The engineering ceramic used to manufacture watches of today is made of zirconium oxide, a nonmetallic inorganic powder that is treated with high temperatures to form a solid material. The watch lover’s community appreciates ceramic watches as they are innovative, scratch-resistant, relatively light, and skin friendly as well.
Keep in mind that it takes effort to manufacture ceramic watches, and their price is a bit salty for the masses. Luxury watch brands like Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Girard-Perregaux, and of course Rado with IWC Schaffhausen, all have improved the technology with the passing of time and introduced their own ceramic watches. Except to find ceramic watches, or at least components of it being used by watch brands of the same caliber.
Who invented the first ceramic watches?
In a time period between the 70s to 90s, the high-tech material was first introduced to the watchmaking industry by Rado, Omega, Seiko, and a genuine model was later invented by IWC Schaffhausen. At the time, this groundbreaking concept pushed once again the boundaries of materials being used in watchmaking, courtesy of high-end chemistry. In terms of durability, ceramic watches are more durable than any conventional metal like steel or titanium.
Early beginnings of ceramic watches
1962 – Rado DiaStar
Humble but significant attempts for the first genuine ceramic watch were made by watch brands from both: Swiss and Japanese watchmaking industry. Rado is the world’s first watch brand that is attributed to the leverage of ceramic components in watches. In 1962, Rado released their unusual Rado DiaStar model. A tonneau shaped watch with a Swiss self-winding movement.
The watch was water resistant up to 200 meters and you could get yours for a mere 200 dollars. The case was made of tungsten carbide and it was marketed as the world’s first scratchproof watch.
To this day, there is general confusion among watch experts about Rado DiaStar being known as the world’s first ceramic watch. Considering that the material used today in high-tech ceramic watches is zirconium dioxide and not tungsten carbide. However, according to the American Ceramic Society, tungsten carbide is a form of ceramic, and I believe this is enough for a Rado lover to rest in peace.
1975 – Seiko Tuna 6159-7010
Seiko, the giant Japanese watch manufacturer, also tried to develop a ceramic component for their watches. In 1975, Seiko introduced to the watch marketplace their Seiko “Tuna” ref. 6159-7010. A diver’s watch that took 7 years to be developed.
The watch offered 600 meters of water resistance and was a genuine professional diver watch. The large circular titanium case was coated with ceramic to make the surface of the metal resistant to abrasion.
Designed for the front line of exploration, Seiko Tuna ref. 6159-7010 can be found to this day online for sale, with little to no signs of wear, even though approx. 50 years have passed.
1982- Omega Seamaster Cermet ‘Black Tulip’
Ten years of research and experiments sadly culminated in a relatively short period of the production run between 1981 to 1982. Also known as Black Tulip, Omega Seamaster Cermet can be considered as one of the world’s first watches with ceramic a case. The watch featured a minimalist design, in a black case and bracelet, which were made of unique materials.
The case introduced a new material to the watchmaking industry, cermet – a heat resistant material made of ceramic and sintered metals.
The Black Tulip case was made by polymerizing tungsten carbide with aluminum oxide. The bracelet was more sensitive and tiles of cermet attached to a steel skeleton were used. Further features include a quartz movement from Omega with calibre 1380 and a high scale of scratch resistance.
1986 – IWC Da Vinci ref. 3755
It is worth to be mentioned that the watches mentioned so far have done exceptional work to escape from the default metal cases and introduce something new to the world of watches. Seiko, Omega, and Rado are known for helping in the development of ceramic cases and much more. However, the last word belongs to IWC.
During the time when Quartz Crisis or Quartz Revolution was at its peak, and many watch brands decided to switch to battery-operated movements, IWC decided to not only stick with mechanical movements but also further develop them.
IWC Da Vinci ref. 3755 introduced in 1986 was an automatic chronograph wristwatch with a perpetual calendar and a moonphase display as well. The uniqueness relies on the functionality of the movement. The watch can be operated using the crown, an unheard-of achievement. The case is made of zirconium oxide, the predecessor material used in the majority of modern ceramic watches.
1990 – Rado Ceramica
It is thanks to Rado we can today enjoy ceramic watches adorning our wrists. They were the initiators of ceramic as a concept being used as a watch component. Even though, IWC managed to successfully complete the exploration with a way more durable and sustainable ceramic component, Rado didn’t stop their diligent research work.
In 1990, the Swiss watch manufacturer released Rado Ceramica – a worthy descendant of Rado DiaStar. The iconic square watch came with a case and bracelet made of high-tech black ceramic.
This time, the bracelet was made of entirely ceramic bricks and it was not supported with a steel skeleton. Seen from a 90s perspective, Ceramica featured a minimalist yet futuristic design that helped Rado shape their brand’s uniqueness for which they are known to this day.
Ceramic Watches after 2000
While many watch brands saw the power of ceramic when used right, they started incorporating the high-tech material on their finest models. Omega, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Hublot, and Panerai are only some of the luxury watch brands boosting ceramic mania. As mentioned several times throughout this article, coming up with watches made of ceramic components is quite difficult and time-consuming. Therefore, except to find ceramic only on above the average to hyper luxury watches. If you are really taking into consideration the idea of purchasing a genuine ceramic watch, we want to let you know that the price range varies from $1000 for a pre-owned Rado True Colours up to $750.000 for a pre-owned Richard Mille White Ghost.
2005 – Rolex GMT-Master II (Cerachrom)
With a deep color, beautiful sheen, and high fade & scratch resistant properties, Rolex GMT-Master II soon became an icon watch. It was first introduced to the world in April 2005. The Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II in 18 ct yellow gold featured a bidirectional rotatable bezel and a 24-hour graduated insert in black ceramic. The technology was unique to Rolex, and the Swiss Mansion registered the trademark later in 2007 as Cerachrom when the Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master II featured a blue ceramic bezel.
2014 – Omega Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon
In 2014, Omega came with a Speedmaster entirely in black. The Dark Side of the Moon was made of zirconium dioxide ceramic and earned its place in the history of ceramic watches by featuring the main components of the watch made entirely of ceramic. Including here the dial, buckle, crown, and pushers. The all-black Omega Speedmaster is crafted entirely by a single block of ceramic – an added success in Omega’s recent history.
2017 – Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar
Different from Rolex’s Cerachrom bezel or Omega’s partial components made of ceramic, the AP Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar featured an all-ceramic application. The watch was released in 2017 at that year’s S.I.H.H. Fair and ceramic was not limited to a few components. The high-tech material was applied to an entire case and bracelet – a groundbreaking achievement remaining to this day challenging to accomplish. The all-black all-ceramic Royal Oak has a retail price of $93.900 and its resale value has gone up 20%, said Chadi Nouri Gruber, the company’s product director.
Are ceramic watches worth the hype?
Ceramic watches have their pros and cons. While the high-tech ceramic material adds to the durability and scratch-resistance of the watch, it also includes a long and expensive process that adds to the price tag. However, ceramic watches are not just scratch-resistant but also lightweight and hypoallergenic. Overall, a ceramic watch will retain its properties for decades and look as new as the day you first bought it even after a century. Its lasting design, which also proves to be reliable, makes ceramic watches an everlasting option that goes beyond aesthetics.