Red, White and Black Define 2008’s Watches

Timepieces for 2008 are sophisticated in all black, sparkle with diamonds, and glisten in red gold. Another trend this year is more use of high-tech materials, especially ceramics and carbon fiber.

Diamonds—and crystals providing a diamond look—sparkle everywhere this year, from popular to high-price watches, providing touches of elegance, style, and luxury. Among many new lines are Roberto Cavalli’s diamond and crystal Diamond Time, Backes & Strauss’s elegant Berkeley collection, Cartier’s imaginative Cirque Animalier series, Oris’s rectangular Date Diamonds, Marc Ecko’s diamond-look Vice (with bezel-encircling crystals and one in the bracelet), IceLink’s 6Timezone Snow collection (with tiny diamonds in liquid in one of six dial zones), Seiko’s Arctura watches, and Citizen’s Eco-Drive Serano line (each with 40 diamonds).

Notable, too, is the rise in diamond-accented men’s watches, like Patek Philippe’s rose gold model, with 52 diamonds (1.00 ct. t.w.). “We keep getting more requests from men for such watches,” says Larry Pettinelli, president of Patek Philippe USA.

Another is Cartier’s extra-large Tank Louis Cartier. “We’re known for women’s watches, but we’re proud to be expanding into men’s watches, a new area of development for us, with great potential,” says Frédéric de Narp, Cartier North America’s chief executive officer.

Amid watches with colorful accents, gems, and straps, 2008’s most-used shade is dark and dramatic. “All black is back,” declared Karl Scheufele III, Chopard International president, when he introduced the Happy Sport chronograph for women—which has mobile diamonds on the dial—at BaselWorld in April. New watches in all categories have black dials (carbon fiber, lacquer, mother-of-pearl, enamel, and opaline), bezels, cases, straps (often black rubber), and bracelets.

Most brands blacken their stainless-steel or titanium cases and bracelets with PVD or IP processes (bonding a coating of molecules to a surface). Among 2008’s examples are Hamilton’s chunky Code Breaker; Bertolucci’s men’s Serena Garbo (including bracelet PVD midlinks); Caravelle’s square model, with day, date, and 24-hour time; Breguet’s Marine collection; Dolce & Gabbana Time’s square digital Highlander; and Luminox’s limited-edition SR71 Blackbird. A more recent and increasingly used process is DLC (a coating of diamond-hard material), seen on 2008 models like Citizen’s limited-edition Eco-Drive Promaster SST and Bell & Ross’s Phantom tourbillon.

Also being used are black enamel (as on Bulova’s elegant women’s watch, with Swarovski crystals) and black ceramics (such as Accutron’s Mirador, with rose gold accents).

Counterpointing the all-black trend is a continuing stream of white, primarily on women’s watches, many with diamonds. Some are all white, like Chanel’s ceramic J12 tourbillon and Concord’s C1 Pure, with white rubber case. Others are colorful watches on white straps, like Victorinox’s Classic Lady Chrono, with pastel mother-of-pearl dial; Pulsar’s Barcelona collection, with mother-of-pearl and crystal-framed bezel; and Versace’s pink gold and diamond watch. Some brands offer a choice of either shade, like Audemars Piguet’s elliptical Millenary watches in all black or all white.

A black background makes color seem more vibrant, and many all-black watches take full advantage of that phenomenon. Examples include Pierre Kunz’s Infinity Looping (with red accents and stitching), Blancpain’s Speed Command, Wenger’s Special Commando (with orange accents), and Ulysse Nardin’s Sonata Silicium (with yellow open elliptical hands and accents).

A number of brands celebrate color with one-hue watches. Hublot’s Tutti Frutti series features vibrant same-color straps, dials, and bezel sapphires. Guess Watches’ City Lights bangle timepieces are translucent blue, purple, or green, while Wyler Genève’s chronograph comes in matching straps and dials. Movado’s Museum stingray cuff watches are red, pink, or orange. Dior’s Christal Deep sports a navy blue dial, blue sapphires among bezel diamonds, and a navy blue rubber strap.

There are also more chocolate brown dials and straps, like Philip Stein’s Modern model, with starburst face; Louis Erard’s gold 1931 Classic Moon Phase; and Parmigiani’s Kalpa Hemispheres, also in gold.

