Watchmakers have been besotted with ceramics since the 1980s, when Rado, already a specialist in scratch-resistant materials, incorporated high-tech ceramics into a timepiece for the first time.
Keep in mind that “high-tech” ceramics are nothing like the traditional ceramics that primitive communities used to fashion objects such as bricks, tiles and clay pots, even though they share some basic qualities: All ceramics are inorganic, nonmetallic solids with strong molecular bonds. As a result, they boast superior hardness and extremely high melting points (to the tune of 2,000°C and above).
The avant-garde watchmaker Richard Mille has elevated the industry’s grasp of ceramic once again, with the debut of the RM 11-05 Automatic Flyback Chronograph GMT, whose case and bezel are made of grey cermet, a ceramic-metal composite that is as light as titanium and as hard as diamond. Typically used in the aerospace, automotive and ballistics industries, cermet derives its color from the combination of a metallic zirconium matrix with high-performance ceramic inserts.
Perfecting the material required years of research and development in partnership with the IMI Group, which specializes in microtechnology solutions for luxury goods manufacturers. Thanks to a pioneering “flash sintering” process, the grey cermet has a density of 4.1 g/cm3—which means it weighs less than titanium, at 4.5 g/cm3—and a hardness of 2,360 Vickers (compared to diamond’s 2,400 Vickers).
The complexity of this timepiece is not, however, skin deep. The skeletonized automatic winding movement, crafted from titanium, includes a flyback chronograph with minutes and countdown counters at 9 o’clock, an hour counter at 6 o’clock, a UTC function, a variable-geometry rotor and about 55 hours of power reserve.
The RM 11-05 Automatic Flyback Chronograph GMT comes on a Carbon TPT band. Limited to 140 pieces, it retails for $215,000.