Why gold is perfect for a dress watch while carbon and ceramic are usually seen only in ultra-modern designs?

Table of contents

There's also enough exotic cases around, for example this Girard-Perregaux Quasar entirely cased in sapphire crystal

No one is better, all are important 

The case of any watch makes a hefty part of its overall character, and it goes far beyond the obvious shape and size influence. The range of materials is also surprisingly diverse here, providing the piece with various textures, colors and usability specs. Owning even a single watch of each major case material types can make quite an impressive collection. And we’re not even mentioning various alloys, meant to mix together the attributes of different materials or the PVD / DLC coating technology, providing any surface with an extra layer of totally alien pedigree. In a nutshell, every material has its pros and cons, serving different purposes. One can’t be better than the other, only more appropriate or beneficial in some circumstances.

Gold: for traditionalists

Patek Philippe Ref. 5235/50R in rose gold
For centuries the watchmaking art was more or less synonym to precious metals. Why bother with a less expensive case when the mechanics and decorations cost a fortune anyway. The majority of those fine pocket watches belonging to royalty or nobility were gold, and as you can imagine, the yellow gold was dominating. In modern times though, its more subtle-looking rose and white siblings have completely taken control of the gold segment. By the way, the pure 24-karat gold is believed to be too fragile for the task, so the watchmaking finally settled with the 18k – basically 75% gold – as a standard. So even the yellow gold – that we now know as the most naturally looking – is almost always the alloy with silver and copper. The funny fact about its ‘colored’ variants: they are produced with the same silver and copper only in different proportions.
Greubel Forsey GMT Quadruple Tourbillon in white gold
The obvious benefits of gold watches go hand in hand with their flaws. While instantly looking more ‘luxurious’ they demand some proper dress code, unless of course you’re ready to go on a bling-bling territory. They are also less ready to take some occasional beating compared to, say, steel counterparts, and cost significantly more. The latter part frequently confuses buyers with the premium often doubling the price in steel. The answer is simple though: it’s not about the quantity – not that huge anyway – of gold used, but mostly about working techniques suitable for fragile precious metal that you are paying for.

Platinum: for adding some gravitas

Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch 321 Platinum
The second traditional precious metal of watchmaking is of course platinum. It is sufficiently rarer than gold and as a result – more expensive. It’s also quite heavy, and we mean it: a platinum watch on a bracelet may feel like a dumb-bell on some not very Herculean wrists. But then again, there’s a lot of people loving that feel of a substantial wrist-presence. In addition to its stealthier looks – good luck trying to distinguish platinum watch from the steel one without knowing for sure – this metal is also hypoallergenic.

Stainless steel: for a no-frills tool watch attitude 

Rolex GMT-Master II in steel
Stainless steel quickly grew to its full power during the industrial age of watchmaking. And when at the dawning of the XX century everyone suddenly needed to know the time, steel was put to mass use, thanks to its affordability and durability. A watch has become a tool, and a tool doesn’t need sophisticated and costly decorations. At the end of the day some tools appeared to be more attractive and reliable than the others and steel has made its smooth intervention into the hi-end territory. The final perception blow to the steel-can’t-be-luxury beliefs was done in the 1970s by the mighty duo of Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus. To make things even more intense, it seems like we’re currently living in the world where steel is the ultimate material for a luxury watch. And the reasons are quite simple: stainless steel watches are durable, sporty (or should we say ‘masculine’?), they can take some beating, they feel at home with any outfit making a perfect shot on the ‘everyday watch’ concept.

Titanium: the metal that screams hi-tech

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT Automatic in titanium
Extremely light, durable, non-corrosive and non-allergic, titanium is widely used in space or medicine and is highly associated with scientific prowess of our age. It’s a perfect companion for some ultra-slim pieces as well as those bulky ones in need to maintain some reasonable weight. Its dark grey natural color automatically adds to the sleek modern hi-tech vibe of any watch

Ceramic: for a modern touch 

Zenith Defy Classic Ceramic
Extremely light, totally scratch resistant, treating your skin nicely with the ability to quickly warm up or cool down to your temperature, and maintaining the color freshness forever, – ceramic could’ve been the ideal modern watch case material. And it probably is, but there’s one reputation issue, even if it mostly refers to the past. When put to really hard impact ceramic parts can shatter to pieces. Of course, nowadays the technology has gone far enough, and dropping a mechanical watch on the flour or smashing it against the wall is never a good idea no matter the case material, but this outdated perception still partially lives on for better or worse. Our advice? Know facts from the myths, read more about it, and then make a decision… Or simply grab the one you’ve felt in love with.

Carbon Fiber: for those who like it unconventional (and mostly black)

Hublot Classic Fusion Ferrari GT 3D Carbon
Carbon fiber is also an extremely light, durable, and charismatic material. It is produced by combining tons of single layers into one – hence the hardness – often with the mix of other polymers. You can instantly recognize a carbon fiber watch by its natural square-like pattern, and just like with wood, it’s actually unique on any piece. Among the downsides, is the carbon’s almost mandatory black. While some brands succeed in producing this kind of watches with quite interesting color options, usually it varies from black-on-camo to black-on-blue to black-on-red, and so forth.