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Empa ceramic adorns Swiss luxury watch

Empa researchers have pulled off a masterstroke in ceramics research: they developed a dark red ceramic bezel for the Omega Speedmaster luxury watch. It is the only watch that can withstand being worn in outer space.
Empa researchers developed a dark red ceramic bezel for the Omega Speedmaster. (Image: Empa)
Empa researchers developed a dark red ceramic bezel for the Omega Speedmaster. (Image: Empa)

The Speedmaster by Omega is the only watch to be certified for spacewalks by the American space agency NASA, writes the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa). Thanks to Empa researchers, this legendary watch is now adorned with a red ceramic bezel, which Empa developed in a joint project with Swatch.

Materials produced for the watch industry have to meet a number of strict requirements, which is one of the reasons why no one had succeeded until now in producing a red ceramic bezel; the closest had only ever been dark pink. It is not possible to simply add a red dye to white ceramics: “Even the best organic pigments are unable to withstand the temperatures of 1,300 to 1,900 degrees Celsius necessary to sinter the ceramics,” explained Empa research Jakob Kübler. And as glazes can chip off, only a coloured full ceramic is robust enough.

The Empa team succeeded in producing the red ceramic bezel by using a common white ceramic material, chromium and tiny amounts of inorganic additives. It took them months of experimenting with the amounts to achieve the right colour. They have already applied for a patent for the extremely complex, multi-stage manufacturing process.

The watch will be launched in autumn 2016 as a limited edition — only 57 pieces will be sold worldwide with a price tag of CHF 45,000.

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