Rolex Cerachrom: Six Things To KnowWritten by Alvin Wong
They are all about shades that never fade.
WHAT IS IT EXACTLY?
Cerachrom is a ceramic alloy patented by Rolex in 2007. Although the use of ceramic in watches isn’t new (some brands experimented with the material, mostly on case and bracelet components, as early as the 1980s), Rolex, in true horological giant fashion, decided that it had to master the process of manufacturing ceramic components for itself. Hence, while other brands continued to feature ceramic watch components over the years, Rolex developed its own proprietary methods and techniques to produce the ceramic components that would meet its own standards.
SO IT’S KIND OF LIKE CERAMIC?
Not kind of – it IS ceramic, but concocted and made the Rolex way. The ceramic material Rolex uses, zirconium oxide (or zirconia), is an industry standard. But it is what Rolex does with it that makes the difference. Besides developing its own in-house ceramic production processes, the brand also pushes the envelope on ceramic’s capabilities, especially with its appearance.
The material is virtually scratch-proof and its colour doesn’t fade. What it means is that Cerachrom bezels will look as shiny and good as new even after years of use. Now, some Rolex fans are more fond of older models with steel or aluminium bezels with printed colours that display obvious signs of age. We think that’s a question of aesthetic preference, really, and a debate for another day. But if longevity is what you’re after, Cerachrom kicks ass all day long.
COLOURS DON’T COME EASY, OK?
Back in the 1980s when ceramic was first used in watches, the material came only in black or white. Rolex was one of the biggest proponents of elevating the look with different colours. In fact, Rolex's sports models, which come in a variety of colours, demanded that the brand made it a vital pursuit. Red was a particularly hard one to master. The brand eventually developed a new mineral oxide, called alumina, as a substitute for zirconia, to achieve the proper hue.
The dual-tone colourways of Rolex’s GMT-Master II models also pushed Rolex to find a solution to meld two different coloured ceramics seamlessly, by filling the specific area in which the two colours would meet with a solution containing metal salts.
HOW ARE THEY MADE?
It is a tedious seven-step process - or eight, for two-coloured ceramic bezels. First, the raw ceramic power is mixed with binding agents. Then, the mixture is heated an injected into a mould to create a blank. After that, more heat is applied to the blank to remove the binding agents. Subsequently, mineral pigments are added to infuse the blanks with colour. (If two-coloured designs are involved, a metal salt-based solution is added to the areas where they meet.)
The next step is called sintering. Here, the blanks are fired at almost 1,600°C to harden the ceramic and shrink it by up to 30 per cent. This is when the components take on their final colour. Finally, the bezels are shaped to their final sizes using precision machining tools, coated with PVD to cover the areas with inscriptions and graduations, and polished to the everlasting sheen you see on the watches.
SO IT’S ALL CERACHROM BEZELS NOW?
Yup. It started in 2005, when Rolex introduced a black ceramic insert in the GMT-Master II. After that, it was off to the races – a blue one for the Yacht-Master II (2007); a green one for the Submariner (2010); a two-colour black-blue for the GMT-Master II ‘Batman’ (2013), chestnut brown for a Daytona (2013); and more two-toned GMT-Master IIs, this time in blue-red for ‘Pepsi’ versions, in white gold (2014) and this year’s stainless steel model with jubilee bracelet, as well as in the black-brown 'Root beer' model.
Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.