While once considered a minor trend in watchmaking, the ceramic watch is no longer just a fad. Non-metallic cases are part of an evolution, and the cold, hard truth is that ceramic materials have become permanent fixtures in the horological world.
Sure, watch cases made out of ceramic materials have been around since the 1960s, but this year—just as last…and the year before—a bevy of new models from the likes of Omega, Zenith, and Hublot have joined the throng.
When Rado popped off the first ceramic watch in 1962, consumers were skeptical and demand was uninspired, but nigh on 50 years later, the watch-buying masses have fully bought in on ceramic.
It’s a good alternative to steel or gold, according to Damian Otwinowski, vice president of Watches of Switzerland USA. “Ceramic is scratch-resistant and adds a flare to the look of a watch, Otwinowski says. “It reflects light better than steel, and won’t lose its color due to sun exposure, so discoloration isn’t an issue.”
Along with being nearly impossible to scratch, ceramics don’t dent, are incredibly hard, and much lighter than steel. But that inflexibility comes at a price: There’s no give in the material, so serious impacts can crack or shatter the case, which would result in an expensive repair bill. Thankfully, those sorts of catastrophes seem few and far between.
While Rado was the first brand to produce a watch with a ceramic case, followed quickly by Omega, IWC mainstreamed their use in the 80s and 90s with desirable models. At the turn of the millennia, Chanel was the first brand to offer a watch with both a ceramic case and ceramic bracelet. A decade later, Omega’s ‘Side of the Moon’ line of Speedmasters has helped popularize the somewhat space-age material.
In 2021, consumers’ demand for ceramic watches is driving a more permanent shift. “I do think it’s an aesthetic preference more than anything else,” Otwinowski, says. “It’s quirky, smooth, and creates a very sleek yet sophisticated look.”
For those ready to add a ceramic watch to their collection or just make one part of their everyday carry, here are five of our favorites right now.
1. Hublot Big Bang Integral
Hublot makes quite a few pieces featuring ceramic cases, but the Big Bang Integral boasts a fully integrated ceramic bracelet with both polished- and satin-finished links, creating a stunning package. A matte-gray skeleton dial showcases the beauty of the self-winding, column-wheel, flyback-chronograph Unico 2 movement. It’s a bit of blue wrist candy sure to elicit envy with every glance.
2. Omega Seamaster 300M Black Black
This Seamaster is what the kids nowadays call “murdered out.” The case, dial, bezel, buckle, crown, and helium escape valve are all made from black zirconium oxide ceramic. Even the hands are black. The indexes utilize Super-LumiNova—an inky-black pigment—so this is as dark as Omega can make it.
3. Rado True Automatic
This is an excellent, somewhat affordable option for watch buyers who want the scratch-resistance and lighter weight of ceramic but still dig the look of steel. The classic aesthetic is versatile and transitions well from work to play. It flies under the radar for those who don’t want to attract unnecessary attention.
4. Zenith Defy 21 Felipe Pantone Edition
Watching the 1/100th of a second chronograph function on the Zenith Defy 21 in motion is wildly hypnotic, even in the less-stark colorways. But with this collaboration between the Swiss watchmaker and Argentinian-Spanish artist Felipe Pantone, it’s going to be even harder to draw your eyes away. The artist says his work is a “meditation on the ways we consume visual information.” The wearer reads the time using Rainbow indexes and lightning bolt hands while colorfully coated pieces of the movement, which show through the skeletonize dial, contrast the deep-black ceramic case.
5. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar
This is what fans of the brand might call a “heavy hitter.” But in white ceramic, it’s much lighter both literally and figuratively. Of course the material weighs less than steel or gold, but the ceramic construction also lends a playfulness to the rather classic Royal Oak design and the intensity of a perpetual calendar complication.