The use of ceramic has been one of the biggest trends in watchmaking in recent 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's 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.
If you want a ceramic watch, you're typically talking about luxury prices with a significant premium over stainless steel steel. Swatch's new Bioceramic, however, kind of blows that notion out of the water. Specifically, Bioceramic is the brand's own concoction of a third bio-sourced plastic and two thirds ceramic. And somehow, they've found a way to offer it in stocking-stuffer-priced packages like this nicely designed quartz watch.
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 continues to innovate — as well as quietly offering some of the most affordable options for completely ceramic-cased watches. 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: ETA A31.L01 automatic
Bell & Ross has a sub-collection featuring ceramic cases within its iconic BR03-92 family of square-cased, aviation instrument-themed watches. This particular model has a black matte finish with an army-green dial — but there are more options in other colors of ceramic within the brand's catalog. 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: Sellita SW300-1 automatic
In white, the J12 is one of the most iconic women’s watches of all time, and it's been representing ceramic in watchmaking since 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
Though often conservative design-wise, Panerai has an experimental side that's seen it dabble in a range of high-tech materials. There have been more and more models from the Italian brand using its own proprietary materials such as "Carbotech" "BMG Tech" and "Ceramica." This Luminor GMT features a black, 44mm cushion-shaped ceramic case, a GMT function and an in-house movement with, yes, 10 days of power reserve.
Movement: Panerai P.2003 automatic
A lot of ceramic watches you see are white or black (sometimes gray) because those are the easiest colors to work with. Increasingly, you'll something else like blue, but that’s why it’s cool for IWC to mix it up a bit with this sandy-colored version of their Big Pilot's Watch. It's actually been a treatment given to several IWC watches in the last couple of years, but this one offers a unique take on the brand's classic 46mm aviator's watch.
Movement: IWC 52110 automatic
Omega's Seamaster Diver 300M is a winner on its own, but a black ceramic case takes its cool factor to another level. Ceramic will feel silky smooth and light on the wrist, but the watch is as capable as its stainless steel siblings, offering 300m of water resistance and even a helium escape valve for saturation diving. It's powered by the excellent, METAS-certified 8806 automatic movement which can be admired through a display caseback.
Movement: Omega Co-Axial Master Chronometer 8806 automatic
With the exceptional Blancpain in-house F385 movement inside, the fact that the Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Chronographe Flyback is available in gray 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 gray ceramic with a striking and on-trend green dial.
Movement: Blancpain Caliber F385 automatic flyback