As good an indication as any that the watch world’s most scratch-resistant, on-trend case material is now hitting the mainstream — big-time.
It’d be disingenuous to proclaim that ceramic is an ‘up and coming’ innovation in the field of mechanical watchmaking. To be clear: ceramic watches have been around, in a big way, at least since the 1980s — when IWC introduced a perpetual calendar made in that notoriously scratch-resistant material as part of its longstanding Da Vinci collection. And yet, in my painfully trite and non-representative personal experience, there has indeed been an uptick in the number of ceramic releases in the watch world: ranging from Gucci’s unisex fashion accessories all the way up to the usual supercar-inspired suspects à la Richard Mille and Roger Dubuis.
At the halfway mark of 2021, Tudor has now given us a ceramicised take on its best-selling Black Bay — a watch poised to launch the brand into a whole ‘nother segment of the market. (Namely, hip young things whose watch-purchasing habits are influenced by decidedly 21st-century notions about aesthetics and brand equity.)
Beyond stealthy good looks and social cachet — Rolex connection aside, remember Tudor is now a brand popularly associated with ambassadors, official and otherwise, the likes of Lady Gaga and John Mayer — a lot of what makes the Black Bay Ceramic so desirable hinges on its value proposition. To recap: that’s a 41mm dive watch in black ceramic, reinforced with torsional components in stainless steel; an unusual relief-decorated version of Tudor’s MT5602 movement; and even the same chronometer certification that’s long been touted as the sole province of Rolex’s number one adversary — Omega.
But ceramic’s ‘second coming’ as it were (wherein the material’s usage is streamlined, scaled-up and made more commonplace within the watch industry) owes a huge debt to the upper echelons of haute horlogerie. More precisely, Audemars Piguet. The Le Brassus watchmaker’s first foray into ceramic began with the Offshore models of the early 2010s. Fast forward a decade, and AP have turned the material into a house specialty: distinctive and beloved by many in the global #WatchFam; horology’s answer to Carbone’s spicy vodka rigatoni.
Many other brands have tried, either by a process of deconstruction or imitation, to capture ceramic’s broadly indefinable appeal; but only at AP, has the material been shaped, machined, and finished with such obsessive attention to detail. That in turn has helped to spark the curiosity of a new generation of consumers, many of whom may start down the path of collecting materially innovative watches because they’re aware of what can be achieved when ceramic is utilised to its fullest potential. For the wider watch industry the knock-on effect too is largely positive, giving brands the proof they need to seriously invest in ceramic manufacturing competencies, until they too can work zirconium oxide with the fluidity of stainless steel.
That gradual ascent in appreciation for ceramic watches isn’t simply confined to the world of retail either. As part of Phillips’ upcoming Hong Kong Watch Auction: XII, we’re seeing over a dozen timepieces made from ceramic (either partially or whole) come up for sale in the secondary market. These tap the ‘trend’ that’s beginning to hit the mainstream for blacked-out watchs made using innovative materials. But more importantly, many also offer the possibility of genuinely competitive acquisitions: a ceramic J12, complete with matching bracelet and paperwork from the original point of sale is being offered with no reserve; while an (extremely complete) example of IWC’s characteristic ‘Top Gun’ split-second chronograph, circa 2008. Frankly, even if this whole ceramic thing turns out to be blip, such offers remain on the cutting edge of value.
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