At first glance, high-end watchmaking and advanced metallurgy don’t have much in common. Take a look at some of the more experimental timepieces to emerge from workshops this year, however, and it’s clear that luxury watchmakers are increasingly exploiting far-out metal combinations to produce unique aesthetic elements and set their creations apart from the pack.
Exhibit A: The BWD X BB Zenith El Primero Superconductor, the newest custom timepiece to come out of Bamford Watch Department’s collaboration with Black Badger, aka James Thompson, a designer and lume specialist with a growing reputation in the trade. (The model marks their third collaboration.)
The prototype model comes in a 42 mm case fashioned from superconductor material, a catch-all term for the family of materials that offer no resistance to electric current—in this instance, the case is made from a combination of copper and niobium, an exotic metal that is corrosion-resistant and, like titanium, boasts a beguiling capacity for coloration.
Traditionally used in hardcore medical and engineering applications—including MRI machines, particle accelerators and nuclear reactors—superconductors are required when transferring large amounts of electrical energy. But what Thompson loves about them has little to do with their electrical properties.
“My love for superconductor as a material is this amazing honeycomb pattern it has,” Thompson says. “This fantastic, two-toned, high-tech beehive look to it is just too fun. And when curves or angles are introduced into this very rectilinear material, fantastic abstractions appear. Like woodgrain being cut from different directions, the patterning of the material changes dramatically as you begin to cut into it.”
Thompson exaggerates the visual effect on the Zenith El Primero Superconductor by dipping the case in acid.
“A specific formulation of acid will eat away at one of the metals but leave the other, making the contrast in the structure much more dramatic,” Thompson says. “A type of skeletonization can be achieved that gives the final piece a futuristic type of techno-decay appearance. Think of something from Blade Runner, where it’s very futuristic but not all glossy and perfect. It looks like Megatron’s skull has been dug up 50,000 years in the future. Dystopian goodness!”
Limited to 20 pieces, the column-wheel chronograph will be available for purchase at Bamford Watch Department’s website for £14,500 (around $19,045).