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History, Pros and Cons of Ceramic Watches

February 10, 2023 6 min read

History, Pros and Cons of Ceramic Watches

Now, how can one not fall in love with the horological world when there are so many things to discover and learn about? Take today’s featured topic, for example. The usual misconception is that ceramic watches are somewhat a novelty and a thus a rare find.

However, scratch the surface, something that would otherwise be a futile attempt when actual ceramic watches are in question, and you’ll learn the first surprising thing: the pioneer ceramic watch dates back probably longer than you anticipated. If that invokes your curiosity, hop on this discovery adventure dedicated to unveiling the interesting facts about ceramic watches.

You’ll learn about when it all started and how things changed along the years, pluses and minuses related to production and use, and find out all about the iconic ceramic watch models.


A brief history of ceramic watches

It comes nearly as a shock that ceramic watches go back to the mid-20th century. A pioneer watch that made use of ceramic components is Rado DiaStar. It entered the horology market in 1962. However, there may still be some watchmaking historians disputing that title because the DiaStar case was made of tungsten carbide, which is considerably different from zirconium dioxide, zirconium oxide, and yttrium - materials from the ceramic family that have been more frequently used in making ceramic watches today.

1960 Rado advertised DiaStar as the first scratch-proof watch in world history

1962 Rado advertised DiaStar as the first scratch-proof watch in world history.

Such ceramic material type differences are common with ceramic watches, which is another interesting fact in their history. Companies have invested a lot in creating the best possible ceramic compound that utilizes the best features of ceramics and minimizes its downsides. There’ll be a special paragraph later dedicated solely to the pros and cons of ceramic. 

It took several decades for ceramic to feel at home in watchmaking. The mid-1980s were when ceramic became increasingly attractive to several other watchmakers. The reason behind that is the previous search for the best possible compound and the advanced technology required to produce ceramic watches in general. Luckily, Seiko, Omega, IWC, Audemars Piguet, and Rado, among others, thought it was worthwhile to keep the ceramic flame alive.

Thanks to technological advancements, ceramic watches have become a standard offer for many renowned watchmakers nowadays. Of course, innovations in implementing ceramic and ideas on improving its features have continued; only now is it much easier to put it all to practice.


Pros and cons of ceramic watches

As with anything else in the world, ceramic watches are not perfect. They have pros and cons; luckily, the former have the upper hand.


- Pros of ceramic watches

There are three utmost positive features of ceramic watches:

  • They are virtually scratch-proof. Ceramic is three to four times more scratch resistant than stainless steel. 
  • Ceramic is much lighter than stainless steel, practically in line with aluminum. Combined, those two features make ceramic highly appealing, particularly to those who wear their watches for prolonged periods. 
  • The third positive feature creates a whole new opportunity for a number of watch lovers. Ceramic is a hypoallergenic material. That makes ceramic watches suitable for those with any metal, plastic, or rubber allergies. 


- Cons of ceramic watches

Three negative features stand out with ceramic watches:

  • Although entirely scratch-resistant, ceramic is also a brittle material. When dropped from a height on a hard surface, there is a high chance the ceramic parts of the watch will crack or even shatter. 
  • The production process of ceramic watches is much more complex than stainless steel, plastic, or rubber watches. Thus there are so few ceramic watches manufacturers compared to other materials.  
  • Due to the production complexity of several stages and activities, ceramic watches are much more expensive than their stainless steel, plastic, and rubber alternatives.

Now, let's mention some of the iconic ceramic watches.


Rado DiaStar 1

First-time use of ceramic for case and bezel, sapphire crystal, unusual shape, small size, but hefty weight, that's a brief, one-sentence description of Rado DiaStar1. All that in 1962, when the technology in use was but a fraction of what's available now.

Tungsten carbide, the pioneer ceramic watch is given to Rado DiaStar 1

Tungsten carbide is listed as a ceramic material, so the unofficial title of the pioneer ceramic watch is given to Rado DiaStar 1.

How revolutionary that was at the time is better understood when you know that the next ceramic watch came out in the mid-70s - Seiko Tuna 6159-7010 diver watch. But, unfortunately, it was in production only for a couple of years.

Seiko 6159-7010 Grandfather Tuna had a ceramic-coated titanium shroud

Seiko 6159-7010 "Grandfather" Tuna had a ceramic-coated titanium shroud.

