Color explosion

Rainbow Effect

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Practically limitless, the spectrum of colors currently available in fine watchmaking, whether in dials, cases or bracelets, is a trend that promises to last. Discover what’s behind this explosion of watchmaking colors.

A real color explosion. In this way, we can define the latest trend in the world of watchmaking. A trend that had been taking shape in recent years, but which, in 2022, reached, in a way, its apogee. In fact, most watch brands presented, among this year’s novelties, a strong focus on strong and unusual colors in this sector.

To better understand what is at the base (and what made it possible) of this colorful explosion, we have to go back several years and realize that the evolution of materials, the specific needs of certain professions or hobbies and the fashion trends themselves are inseparable factors from the now strong use of colors.

The watch dial was the first component to “allow” imagination in terms of color. Here, we can consider white as a kind of standard color, not only because of tradition but, originally, because of the availability of materials. Going back to the early days of watchmaking and looking at the first models with a dial as we would recognize it today, these were mostly white enamel with black painted numerals. The first pocket watches were visually very similar. And while carved and enameled dials became popular in the 19th century, the range of colors generally didn’t extend very far. Some were decorated with floral motifs or figurative and pastoral scenes, but white remained the main or background color of the dial.

The 1970s were the first truly colorful era for some watch brands, with many offering certain models in a variety of dial colours. Some had a practical reason for bolder colors, such as the orange often used to increase readability in diver’s watches. In recent years, some dial colors have become the trend, with virtually all watch brands having at least one reference in these tones. It’s the case of blue and green. This year, although blue and green dials continue to be a trend, the truth is that the sky is, in fact, the limit, with different shades, more pastel or strong, taking the stage for timekeeping.

The Ceramics Potential

For centuries, watchmakers have exclusively used precious metals like gold, silver and platinum to build the watch case. This use was due to the fact that these precious metals were the ones that were available and was also a reflection of the original ties between the watchmaking and jewelery industries. But in the 20th century, as watchmaking became an autonomous art form and other industries such as medical, aerospace and automotive began to develop, new materials became more common and watchmakers quickly wanted to experiment with them. One material in particular gained prominence in the 1930s: stainless steel, which soon became the material of choice in the production of cases, due to its lightness and resistance to corrosion.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st century, case materials continued to evolve faster than ever before. In the 1970s, watchmakers started using titanium and, in more recent years, bronze and, of course, ceramic, an incredibly light and scratch-resistant material capable of being produced in a wide range of color options.

Although the widespread use of ceramics for cases and bracelets is relatively recent, the truth is that this material has attracted the interest of watch brands since the 1960s. In fact, the history of ceramics in watchmaking begins with the Rado DiaStar from 1962. Later it was Omega’s turn, which, between 1973 and 1982, developed a proprietary form of cermet, a generic term for a material that combines ceramic and metal, which it used in the Seamaster Cermet case.

And if ceramic was a relatively passing interest for some brands, there was a manufacturer that decided to bet heavily on this material. We’re talking about IWC that, in 1986, presented the Da Vinci Kurt Klaus Perpetual Calendar in an innovative black or white zirconium oxide case, the predecessor of the cases used in most modern ceramic watches. Produced until 1995, this iconic model reinforced IWC’s determination to explore ceramic cases even further, introducing ceramics to an upscale audience.

But it was in the 21st century that ceramics asserted itself in all its fullness in watchmaking. Just as the millennium opened, Chanel surprised by presenting the J12 with an all-black ceramic case, followed by the white version and several other declinations to this day. In 2005, Rolex introduced the first ceramic bezel available on the market with the GMT-Master II, and 8 years later, it ventured into colored ceramic by launching the GMT-Master II ‘Batman’ with a blue and black ceramic bezel.

Also in 2013, Omega again focused on ceramics with the Speedmaster “Dark Side of the Moon”, which stood out for including a ceramic crown, buttons and bracelet clasp, a novelty and a huge achievement due to the difficulty in working ceramics in such small sizes. IWC continued the path it had started in 1986, introducing numerous models with ceramic cases, the most recent being the Pilot TOP GUN Woodland Edition and Lake Tahoe Edition.

Today, virtually all fine watchmaking brands have references in ceramic (some with case and bracelet in this material, as is the case of Hublot or Bulgari) and the evolution of the use of this material has brought a series of chromatic declinations in this material.

 

Other colored materials

In addition to ceramic, used in different shades in cases, rings and bracelets, there are other materials that contribute to the explosion of colors in watchmaking. One of them, widely used in recent years by several brands, especially Hublot, is sapphire.

The evolution in the use of this material in the sector has never stopped since it started in the 70s, initially for the glass that protects the dial. It did not take long for sapphire to be used in the construction of the case and, in 1980, the first watch with a case entirely made of this material appeared, the Corum Golden Bridge. Currently, many brands are experimenting with sapphire glass cases, not only transparent, but also in different colors.

As far as bracelets go, leather straps have dominated the market since they were adopted around 1899 during the Boer war. At a time when pocket watches were the men’s trend, soldiers felt the need to strap their watches to their wrists. Today, this type of bracelet remains among the most popular due to its comfort and variety, being available in different types of leather, colors and contrasting stitching tones.

And we couldn’t talk about bracelets without mentioning the rubber ones. Now available in a variety of shapes and colors, this type of straps began to be used in the 1950s. IWC, Blancpain and Rolex are some of the brands that first made their debut in the use of rubber bracelets. However, it was not until the 1970s that straps made of this material became more common, largely due to its use in sport and diving watches. Available in a wide variety of colors, these bracelets have increased the palette of possible shades.

Last but not least, we cannot forget the role of gemstones in this explosion of color. Pink, green, blue, orange, yellow sapphires, rubies, emeralds, tsavorites, etc. There are many gemstones that adorn cases, handles, lugs, clasps and even bracelets and that contribute to giving a touch of color and a lot of glamor to watchmaking pieces.

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