There’s much more to the watch game than dials and movements. Before a watch even gets designed, metallic and ceramic alloys must be created. Many of these alloys are created just for the watch brands that enthusiasts like you and I love.
So let’s take a look at the alloys that some of the most iconic brands in the world use. From steels to ceramics to even golds and diamonds, we swear you’ll be surprised at the work that goes into the materials in Swiss watches.
Breitling lives up to its aviation history – right down to its alloys
Breitling makes its steel watches out of 316L antimagnetic stainless steel. So, just what do all of these numbers mean?
Grade 316 is known as Marine Grade stainless steel. The “L” part is known to exhibit better corrosion resistance and stronger to higher temps. This is what makes 316L steel perfect for Breitling. The brand’s known for its roots in aviation, so temperature resistance is an excellent attribute. Plus, high corrosion resistance is an excellent alloy attribute for any watchmaker, regardless of the price point.
This alloy’s corrosion resistance is so high that it’s resistant to even several types of acid including the ones you dealt with in high school including: hydrocholoric, sulfuric and acetic acid. This type of resistance is exactly the type of strength that made this metal so attractive to Breitling.
“If you play your cards right, you can engineer any attribute into your alloy – strength, corrosion resistance, high temperature strength – anything,” Kevin Christie CEO of a components company who engineers custom alloys for clients said. “Seeing corrosion resistance brought to the forefront of a high-end watch does not surprise me one bit.”
Stainless steel isn’t the only game in town for Breitling. Its titanium watches are made from Grade 2 Titanium. What separates Grade 2 from the other types of Grades? Unalloyed titanium is rated into Four Different Grades.
While Grade 4 is considered the highest strength, Grade 2, is used for, you guessed it, Aircrafts. In other words, it’s perfect for Breitling’s uses. Just like Grade 316L Stainless, it’s also corrosion resistant, making this titanium perfect for watches.
Rolex steels the alloy game
While Burdeen’s isn’t an Authorized Dealer for Rolex, we’d be remised if we didn’t mention the largest Swiss watch manufacturer in the world. Rolex created its own alloy called 904L Stainless Steel. It’s an aerospace grade steel that’s non-magnetic and resistant to corrosion just like Breitling’s Grade 316L. Rolex has made a big deal out of using this metal due to its purity. It actually has just .02% Carbon while 316L Steel that Breitling uses has .03%. It may not sound like much, but if you were to read some Rolex marketing material, it would probably turn that .02% to .03% change to “50% more” and it would be technically correct.
In addition to steel, Rolex uses 950 platinum alloy. This is considered a high grade platinum alloy because it has an impressive 95% purity. Kudos to Rolex. Finally, one of its crowning achievements is the creation of Cerachom ceramic bezels. Unveiled in 2005 and slowly rolled out in the GMT Master II lineup, it has made Rolex was able to combine ceramic and stainless steel – making its bezels virtually scratchproof, corrosion resistant, and resistant to fading. Now, all of its watches have ceramic bezels with Cerachom ceramic bezels.
Omega Ceragold Alloy marries gold & ceramics
Similar to Cerachom, but with a more ‘brilliant’ base than stainless steel, Omega created a ceramic and gold alloy called ‘Ceragold.’ Rather than bonding stainless steel and ceramic like Cerachom, the process of creating Ceragold bonds 18K gold and ceramic. But, the end result is much the same: it allows gold and ceramic bezels that are scratch resistant and smoother to the touch.
You may be thinking, “My gold jewelry is plenty smooth!” Yes, but Omega wanted a perfectly smooth transition from the ceramic of its standard bezel to the gold numbers and back. Omega’s metallurgists were worried that there would be an abrupt change in feel from the numbers and the rest of the bezel, making for an unsatisfying wearing experience. After much work, Omega got where they wanted and the unique Ceragold alloy was born.
Ulysse Nardin Dimonsil takes the pressure
If Rolex was able to combine ceramic and steel and Omega has combined gold and ceramic, Ulysse Nardin may have topped them all with its proprietary Dimonsil alloy. Many brands have been moving to silicon watch parts for the last decade or so, but UN’s Dimonsil is extremely interesting because the escapement of its Caliber UN-118 is made from a synthetic diamond grown on a silicon base.
Like other synthetic diamonds, UN and its partner, Swiss firm Sigatic, place the silicon under intense pressure, creating the diamonds much like carbon gets placed under intense pressure in nature to make real diamonds.
So while gold is plenty brilliant, as they say, diamonds are forever.