On the other hand, DiaStar 1 was not a one-hit-wonder. On the contrary, Rado continued to build on it, improving and refreshing it. As a result, the DiaStar collection has been in continual production, with numerous iterations and special and limited editions for the last 60 years.


IWC's Da Vinci Perpetual Ceramic Gold Ref. IW3755-02

Insisting on a mechanical movement in the age of Quartz uprise and domination was a bold move. Investing in revolutionizing it was beyond hazardous. Still, there's no revolution without taking risks.

This rare IWC Da Vinci Perpetual has a case of yellow gold and ceramic

This rare IWC Da Vinci Perpetual has a case of yellow gold and ceramic.

The result was a groundbreaking perpetual calendar movement. Such an original movement invoked an equally stunning case. And IWC's choice was a black ceramic case with a touch of 18k yellow gold.

That's how this breathtaking beauty came to life. And, just like its movement foretold, it stood the test of time. IWC manufactured Da Vinci ref. 3755 from 1986-1995, and it remains among the most sought-after watches IWC has ever produced.


Rado Ceramica

Black, index free, having a rectangular case and a bracelet of identical width, Rado Ceramica was a true novelty when it came out in 1990. In addition, it was one of the first watches to feature a fully ceramic case, bracelet, and crown. Another pioneering move by Rado that resulted in success and recognition.

Rado Ceramica collection was redesigned at 2016

Rado Ceramica collection was redesigned by industrial designer Konstantin Grcic at 2016.

The model has seen several alternatives over the years. It comes with different mechanisms and slight design variations, but has kept the iconic appeal and an avid fan base.


Chanel J12

Being present since 1999, Chanel J12 is one of the models that broke the stereotype of serious watches vs. fashion watches, i.e., watches made by traditional watchmaking companies against those made by, in this case, a fashion company. The original model from the series was a chronograph, came with a black ceramic case and bracelet, and was of unisex design. And was an immediate success. For the next 20 years of production, J12 has shown many different faces and remains one of Chanel's flagship models.

Chanel J12 41 mm, a highly resistant Black ceramic watch

Chanel J12 41 mm, a highly resistant Black ceramic and steel men's dress watch.

There is another considerable credit that's due to Chanel J12. Its presence on the market, backed up by an intensive marketing campaign, aroused tremendous interest in the further exploration and use of ceramic in watchmaking. The fruit of all that is the increased number of ceramic watches in production ever since.


The latest attractive Ceramic Watches

The additions to the available ceramic watch collection show no sign of slowing down. With the advancements in production technology, fresh design ideas, and increased buyers' interest worldwide, it is natural that the offer will continue to expand.

Among the latest ceramic watches available, have a glance at two Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ceramic models that stand out:

  • Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph Blue 26405CE.OO.A030CA.01

Black case, blue outer, and black inner bezel, all ceramic, makes this self-winding chronograph an instant attention grabber. Coupled with the supreme Audemars Piquet craftsmanship and tradition, no wonder this Royal Oak Blue instantly became a sought-after model.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak blue Watch Case, blue  bezel, pushpieces and crown all ceramic

Watch Case, blue outer, and black inner bezel, pushpieces and
crown all ceramic

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak blue has a fine and smooth ceramic surface

Fine and smooth ceramic surface

  • Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph "Méga Tapisserie" 26401RO.OO.A087CA.01

A brown ceramic bezel, crown, and pushpieces complement the lush 18-carat pink gold case. The distinctive character of this chronograph is completed by a brown "Méga Tapisserie" dial and a camouflage-patterned watch strap. The 18-carat pink gold pin buckle puts the final extravagance touch on this one-of-a-kind watch.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, a  rare color brown ceramic bezel, crown, and pushpieces

A rare color brown ceramic bezel, crown, and pushpieces

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak,, an unbeatable combination with an 18-carat pink gold case

An unbeatable combination with an 18-carat pink gold case


In Summary

Ceramic watches may not be for everyone. They are mainly on the pricier side and look and feel different than stainless steel or titanium watches, let alone those with rubber or plastic cases.

However, they are exceptional and worth the investment, given their durability and authentic design and feel. After all, isn't the ability to choose among so many wide varieties one of the greatest assets of the horology world?


External References


Written by S.K., images by Toni and others as noted 

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