The Almighty Titanium
The “sensational” news that Rolex has released its first titanium watch achieved widespread coverage in the industry media outlets. The use of titanium in watches is nothing to write home about, but apparently a titanium watch released by Rolex is. For many years Rolex has been known to ignore the modern trends that have dominated the watch industry, so when they do release something new, it gets people talking. There are plenty of examples of this, like the new GMT-Master II presented at this year’s Watches & Wonders in Geneva, or the surprise release of the Deepsea Challenge in November. News about these two models spread like wildfire.
But enough about Rolex. I wanted to talk about titanium. Titanium has been used in watches for some time. The first watch to be made with this metal was the 1970 Citizen X8 Chronometer, but the release of the 1980 Porsche Design Titan-Chronograph by IWC is the one that is the most well known.
For many years, titanium was mainly associated with watches designed for divers, however it has recently made its way into showrooms. In 2013, Patek Phillipe created the Ref. 5004 Titanium Unique Piece for the Only Watch charity auction – a classic, manually-wound watch with a split-second chronograph and a perpetual calendar. In doing so, they proved that titanium cases are not just for tool watches, they also look good on classic watches. With time, more and more manufacturers released titanium watches in both sport and classic models. Here are some examples: Corum Golden Bridge Titanium, Greubel Forsey GMT Earth Titanium Limited Edition, MB&F LM Perpetual EVO Titanium, Bulgari Octo Finissimo Titanium, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Chronograph, Chopard Alpine Eagle Cadence 8HF and IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition “AMG”.
This year, even more luxury brands are offering titanium watches, including the Odysseus from A. Lange & Söhne or the unique, recently released Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 5270T-010 with its emerald-green face and two of the most popular functions amongst watch enthusiasts: a stopwatch and a perpetual calendar. Ref. 5270T-010 appeared at a charity auction organised this year in Geneva on 7th November by Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo and sold for the record-breaking sum of 9.7 million CHF. Patek Philippe will donate the entire proceedings to Children Action, a charitable organisation whose global mission is to improve the lives of children in poverty.
But let’s get back to titanium. Some say it has no disadvantages: it is lighter than steel, hypoallergenic and almost 100% resistant to corrosion from seawater and chlorine. In addition, it keeps its shape, has weak magnetic properties and high tensile strength.
So why has it still not won over collectors and aficionados? As much as we have grown accustomed to the use of steel in luxury watches (yes, it has been 50 years since the Royal Oak was released!), we are still not convinced by titanium. Perhaps we need to change our way of thinking, including the common belief that heavy watches are more solid, and the deep-rooted conviction that light watches are only for women!
So will this silvery metal, discovered hundreds of years ago and named in honour of deities from Greek mythology, soon get the recognition it deserves and become a mythical titan in the world of luxury? Perhaps not. After all, old habits die hard so it may be some time before we get used to titanium in luxury watches and start to consider them on equal footing with those made from steel or gold.