The use of ceramic has been one of the biggest trends in watchmaking over the last few years, expanding from a relatively rare and niche material with limited use and color options to a highlighted feature in iconic watch lines by many of the most prestigious Swiss brands. Watch companies are truly excited about ceramic’s use even in dials and bezels, but especially full watch cases, and they expect consumers to see the benefits as well. Why is ceramic so cool? A lot of pretty good reasons, it turns out.
Ceramic is still somewhat exotic and considered a premium alternative to common materials like stainless steel. However, it also has some properties that are particularly appropriate for the purposes of watchmakers and watch wearers. These beneficial properties are threefold: ceramic is lightweight, it’s essentially scratch-proof, and its color never fades. The one major drawback to ceramic is that really hard impacts can, unlike metal, cause it to chip or crack, though this is not a common occurrence. Ceramic also involves some technical challenges in its production, particularly when working with colors other than black and white and when trying to achieve even tones of desired hues.
Ceramic has been in use as a watch case material since the Rado Diastar in 1962. More recently it has begun to replace aluminum as the bezel material of choice even in entry-level luxury watches due to its scratch-resistance. Paired with a sapphire crystal, a ceramic bezel amounts to a more or less scratch-proof watch facade. It further offers the possibility of colored cases (black being most popular) without the problem of showing the underlying metal when scratched, as can occur with metal cases using coatings. While Rado has been making ceramic watches for decades, brands from Omega to Panerai have been pushing ceramic technology forward and releasing full ceramic cases in a range of finishes and even colors. There was even an Apple Watch in ceramic at one point.
As a premium material, ceramic typically commands a higher price than similar watches in steel. It will be interesting to see if future ceramic watches are able to be produced at lower costs, with more color variation, and/or other desirable properties. Below are some of the best ceramic watches you can get today.
Rado DiaMaster Ceramos Thinline Automatic
You can’t talk about ceramic watches without bringing up Rado, as they’ve been making them since 1962. Having pioneered ceramic as a watchmaking material, the brand still quietly offers some of the most affordable options for completely ceramic-cased watches, and offers a wide range of them at prices starting around $1,700. Rado’s designs can be polarizing but the DiaMaster Ceramos Thinline is classical and safe. To achieve this gold-like color the ceramic case is 10% made from a metal alloy, and Rado believes this is a big part of the material’s future. Weighing only 58g and 8.3mm thick, this is a good way to experience ceramic’s lightness and texture.
Movement: Swiss Automatic ETA A31.L01 (based on 2892-A2)
Bell & Ross BR03-92 MA-1
Bell & Ross has a sub-collection featuring ceramic cases within its iconic BR03-92 family of square-cased, aviation instrument-themed watches. This particular “khaki” model has a matte finish with orange highlights on the dial meant to accompany the classic colors of the MA-1 military bomber jacket — but there are more options in black ceramic (and one in white). With Swiss automatic movements inside, Bell & Ross watches are priced firmly in luxury territory but still toward the lower end of ceramic-cased watches.
Movement: Swiss automatic Sellita SW300-1
Chanel J12 Automatic
In white, the J12 is one of the most iconic women’s watches, and it has been representing ceramic in watchmaking long before the modern trend took off. In black ceramic, however, it takes on a distinctly more masculine appeal. Make no mistake that Chanel is flexing here not only in its material use but with the Swiss-made movement inside by Geneva-based Kenissi that offers a 70-hour power reserve. The J12 might be elegant, but it is also ostensibly designed as a sport watch, with 200m of water resistance and a dive-style timing bezel, and it comes on a fully ceramic bracelet.
Movement: Chanel Caliber 12.1 automatic
Panerai Radiomir Ceramica PAM00643
Typically conservative, Panerai‘s not the first brand you would expect to dabble in something like ceramic, but the Italian company also has an experimental side. There have been more and more Panerai models in carbon, ceramic or other exotic materials lately, and this Radiomir Ceramica features a 45mm cushion-shaped case with a waffle-style “hobnail” dial and the brand’s famous luminescent hands and indices.
Movement: Hand-wound ETA 6497-1 base
IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Edition “Mojave Desert”
A lot of ceramic watches you see are white or black, sometimes gray, and rarely, something else like blue. That’s why, among other watches released in more common ceramic colors, it’s cool for IWC to also mix it up a bit with this sandy-colored version of their Chronograph Top Gun. Released for SIHH 2019, it also includes the IWC in-house 69380 automatic chronograph movement. Its 44.5mm case is water-resistant to 60m and it’s limited to 500 pieces for this specific Mojave Desert version.
Movement: IWC in-house 69380 automatic chronograph
Colorful cases are an area of ceramics that is still developing, but if done well with the right shade and finish, the possibilities are intriguing. The 45.5mm blue case of the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean here is further emphasized by sporty contrasting orange highlights. With its usual 600m water-resistance and helium escape valve at 10 o’clock, the Planet Ocean is powered by Omega’s own 8906 movement, offering a GMT function and 60 hours of power reserve.
Movement: Omega Master Chronometer calibre 8906
Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback Ocean Commitment
With the exceptional Blancpain in-house F385 movement inside, the fact that the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback is available in blue ceramic is icing on the cake. A classic dive watch with 300m of water resistance, Blancpain offers a high level of finishing and horology, with a flyback function for the chronograph, the enthusiast-approved column wheel feature, a 50-hour power reserve, and the unusually high operating frequency of 5Hz. This version is offered in blue ceramic with a somber gray dial to highlight ocean conservation efforts.
Movement: Blancpain Caliber F385 automatic flyback