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June 5, 2014

Material world

How the industry’s mad scientists are cooking up revolutionary materials to make new products stand apart from the competition.

The Swiss watch industry has two warring identities. One looks to the past, turning out classic styles and tried-and-true horological complications, while the other looks to the future, experimenting with materials in high-tech labs that seem more like NASA facilities than bastions of mechanical watchmaking. Interestingly, many of today’s finest timepieces embody both identities: traditional on the outside and futuristic on the inside. The new Type XXII chronograph from Breguet, for example, looks the part of a classic sports watch—in solid 18-karat rose gold, no less—but its balance wheel integrates sci-fi materials like silicon (known to many by its Latin translation, silicium) to ease friction, thereby extending the life of the timepiece. Elsewhere, the industry’s mad scientists are cooking up proprietary alloys and high-tech ceramics that are designed to make watches lighter, stronger and more scratch-resistant than the competition. Nowhere, however, is the use of technology slicker than in the case of HYT, a boutique brand that employs fluid mechanics to indicate the time. All the technical talking points boil down to one thing: bragging rights. “In South Florida, there’s always the attention to what’s new and exclusive,” said King Jewelers president David King, citing HYT as a prime example. “It’s got cutting-edge technology, and very limited pieces. That kind of watch brand is special to us because it’s special to our collectors.” —VG

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