Black Watches Get High-Tech Twists
By Roberta Naas
FROM LEFT: This Movado Museum watch ($1,295) is crafted in black PVD-finished stainless steel for both the case and bracelet. It is water-resistant to 30 meters and features a date indication. The minimalist Rado DiaMaster XXL Auto Chrono ($4,700) is crafted in matte black plasma high-tech ceramic via a patented process exclusive to Rado. This Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Phantom watch ($4,200) is crafted in bead-blasted steel with black carbon powder coating. It features a totally black watch dial made readable via a photoluminescent coating specially developed by the brand.
In the ever-changing world of timepieces, the new black is... black. But these are not yesterday’s noir watches. Contemporary watch brands are utilizing new materials and innovative processes to create stealth-inspired timepieces that are far ahead of their time.
It used to be that physical vapor deposition (PVD) was the only method available to coat steel watches with a black finish. Although PVD continues to be the process of choice for many brands, other companies now utilize Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC) to make their steel or titanium watches dark and daring. Essentially, PVD is a metal deposition coating process that utilizes positively charged ions in a vacuum chamber to form a strong bond between the coating materials and the base substance (such as steel or titanium). The DLC process is different and yields a better hardness and scratch resistance factor. DLC coatings are formed when ionized and decomposed carbon or hydrocarbon elements hit the surface of the base metal. To achieve the proper color, sheen, and hardness, DLC film typically consists of a mixture of graphite and diamond.
FROM LEFT: From Piaget, this Polo FortyFive automatic watch ($15,000) features a black ADLC titanium and stainless-steel case. This Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Chronograph Cermet ($18,000) is inspired by the 1959 Memovox Deep Sea model, but features a high-tech reinforced Cermet case.
Meanwhile, some watch brands are developing their own processes. Rado, for instance, has developed plasma high-tech ceramic, which uses a patented plasma carburizing process to make its timepieces black. Exclusive to Rado, the process alters the composition of high-tech ceramic when exposed to gases at 20,000 degrees Celsius, creating a scratch-resistant and shimmering finish. Additionally, some brands are turning to new black materials for their watches. Often those materials, such as ceramic and carbon fiber, are borrowed from the aviation or automotive worlds. Jaeger-LeCoultre goes a step further than ceramic for its newest dive watch, the Deep Sea Chronograph, as it utilizes Cermet—a revolutionary composite borrowed from aviation technology and consisting of ceramic and metal particles and reinforced by a 40-micron thick protective ceramic coating. This reinforced Cermet is more resistant to shocks and pressure than pure ceramic, making it less sensitive to extreme temperatures and scratches.
In this quest for innovation, other brands are making forays into the use of new materials, with those owned by large conglomerates with deep pockets utilizing advanced research and development teams to create new proprietary alloys for their watches or their own processes. These coating processes and materials all yield a sleek look and a sound product.
Photography by Jeff Crawford; styling by terry lewis