Pastel mother-of-pearl dials remain popular, as do bold-color dials (often red this year, or yellow, like TAG Heuer’s Aquatimer Chronotime). Other watches sport colored crystals, such as Rado’s Colored Ceramica (including same-color dials), Wittnauer (topaz), and GlamRock (pink, green, and gray).

Color of another kind—red, rose, and pink gold—dominated 2008’s watch debuts. Virtually every brand, it seemed, introduced models or collections using the rosy precious metal. Among the very many: Hamilton’s diver BelowZero; Seiko’s Velatura Kinetic Drive; new models in Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Control 1833 collection, marking its 175th anniversary; Breitling’s Bentley GMT; Corum’s Admiral’s Cup Challenge 44 Split Seconds; Eterna’s KonTiki Anniversary watch; Frédérique Constant’s Classics Art Deco watch; Cuervo y Sobrinos’s Robusto perpetual GMT; Milus’s Mera TriRetrograde Seconds Skeleton Joaillerie; Sector’s 890 series; and Zenith’s Defy Classic Zero-G.

Indeed, rosy gold is so prevalent in men’s and women’s watches in all major price categories (including gold-tone versions), some suppliers and retailers suggest its use has peaked. Yet, despite its ubiquity and gold’s high price, “people still want red gold; there’s demand for it,” especially for upscale watches, says Paul Ziff, president of Zenith North America.

Other metals gleam, too. More watches use titanium, like Clerc’s haute horlogerie Odyssey, Tissot’s analog/digital T-Touch, Romain Jerome’s Titanic DNA Night&Day, Porsche Design’s Worldtimer P’6750, HD3’s Raptor Chrono (with titanium movement), and Golay Spierer’s “upside-down” titanium Angelo.

A number of prestigious brands offer platinum timepieces—despite that metal’s price doubling since 2006—in limited editions or productions. Patek Philippe’s grand complication, five years in development, with minute repeater, tourbillon, and patent-pending instant perpetual calendar, is one example.

Notable, too, are the high-end watches using palladium—a precious white metal less expensive than platinum. Those include JeanRichard, Parmigiani (its second series), Ulysse Nardin, Vacheron Constantin, Cartier, Chopard, and Carl F. Bucherer (whose Patravi TravelTec FourX combines palladium, titanium, ceramics, and rubber). “It’s a very special metal, as precious as gold,” says Jean-Marc Jacot, a veteran watch business consultant to, and spokesperson for, Parmigiani. “It’s difficult to work, but we now have customers who specifically request palladium timepieces.”

Watchmakers also are using more nonmetallics, including lightweight ceramics. A report by Swiss watchmakers at BaselWorld 2008 predicted that “innovative uses of ceramics hold promise for the future.”

Many watch designs had ceramic bezels, as on Rolex’s GMT Master II and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak concept watch (also with ceramic push pieces and crown). More watchmakers use ceramics on cases. Examples include Longines’s Conquest, with integrated case and bezel, and Jaeger-LeCoutre’s Reverso Squadra World Chronograph Polo Fields, the first Reverso with a ceramic swivel case. The material, made of high-tech zirconium oxide and some yttrium oxide, is 30 per-cent lighter than stainless steel. Others offer all-ceramic cases and bracelets, like Guess Collection’s Precious Diver Chic Ceramic series in black or white, with or without gemstones.

Ceramics also are being cleverly combined with other materials and processes. Hublot’s Big Bang Cermet case, for one, melds ceramic and bronze, while the Sintra Gold series from Rado—which pioneered ceramic watches—uses a new process that gives the entire watch, including the crystal, a golden sheen.

Also used more is dark, lightweight carbon fiber, primarily for dials (for example, Seiko’s Velatura Yachting Timer, Omega’s Speedmaster Legend, and Oakley’s Blade II) but increasingly for cases, like those of ESQ’s updated Fusion models. Movado’s Visio not only uses it for its dial but also for bracelet links and crown.

There’s a less-expected nonmetallic, too—wood—used in GlamRock Race Track’s beechwood bezel and the Cartier Roadster’s walnut dial and bracelet inserts.