If you don’t know much about watches, you might be forgiven for thinking that watch manufacturers are obsessed with stainless steel. The same can be said for leather, too.
However, just a brief chat with your nearest watch lover could grant you access to a never-before-seen world of obscure metals, strange fabrics, and exotic colours. Should you be fortunate enough to grab a peek into this world, you’ll get an idea of just how creative luxury watch design can be.
Because, when a watchmaker is liberated from the regulations of standard, ‘bulk-release’ watch production, new and exciting possibilities reveal themselves. This is especially true when it comes to precious metals, which is what we’re going to discuss today.
But first, why stainless steel?
Before we gush about the strange and peculiar metals used in luxury watch design, we’re going to briefly look at stainless steel and explain why it became the standard metal used everywhere. As much as we love the aforementioned precious metals, stainless steel is where it all began.
Stainless steel is an alloy, which basically means that it’s a metal which contains two or more metallic elements, giving the item greater strength and resistance to corrosion. This is the reason why so many watches and cutlery are all stainless steel (both need to resist everyday use as well as exposure to liquids).
Because it’s an alloy, stainless steel is resistant to corrosion, scratches and stains. It’s a tough material that looks pretty good, too. That said, we’re now so accustomed to stainless steel that it doesn’t seem that impressive an invention as when it was invented (1913, for your information).
Precious metals in watch design
Let’s forget about stainless steel, silver, and gold. Here are some of our favourite lesser-known metals that are used in luxury watch design.
Engineered solely by Rolex for their Yacht-Master range, rolesium is Rolex’s way of distinguishing themselves from the rest of the industry. This is their pride and joy, and it’s clear to see why.
Rolesium is an ingenious combination of 904L stainless steel and exquisite platinum. Together, Rolex has managed to meld the functionality of stainless steel with the precious metal platinum. It retains all the protective properties of alloy metals while giving the Yacht-Master an air of sophistication and luxury. Pictured below is the Rolex Yacht-Master 37, made from rolesium.
Ruthenium belongs to the platinum family, and is probably a lesser-known metal in our selection. Ruthenium has now leapt out of obscurity because of its sleek, dark look and the fact that it’s harder to work with (it has a high melting point which makes working with ruthenium very difficult). It’s definitely one of the rarer watch materials, which makes it more coveted. Watch collectors are a fickle and hard-to-please bunch!
Ruthenium is often used alongside other metals because of its anti-corrosive properties. In fact, just 1% of ruthenium can increase the corrosion protection of titanium drastically.
Pictured here is the NOMOS Tangomat Ruthenium, a bold modern piece from young German upstarts NOMOS.
You’ll have probably come across this before. White gold is a popular metal for watch design, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less precious. In fact, white gold has proven to be a genius invention for watchmaking. Here’s why: it’s simply an alloy of gold, and it’s a combination of pure gold, palladium, and silver.
It revolutionised both the watch industry as well as fine jewelry, simply because it offered an alternative to gold that wasn’t just silver. There are lots of people who don’t like gold, and there are also just as many who don’t want to settle for silver as an alternative. Pictured here is the Rolex Pearlmaster 39, a beauty made from white gold.
Magic gold, on the other hand, you might not have heard before. This is an innovation from Swiss watch wizards Hublot, and it’s a product of their ‘fusion philosophy’ which promotes a strong sense of experimentation in watchmaking. At this point, the Hublot name is synonymous with ‘trial and error’, and with magic gold they’ve got the right formula. Pictured here is the Hublot Big Bang Unico Magic Gold watch.
They spent two years formulating magic gold, and the final product is a mixture of pure gold (75%) and ceramic which makes a more resistant form of gold. They’ve started to call it ‘ceragold’, and it’s the stuff of genius.
Rhodium is one of the rarest metals you’ll find, and it’s a member of the platinum family. It’s highly-reflective and does not corrode. It’s also harder than gold, which makes it very durable indeed. However, like ruthenium, it’s tricky to shape or form it. It’s often found on the face of some watches, as it’s easier to manipulate it into a flat surface as opposed to the more complex sections of a watch.
Sekonda have led the way for rhodium-plated watches, and you’ll see why it’s so popular with its silvery sheen and high-class sheen.
See the screenshot below – it’s a Rolex Datejust with a rhodium dial.
Luxury watch design for everyone
Although the price tags might put some watch collectors off, luxury watch design can be accessible for everyone. It’s all in the details, and we trust that with the above information there will be more than a few avid enthusiasts reading more into the achievements of luxury watch design. The experimentation with these metals (some of which are hard to manipulate and work with) displays a tradition of innovation and genius.
If we’ve stoked an interest here, be sure to keep tabs on our blog section as it’s regularly updated and packed full of insights for watch lovers of all backgrounds. In the meantime, protect your luxury watch with our high-quality protective watch cases.