When it comes to watches, stainless steel is certainly the most common case material. The material’s mechanical qualities and affordability make it an ideal choice for timepieces. Those looking for something more exclusive or prestigious tend to opt for precious metals and alloys such as rose gold, white gold, or platinum. Bronze is the material of choice for trendy vintage-style diving watches, and brands with particularly eccentric design elements often turn to ceramic or composite materials like carbon.
Most watch enthusiasts have heard of these materials. Occasionally, you’ll also come across tinted ceramic or wood watches, but there are even more unusual case materials out there: metal harvested from shipwrecks, denim, or even cheese! It sounds crazy – and to some degree, it is. Here are some of the craziest watch materials we’ve ever heard of.
A denim watch? Denim would certainly make an interesting watch strap material, but Hublot didn’t stop there – of course, Hublot wouldn’t be Hublot if it didn’t push some boundaries. The Hublot Big Bang Jeans features both a denim strap and dial! This watch isn’t for those who are hypersensitive about the idea of fuzz getting in their watch case. If you’re looking for an atypical watch that stands out, however, it may be just the thing for you.
Graphene: Richard Mille
It’s difficult to ignore Richard Mille timepieces. This brand is a favorite among famous athletes and actors alike. Moreover, Richard Mille is a prominent motorsport sponsor and has impressive boutiques around the world. When it comes to namedropping luxury brands in contemporary music, Richard Mille is up there with the likes of Patek Philippe, Rolex, and Audemars Piguet. It comes as no surprise that Richard Mille has moved away from offering standard stainless steel cases.
Researchers at the University of Manchester won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for their work with the material graphene. Whenever new high-tech materials are developed, it’s only a matter of time before they make their way to the world of watches. Richard Mille didn’t waste any time: Together with McLaren Applied Technologies, material specialist North Thin Ply Technology, and the University of Manchester, Richard Mille released the first timepiece made of high-tech graphene: The RM50-03 McLaren F1. The addition of graphene to composite materials significantly increases their rigidity. You can find the innovative material in this watch’s bezel and case, resulting in a 40-gram split-seconds chronograph with a tourbillon.
Titanic Metal: RJ
When it comes to crazy watch designs, RJ (formerly Romain Jerome) certainly deserves a top spot on the list. Their timepieces have featured a host of curious characters, including Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Hello Kitty, and Space Invaders. Since 2018, however, the brand has also earned a reputation for their unusual material selection. The Steampunk collection includes a watch with a bezel partially made of metal taken from the Titanic shipwreck.
The bezel is artificially aged to give the watch an authentic steampunk look, and the dial features a stylized ship propeller. Some find it tasteless or kitschy, but it is, without a doubt, unique.
Tungsten Carbide: Certina and Rado
Scratch-resistant cases and sapphire watch glass are no longer rarities in the watch world, but that wasn’t always the case. In the 1970s, Certina and Rado released the innovative Diamaster. This watch was available as an automatic, quartz, or tuning fork watch, and its dial featured the logos of both brands.
Every model featured a tungsten carbide case, which was made using a special sintering process. This involved putting powdered base materials under intense pressure at extremely high temperatures, essentially “baking” them into a solid material. Tungsten carbide is very hard and scratch-resistant. If you’re involved in the construction business, you’ve likely come across this material before; it’s often found in drilling and milling machines.
During his 1976 trip to Munich, Muhammad Ali was gifted a Diamaster to showcase the watch’s extreme durability.
Cheese: H. Moser & Cie.
Moser & Cie. is a historical brand that was revived in later years. Strictly speaking, this brand can make no direct links to its horological past. Nonetheless, they’ve still managed – with serious financial support – to reach an impressive level of in-house manufacturing and build an outstanding reputation in the world of haute horologerie.
Moser has made headlines with watches such as the Perpetual Moon Concept, which features a dial made of deep black “Vantablack.” Moser can also count highly-complex minute repeaters and tourbillons to their repertoire.
Moreover, the brand is known for provocative releases like the “Swiss Icons Watch” from 2018. This timepiece very obviously mixes typical design elements from a number of Swiss watch brands and caused a ripple across the industry.
The release of the one-off Swiss Mad Watch in 2017 went a bit more smoothly. This watch was designed in protest of the flawed “Swiss Made” label, which is given to watches that feature far less than 100% Swiss-made parts. Its case is made of the composite material itr2 and Swiss cheese. The Vacherin Mont-d’Or cheese is certainly the most absurd case material on this list.
The Swiss Mad Watch was sold at auction by Christie’s. All proceeds were donated to the Fondation pour la culture horlogère Suisse.
Steel? Rolex, Damasko, Sinn, and More
We promised to feature unusual materials in this list, so why are we talking about steel? Steel is actually just a composite material comprised of iron and varying amounts of carbon. The most common alloy used in watches is 316L – often called surgical steel – but there are countless other varieties available. To round out this list, we wanted to feature variations of a material that some may unjustly consider “boring.”
Examples from the Watch World
- Rolex uses 904L steel for their cases. This alloy is more corrosion-resistant that 316L and enables a finer surface finish. It is also more difficult to work with, but that doesn’t pose a problem for Rolex with their high level of in-house production capabilities.
- Damasko features almost exclusively models with cases made of martensitic steel. This material is notably more sturdy than unhardened steel alloys. Damasko watches don’t just feature a hardened surface coating, however, the entire case is made of hardened steel.
- The Sinn U1 is a diving watch made of submarine steel, which is completely antimagnetic and corrosion-resistant. While the former characteristic is more important for submarines (it makes them undetectable), the latter is useful for watches, especially if your watch comes into regular contact with saltwater. Manufacturers often advise rinsing stainless steel diving watches after they’ve been in the ocean, however, that’s not necessary with the U1.