Craftsmanship At Its Best
Who needs ice when you can have crystal? It may not seem like the obvious choice for a luxury material in comparison to blingy gems, but sapphire-crystal watches are the height of watchmaking art – and showstoppers in their own right. Sapphire crystal is the second-hardest naturally occurring material on Earth, after diamond; as a result, just carving and shaping the case requires handmade diamond-tipped tools. The painstaking process to cut, machine and polish one timepiece (sometimes 200 hours or more) is so precarious and difficult that a company can make at most a handful each year.
But for hardcore watch collectors an even bigger appeal is the 360-degree views of the serious mechanics reserved for this level of craftsmanship. These five brands – laser-focused on the future – are leading the pack in 21st-century watchmaking.
Among the mesmerising movements worth featuring in sapphire crystal, surely Jacob & Co.’s Astronomia takes the cake. Like a mini mechanical universe for your wrist, the entire inner workings of this watch move around the circumference of the case – visible from every angle.
The piece includes an hours and minutes dial rotating every 10 minutes on the central axis, a one-carat diamond with 288 facets spinning in 30 seconds on its axis, a magnesium-lacquered globe turning in 30 seconds, a gravitational tourbillon cage revolving alternately in two directions and a patented differential gears system. Even if its functions aren’t clear to you, its cosmic magnificence, set against an aventurine backdrop, needs no explanation.
When Bell & Ross debuted the original version of this beauty in 2014, the watchmaker proved it was bent on spreading its wings beyond its aeronautical tool watches. Taking a spin in the world of haute horlogerie, the company introduced the BR-X1 Tourbillon Chronograph, but the latest version comes in an all-saphire-crystal case to highlight the skeletonised movement for extra visual effect.
Bulgari: Tourbillon Saphir Gerald Genta Special Edition
Unidentified flying object or centuries-old mechanics encapsulated for the future? While Bulgari is accustomed to dreaming up out-of-this-world creations, its watchmakers outdid themselves in 2016, when they introduced this 53 mm skeletonised tourbillon timepiece with sapphire bridges. There is only one—of 30—left in the world of the DLC-coated version of the saphire crystal watch that is secured with Super-LumiNova columns, which illuminate like space beams. Any takers?
Hublot: Big Bang Unico Perpetual Calendar Sapphire
Hublot, known for developing its own high- tech materials, turns out more sapphire-crystal-cased watches than most, if not all, other brands today, despite how difficult they are to produce. This 45 mm version comes with three major complications: a chronograph, a perpetual calendar and a moon phase. The movement is skeletonised with a coating of anthracite and ruthenium, and to make the time easier to read, the watch has large white hour and minute hand markers and a red arrow-shaped hand to indicate the chronograph.
Girard-Perregaux’s new CEO, Patrick Pruniaux, is on a mission to modernise the 228-year-old watchmaker, and the 45 mm Quasar is a prime example of the new direction. The sapphire-crystal case highlights the brand’s famous 135-year-old three-gold-bridges movement, here rendered in titanium and coated in a black PVD treatment with ruby bearings. Thanks to the lightweight combination of sapphire crystal and titanium, it’s as easy on the wrist as it is on the eyes.