Materials are the basis of everything in watchmaking. Many criteria determine the choice of material: the component it is intended for, its price, appearance, as well as its mechanical, physical, chemical, or optical properties. All are taken into consideration when selecting the right material. New alloys, plastics, composites, and ceramics that have emerged in recent decades stimulate horological creativity and push the boundaries of watchmaking. The interest in new materials extends not only to watches per se but also contributes to the technological advancement of the tools and machines that manufacture them. Many standards, conventions, and regulations mentioned in this chapter apply to material usage at both national and international levels.
Metal is the most commonly used material in a watch. Today, many composite materials can substitute for metal. However, in certain application areas, metals remain irreplaceable. The main metals and alloys used in horology are listed in this section.
In addition to having unique properties (hardness, elasticity, etc.), the silicon manufacturing process is particularly interesting. It uses the same photolithographic method as in the production of integrated circuits. This technology enables the mass production of very small components with highly complex profiles (often escapements and balance springs). Precision and absolute consistency of dimensions throughout various production cycles are guaranteed by this process.
Composites are materials made by combining two or more materials. The goal is to obtain a more efficient substance, by incorporating the properties of other materials.
PLASTICS & POLYMERS
Whether for tooling, casing, or components, polymers have been used sporadically in watchmaking for nearly a century. It was only in 1980 that the precision of plastic injection moulding machines expanded the horological use of plastics.
Of plant or animal origin, organic materials find various horological applications. In the watchmaking industry, they are predominantly used in bracelet and dial manufacturing. Organic materials are also commonly used in tools and lubricants.
Minerals are chemical substances with a crystalline structure, generally formed by geological processes (high pressure, high temperature, chemical exchanges). Rocks and crystals make up the majority of mineral-based materials.
GREASES, OILS, ADHESIVES & ABRASIVES
In watchmaking, greases and oils are primarily used for lubrication. However, they are also employed to facilitate and improve tool and machine cutting, perform certain heat treatments, protect components against corrosion, or enhance watch waterproofing.
Heat treatments are used in watchmaking, primarily on steel. This is done for technical reasons. Steel is hardened through quenching and often followed up with tempering to restore some flexibility. Tempering is also used for aesthetic purposes, to add colour to the component, such as on blued steel hands or blued screws.
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