Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Aquatimer diver’s watches, IWC Schaffhausen releases a special edition of the Aquatimer crafted in Ceratanium. A portmanteau of ceramic and titanium, Ceratanium was conceived with one objective in mind and that was to bring together the best attributes of both materials—the scratch resistance of ceramic and the lightweight and the strength of titanium.
IWC has resolute faith in Ceratanium and its head of materials development Dr Lorenz Brunner tells us why.
What inspired IWC to come up with Ceratanium?
Most watch manufacturers use PVD coating for their black cases. In this process, metal is placed in a vacuum chamber and given an ultra-thin DLC (diamond-like carbon) coating. But this type of coating is a little like the shell of an egg: it can chip or flake off if the watch is hit or bumped. That doesn’t meet our high-quality standards.
Our brief at the start of the five-year development process was to create a black or very dark material suitable for making a completely black watch. The new material would not only have outstanding properties but also give us more freedom during manufacture than ceramic.
What are the drawbacks of ceramic?
Ceramic is a powdery raw material that is mixed to create a homogeneous mass, shaped and then sintered in an oven at extremely high temperatures. During the sintering process, the material shrinks by around a third.
Apart from that, it isn’t possible to machine ceramic using conventional processes. For example, you can’t drill holes in it after sintering because it might split.
How is Ceratanium made?
Ceratanium is based on a titanium alloy produced specially for IWC. We make all the case components from this metal, milling, turning, drilling and polishing them until they’ve reached their final shape. Only then do the parts go into the oven.
The special composition of the titanium alloy initiates a diffusion process and the surface of the material is transformed into ceramic.
After sintering, the surface has the same properties as ceramic. It’s extremely hard and scratch resistant and takes on its distinct colour. But the thing is it isn’t a coating. During the sintering process, a “phase transformation” takes place.
As a result of this change in the structure, the ceramic surface bonds directly with the material. It’s a bit like a loaf of bread: during baking, bread develops a crust that is difficult to remove afterwards.
Any plan to apply Ceratanium onto other watches?
With the Aquatimer Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month Edition “50 Years Aquatimer”, we’ve shown that we can make all the case components—the clasp, rotating bezel and caseback ring—from the new material. Now we need to wait and see how watch lovers react to it.
But I assume we’ll be using Ceratanium in the future for other models. It’s suitable for any application where we need lightness, ruggedness, corrosion resistance, hardness and a striking black colour.