Since its beginnings in 1957, Rado has been at the forefront of material development and use. Known for its scratch-resistant watches, Rado has expanded and evolved to do a variety of designs and timepieces, while still focusing on advanced materials in order to achieve the dream of a durable, modern timepiece.
The latest material to find pride of place in Rado is Ceramos, a unique high-tech mixture of ceramic and metal alloy. Because of this unique combination, Ceramos offers the best of both worlds: the lightness and scratch resistance of high-tech ceramic along with the luster of metal.
The key benefit? In keeping with the appeal of mechanical movements which, with the right care, can last generations, Ceramos will protect that movement virtually forever.
What is Ceramos?
Rado has a history of using a mix of materials. In 1993, Rado produced its first watch using a ceramic metal matrix, the Sintra. The material, part of a class known as “cermet,” a name derived from its composition (CERamic-METal), combines a high proportion of high-tech ceramic (titanium carbide or TiC, around 90%) and a binder metallic alloy. The TiC high-tech ceramic offers hardness and the binder metal provides stiffness and the metallic appearance that makes the material unique.
Cermet was originally developed in the 1970s for cutting tools. Due to a shortage of cobalt, which was the key material for hardmetal tooling, tool manufacturers looked for an alternative, and cermet was developed. The people who make tools don’t care about aesthetics, so Rado had to adapt cermet to become a luxury material.
There were some drawbacks to this material back when Rado first used it, because it was not possible to inject it. The Sintra was created by pressing the material into blanks that had to be completely machined to the desired shape of each individual component of the watch.
In 2011, Rado perfected the technology to inject the cermet, which they immediately registered under the trademark name of Ceramos, and it was first used to create the case of the D-Star. Being able to inject the Ceramos meant that new possibilities in terms of design were opened up.
No longer was Rado limited to square or rectangular pieces like the Sintra, but now more generally free form shapes such as oval, round or facetted pieces were possible. In addition, the pieces could be polished using barreling as the material is more or less the same as ceramic, but the machining and polishing process takes significantly longer.
Today, Ceramos has evolved even further and it can now be injected into a precision mold, so that Ceramos can be used to create Rado’s signature monobloc case. Incredibly light, the finished Ceramos case holds all the components without the need for a steel framework to hold the movement.
Rado used a monobloc case for the first time in 2011 for the True Thinline. This case is exceptionally complex and must be calculated down to micro-millimeters, allowing for the shrinkage rate during sintering that differs from that of high-tech ceramic. New methods and molds had to be created to ensure the exact dimensions are achieved.
Ceramos has a number of benefits. Today, many brands are using gold, which is very soft; galvanic coating, which is really soft and very thin (10 – 20 microns); or PVD (0.8 – 3 microns), which is also a hard layer and will eventually wear off.
Ceramos will never wear off as it is a bulk material — it is also very light and very durable. The advantage of Ceramos is that there are very few materials in your direct environment that can scratch it, and the colors in the Ceramos will never change. Gold can scratch and oxidize, PVD can wear off, but Ceramos will never change at all. It is designed to look good for life.
Ceramic is a color carrier, so the watches can be made using black, white, blue, green, and more. Rado also pioneered the plasma carburizing process, which gives high-tech ceramic a unique metallic shine. However, in order to produce other colors, including steel and rose gold metallic colors, which were never previously available in ceramic, Rado developed Ceramos, which is light and scratch-resistant just like high-tech ceramic.
The technology and techniques used to create an innovative material like Ceramos take time, however. As the Master of Materials, Rado is in a unique position to invest the time and man-hours needed for such developments. For example, Rado worked almost ten years perfecting rose gold colored Ceramos, progressing step-by-step, methodically solving problems. The resulting beautiful color and extreme durability of the finished material are testament to Rado’s long-term, focused approach.
How Ceramos is Made
A high-tech material like Ceramos takes a great deal of commitment and isn’t as simple as a straightforward steel case. The Ceramos components are formed by injection molding, the same as high-tech ceramic, but the following steps are different because of the composite nature of the material.
Sintering: Ceramos takes form in a multistep process in a special high-tech pressure oven. During the sintering process, the metallic part of Ceramos becomes liquid, and re-alloys itself with the ceramic, surrounding the TiC particles to create a metal matrix. The composition, pressure and temperature all have an effect on the final color of the piece — any deviation can lead to a change in color. The Ceramos pieces come out of the oven matte.
Refining: This process removes any larger imperfections in the material and takes five to ten times longer than the same process for high-tech ceramic. In addition, special tools had to be developed to deal with the extreme hardness and toughness of Ceramos.
Polishing: Very complicated to do as Ceramos is a composite, where one part is very hard (the ceramic) and the other part (metal alloy) is softer, so it is very difficult to polish the material at the same rate to get the smooth surface and the look that Rado wants. What follows is finishing, laser logo engraving, then a final quality check.
The equipment Rado uses is much more expensive and delicate than normal watch manufacturing machines. In addition, the metal has to be protected from high-temperature oxidation, so a furnace under vacuum has to be used.
In the current Rado collection, there are pieces where only the bezel is in Ceramos, and there are complete Ceramos watches.
Today, Ceramos is a small percentage of Rado’s production, as its use of Ceramos is just starting. For Rado, Ceramos is the material of the future. The brand hopes to replace all the steel and the PVD it uses today with Ceramos. Rado is working hard to develop everything for this future, as it will open up the brand to new customers worldwide.
And, with the flexibility of injected Ceramos, just about any shape is possible. So, look forward to seeing a sea change at Rado moving forward, as Rado increases the percentage of pieces made with Ceramos.
“In the past, Rado had a very loyal clientele that never bought anything else but Rado,” says Matthias Breschan, CEO, Rado. “This clientele got older and older, so we had to develop new products for the younger generations. We were able to develop the monobloc construction and our experiences in developing new ceramic colors, and now with Ceramos, we can have new designs that are extremely attractive for the new generations. The possibilities for Rado in design and materials are unlimited, and having a material that makes sure your watch looks the same the first day as it would 20 or 30 years later is a strong emotional message.”
Ceramos is a revolution at Rado, and the brand has only just begun.