ref. 3188.8.131.52.06.001
The first Dark Side Of The Moon Speedmaster watch was released by Omega at Baselworld 2013 to much acclaim. In 2015, the brand looked to extend that same success by releasing 4 additional variations.
Our third favorite ceramic watch is the Sedna Gold version of the all-black ceramic Moonwatch.
As its name implies, the entire watch is constructed completely of black zirconium oxide, excluding the red gold (Sedna gold) bezel and indices. That means case, dial, strap buckle, crown, and pushers are all ceramic.
This limited edition serves not only to exhibit Omega’s materials expertise but also as an ode to the Speedmaster’s heritage. Though in this case, the watches reminisce on what we generally don’t get to see, the Dark Side Of The Moon.
While the story and reasoning for producing this ceramic Speedy series may not resonate with all, it’s hard to argue against the beauty of the timepieces. The emblematic Speedmaster Moonwatch, which can seem old at times, has been totally modernized.
As expected, the ceramic has once more revitalized and breathed new life into an established and well-known model line. With a touch of luxury added by the gold, this DSOTM Speedy quickly becomes an absolute game-changer.
4. Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Sport Collection Ref. SBGC221
With the SBGC221, a brand such as Grand Seiko, already recognized for high-tech horology, further expands their expertise into exotic materials.
The watch touts a titanium inner case along with a zirconia ceramic external surface. Regardless, the hard ceramic outer case has not been used as an excuse for boring designs – the case still possesses the aggressive angles that characterize Grand Seiko models (Zaratsu finishing). There’s also a fixed black ceramic bezel and bracelet composed of ceramic and titanium elements.
The dial is a masterpiece in itself, with a hobnail-like texture and delicately applied indices. The subregisters themselves possess intricate textures and perfectly finished hands.
If you’re not familiar with Grand Seiko, it’s valuable to know that the devil with this brand is in the details. More specifically, the fact that none have been overlooked. The closer you look, the more you will see, and subsequently, the more esteem you’ll garner for the Japanese watchmaker.
The First Ceramic Watch
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, many brands began to experiment with ceramic or ceramic-like metals. The likes of Rado, Omega, and IWC would go on to release timepieces partially constructed of ceramic at different times.
But the milestone would first be reached by an unlikely contender. Chanel, a brand known more for jewelry than for timepieces, presented the J12 model in 2000 to the surprise of an entire industry.
The watch boasted a full ceramic case, bezel, and bracelet, a feat never before achieved. It also possessed unisex styling and glossy black color that made it a hit with men as well as with women.
Today, the timeless styling of the J12 remains mostly unchanged. Despite the introduction of additional colors as well as other complications, the forefather to all-ceramic watches still stands.
Even looking at it now, almost 20 years later, it’s easy to foretell that this is one that’s going to be around for a long, long time.
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