Cover The making of Magic Gold for Hublot (Photo: Sandro Baebler)

In developing innovative new precious metal alloys, watchmakers are working to make timepieces both tougher and more beautiful than ever

The word precious may refer to something valuable, but don’t forget it can also mean fussy, finicky and difficult. Both interpretations apply when talking about precious metals. Gold, for instance, possesses reassuring heft and, thanks to its inert nature, is hypoallergenic. But in its unadulterated form, it’s too soft and malleable to be used in jewellery or watchmaking: it can easily lose shape or be scratched or dinged.

That’s why jewellers and watchmakers have long added a dash of more rigid materials to precious metals, creating alloys of vastly improved stability and strength. There’s been little innovation in the formulation of alloys over the past few hundred years. Most watchmakers contentedly use 18-karat gold, comprising about 75 per cent gold, 12.5 per cent copper and 12.5 per cent silver in the case of yellow gold; 75 per cent gold and 25 per cent copper for red gold; and 90 per cent gold with 10 per cent nickel for white gold. However, in recent times, a number of forward-thinking houses of horology have begun developing new, proprietary alloys that eliminate certain shortcomings of traditional blends. 

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Custom Made

Watchmaker Hublot applies the corporate philosophy The Art of Fusion to the realm of materials. The company has created patented mash-ups including Hublonium, made of magnesium and aluminium; Texalium, a carbon/aluminium composite; King Gold, a vibrant 18-karat red-gold alloy with boosted copper content and platinum to stabilise the colour and neutralise oxidation; and Magic Gold, which the company claims is “the world’s first and only” scratch-proof 18-karat gold/ceramic.

“We invest heavily in research and development—not least, in the innovative materials” used in Hublot’s watches, says CEO Ricardo Guadalupe. “We want to bring a real spectacle to the watch you show on your wrist.” Likening the brand’s use of inventive materials to its creative approach to collaborations—ranging from artists and musicians to sportsmen and tattooists—Gudalupe says, “Owning a Hublot reflects an affinity with an eclectic group of aesthetics, influences and affiliations.”

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Forging Ahead

Swiss watchmaking giant Swatch Group operates its own foundry, servicing the needs of its entire stable of brands, including Breguet, Jaquet Droz, Harry Winston and Blancpain. Possessing a proprietary foundry not only allows the group to guarantee the ethical, responsible provenance of the gold used in its timepieces, but also increases its ability to invent new alloys, such as Sedna gold, developed in-house by Swatch Group’s metallurgists and scientists for its Omega brand.

Taking its name from a large planetoid in the outer fringes of our solar system, the surface of which is a particularly profound shade of red, Sedna is an 18-karat rose gold melding gold, copper and palladium. Preventing the copper in the alloy from oxidising, the palladium helps give the metal’s deep rouge hue far greater longevity than everyday rose golds.

Good As Gold

Another of Omega’s signature gold alloys, Moonshine gold, is inspired by an orbiting object closer to home, our own moon. Used in the recent Speedmaster Moonwatch Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Limited Edition, Moonshine gold is a toned-down yellow gold intended to be redolent of the colour of the moon at night. Omega says that the mellow yellow, patent-pending alloy of gold, silver and palladium offers high resistance to fading, retaining its lustre for decades.

A desire to overcome the tendency of rose gold to fade with time—especially when exposed to chlorinated or salt water—motivated Rolex’s metallurgists to create a proprietary alloy the company calls Everose. Forged in Rolex’s own foundry to a closely guarded formula, this signature alloy of gold and copper is thought to also contain a small amount of platinum, which is the key to locking in the metal’s warm pink tint permanently.

Originally launched on watches in 2014 but now also used in the house’s jewellery, Chanel’s beige gold aims for subtlety. Along with black and white, beige was one of Coco Chanel’s go-to colours, inspiring the development of this shade of gold for the brand that carries her name. An 18-karat gold alloy, possessing a certain warmth but more restrained than red or yellow gold, beige gold’s hue hovers between the two.

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Sweet As Honey

A Lange & Söhne’s honey gold, which the Saxony-based manufacture has been using for a decade, similarly straddles a middle ground between pink and yellow. Its charming colour is particularly pleasing to the eye. The company’s director of product development Anthony de Haas says, “When looking for a designation to aptly describe the new hue, Lange decided to take inspiration from nature. Honey displays various colour nuances, depending on the plants from which the nectar is collected.”

However, in keeping with the practical nature for which Germans are renowned, this alloy was not developed for poetic or aesthetic reasons—rather, its blend of gold, copper and zinc was devised as a means of building a gold watch of improved structural integrity. “Beauty aside, the main target of this material development was to increase resistance against scratches,” says Anne Schaal, A Lange & Söhne’s managing director for Southeast Asia & Australia. “Honey gold is, at a hardness of 320 Vickers, twice as hard as yellow gold,” she notes, making it especially difficult to damage. Sweet indeed.

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