Ceramic is the class of materials which are the hardest ever made. It is extremely scratch resistant, and durable. This strength is also a weakness as the material is very difficult to work with, and sometimes can be brittle. First pioneered by Rado, and carried on with the fashion brand Chanel in their J12 series. Here is our selection of ceramic cased watches from our archives. Featuring watches from Rado, Omega, Jaquet Droz, Hublot, Zenith and Bell & Ross.
Ceramics in watches
Ceramics are inorganic, non-metallic materials made from compounds comprising a metal and a non-metal. They also can be crystalline or partly crystalline. Though it has a metal component, it is not metal, as the non-metal component allows it to have properties which are not metallic. For example, most ceramics have a high resistivity to electricity, while all metals are conductive.
Physical characteristics of ceramics are hard and sometimes brittle. This gives it a scratch resistant surface, and able to maintain a shine for a long time. It also makes the material very hard to work with.
We begin with the one who started it all. Rado.
Rado was one of the first watchmakers to claim scratch resistant for their watches and later were one of the first to make extensive use of ceramic in their cases. Rado first introduced the scratch resistant case in 1962 when they introduced the DiaStar 1. The DiaStar 1 had a metal case, and it was not until 1990, when Rado made the Ceramica, when ceramics were first used in watch cases. The Rado Sintra followed in 1993, was the first Rado watch made of cermet, a titanium-based ceramic combined with metal. In 1998 the Ceramica was the first Rado watch to feature their patented plasma high-tech ceramic. This technique allowed a variety of color and material combination to be used. The material exudes a metallic glow, but without the use of any metal at all.
Needless to say, the current Rado catalog has an entire selection of ceramic watches. Our pick from their extensive range? The Rado HyperChrome Ultra Light (S$4,420), cased in silicon nitride (Si3N4) and is matt finished. Silicon nitride is a class of very hard ceramics. The construction is monobloc with sand blasted hardened grade 5 titanium inserts.
The movement is the ETA A31,L01 automatic movement with 21 jewels and made of black anodized aluminium, with a black oscillating rotor (in base metal).
We find the clean, minimalist dial to be a true attraction. The mysterious dial, sans markers complete this feel of simplicity, and adds to the how the watch feels on the wrist – very light. Retail in Singapore is S$4,420 with GST. and limited to an individually numbered edition of 500 pieces.
The white case of the Omega Speedmaster White Side of the Moon (S$ 17,100) is the tell tale clue that the case is not your standard Moonwatch. The watch which began this series is the Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon (S$ 15,858), in black ceramic introduced in 2014 inspired by astronauts of Apollo 8. A Grey Side of the Moon (S$ 16,650), and a Blue Side of the Moon (S$ 18,550) completes the ceramic cased Moonwatch collection. All running on the Omega Caliber 9904 Co-axial column wheel chronograph movement.
Our pick is the White Side, which has a clean look. At the time of writing the review, we though the watch may be more suitable for the ladies, the 42mm case size notwithstanding, but over the years since, we have grown to like the purity of the white case and dial marked only by the black and red on the indicators and hands.
The White Side of the Moon remains quite a rarity in the market. We are not quite sure why it is not more popular, as models like the Speedmaster Ultraman and Speedmaster Snoopy are extremely popular. Perhaps the popular culture of these pieces are stronger.
Hublot Spirit of Big Bang Meca 10 in Black Magic case
The Hublot Spirit of Big Bang Meca-10 is a tribute watch created to have all the features of the original famous Big Bang, Hublot’s flagship model. In true devotion to the ‘Art of Fusion’, the case has a ‘sandwich’ construction that makes it possible to vary and blend an infinite number of materials. The Spirit of Big Bang Meca-10 is currently offered in satin-finished and polished grade-5 titanium, satin-finished and polished 18K King Gold (an alloy of gold and platinum), and microblasted black ceramic, otherwise known as Black Magic, priced at USD 27,300 / EUR 26,900 is our pick of the day.
The open worked dial works very well in the tonneau shaped cased, which is, of course stylized in the usual Hublot way – a la fusion. The movement is the Calibre HUB1233. This is a movement which is a modified from the round HUB1201 caliber used in many Big Bang models into the form shaped barrel design of the Spirit of Big Bang. Its not just making a few minor adjustments, but the entire movement is re-constructed to fit the space available as efficiently as possible, morphing the round caliber into a tonneau shaped one.
We do have a soft spot for the Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde watches, and the openworked dial collection is particularly attractive. Known as the Skelet-One, the series is quite large with models in black ceramic with different variations on the accents – from the blue in our pick, to the version with red gold indices, in addition to the pink gold one at launch.
The movement is the Jaquet Droz JD2663 SQ, made exclusively for Jaquet Droz by sister company – Blancpain.
The lack of a proper dial is rather refreshing. In the place of a regular solid dial is a sense of light, lightness and transparency. The Grande Seconde saw both its architecture unveiled and laid bare. Sculptural. At S$38,000, it presents itself as a good option to consider.
Continuing in the vein of the ceramic case, skeletonized dial, we come to the new Zenith Defy 21 (S$19,900) in black and white. An extension to the flying 1/100s chronograph Defy 21 range, this new watch is a Zenith Boutique-exclusive Black & White edition taking on a drastically different approach with an achromatic palette.
The matte microblasted black ceramic case in 44mm has a muted finish which enhances the sleek lines of the faceted case as it absorbs light rather than reflect it. The DEFY 21 is paired with white ceramic bezels for a sharp contrast, giving way to the three dimensional dial.
The movement is the interesting El Primero 9004 automatic caliber used in all Defy 21 watches. This is a highly unique complication with 2 escapements, one for the watch and another for the 1/100th of a second Chronograph. Fascinating is that both escapements beat at different rates, since a higher rate is required for the 1/100th chronograph, but having it run all the time for regular timekeeping would create too much wear on the parts.
At S$6,200, the Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver Matte Black swings in with a lot of sashay – the cool circle in a square case design looks exceptionally handsome when clothed in the black ceramic case.
At this pricing level, the movement is a standard utilitarian Selitta SW 300-1 which Bell and Ross renames as the BR-CAL.302. This is not a haute horology offering by any stretch of imagination, and hence will not be expecting refinements that are afforded at higher pricing levels. However, we find the movement to perform reliably in our testing and robust enough for the duties it will be called upon.
The BR 03 Diver Black Ceramic offers collectors an interesting option for a good-looking yet casual timepiece. From the competitive landscape, the Bell & Ross is a compelling option for the fact that it is one of the few rare watches that offers a full ceramic case at this price point. Most of the other watches are either black PVD-coated, or they charge a higher premium for a timepiece that uses the same material.
We should also have added the Chanel J12 (S$9.200) on the list for being one of the pioneers of ceramic technology, particularly notable for their acceptability by the masses. First released in 1999, the J12 became a fashion icon like no other watch, and was seen as the convergence of the masculine and feminine and defied gender norms. But we have never held one before, and hence none of the editorial team have had any significant hands-on experience with any of the J12 watches.
But we think this list is a good starter list of ceramic cased watches. It is of course, by no means exhaustive or intended to be so. But rather a look at our archives and picking those which fancy us the best. What are your picks for a ceramic cased watch. Or perhaps the other pertinent question might be – would you buy a ceramic cased watch. Why, or why not? Get involved and let us known in the comments section!