If the comic books and cartoons as well as several billion dollar movies have metals like adamantium and vibranium, in real life we now have Ceratanium. This is a mix of Ceramics and Titanium and is something very exciting for IWC specifically and watchmaking in general. Combining two of the most sought after watchmaking materials when it comes to toughness required five years of research led by Dr. Lorenz Brunner. He heads the Innovation and Pre-Development team at the Swiss brand and his team have come up with Ceratanium.
Just to clarify though, this is actual an Ceramic-Titanium material and not like the Seiko Grand Seiko Black Ceramic Collection released earlier this year. In that collection, you have zirconia ceramic parts and titanium parts making up the watch. For IWC, they've managed through sintering to make a new material. And now of course, you are likely asking "What the heck is Sintering?"
Ceratanium and Sintering and some Material Sciences
Sintering is the act of heating and/or compressing a material so that it transforms its top layer. Think of snow and if you take a few handfuls and squeeze it, you get a snowball. The heat from your hand melts the top layer which then re-freezes into ice. So the top layer is ice which is water and inside, you have snow which is also water. So what IWC does is order up a special alloy of Titanium, this is the alloy they spent money on to research; they shape it, mill it, drill and polish it and then they stick in the oven.
That's where the magic happen and the top layers literally transforms into Ceratanium!
So this isn't a coating of DLC or plating. This is actual alchemy at work that makes a metal turn into a ceramic at a molecular level. It's a simplification but it's essentially what happens. You can read about how material scientists like Dr. Brunner can manipulate oxides and carbides to change colours; experiment with cooling processes to control the hardening of the material and all other material sciences on material science websites. For now, you already know how IWC makes the material and you should also know that it is not a cheap and easy process.
Will it work?
Only time will tell if Ceratanium is as good in real life as it is in the comic books and cartoons. The main problem with ceramics has been its ability to shatter. It's so hard and the atoms that make up the material are directional. So a hard impact creates a fissure or crack and it doesn't stop. You see this in your common toilet bowl, glass, even diamonds (yes, those are class as ceramic as well) can shatter on direct force. Metals though are malleable which means even tough titanium can bend slightly on direct force. You may have seen super slow-motion video of a shockwave going through metal - that's how most materials deal with force. Ceramic can't do that, it's too hard.
But I have a good feeling about this new material for Asia. One huge problem with perception over here with ceramic watches is that, as mentioned, we make toilet bowls out of it. And while I can say that there is a gigantic difference between what ceramic watches like those from Rado, Hublot or Chanel are made of compared to a toilet bowl, the word 'Ceramic' just kills the conversation in many places in Asia. So Ceratanium may be the solution!
IWC makes a watch
With this new material, the Swiss watchmaker has made the Aquatimer Perpetual Calendar Digital Date-Month Edition “50 Years Aquatimer” (Ref. IW379403) and it is limited to just 50 pieces. So it's an automatic mechanical watch for time and a digital perpetual calendar. The piece is also a chronograph with flyback. You can read about it here. Now we have to just wait and see how IWC handles its new material and when we will see it again.