Explore More Articles
IWC Oils
Time That Runs Like Clockwork

Depending on the stresses and strains to which they are exposed, around 50 points in the movement are treated with oils and greases developed especially for use in wristwatches.

Test Lab

At IWC Schaffhausen, new watch models are put through a gruelling test program involving up to 50 separate stages that include long-term immersion in warm salt water and being locked away in an environmental chamber. All this guarantees that they will be equipped for everyday use – and much more – when they finally reach their future owners.

Sound_check_engine_AMG_972x426
Sound Check

How the engineers at Mercedes AMG in Affalterbach, southern Germany, create the right engine sound.

HALF_WAY_TO_THE_MOON_Trucks_972x426
HALF WAY TO THE MOON

For the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team, following the Grand Prix circus means transporting 30 tons of material in 10,000 individual parts and at least 60 employees to venues on five continents. Of course, they have to ensure that everything arrives there on time what calls for a system and improvisation in equal measure.

Grande Complication Dial Explained
Small World

Time moves the world. The IWC Portuguese Grande Complication is an understated, beautifully designed way of summarizing time as the motor of all change: a time machine that shows a tilted globe on the dial.

89800 Calibre Movement
Eternity in Digits

The IWC-manufactured 89800 caliber, which made its debut in 2009, redefined the digital date display. The triple-disc mechanism in the perpetual calendar features large-format displays for the date and month and, slightly more discreetly, the leap year cycle. All are ingeniously synchronized.

Top Secret

In a small town in central England, over 500 specialists spend their time developing and building silver arrows for the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team. Almost every one of the 3,200 parts in each car is custom-made.

Ingenieur: the story of a legend

When the Ingenieur from Schaffhausen was launched in 1955 it created a storm. But its actual history goes back much further: to 1888.

Experiences

Da Vinci Chronograph Ceramic

High tech, silky smooth

Text — Boris Schneider Photos — Felix Streuli and Hans-Ruedi Rohrer Date — 1 July, 2010

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—The Da Vinci Chronograph Ceramic (Reference 3766) captivates through an exclusive combination of ceramic and polished titanium materials

Say “ceramic” and most people will think crockery, vases or bathroom tiles. But in recent years ceramic materials have found use in an ever-increasing range of applications. This has much to do with the unique properties of these sintered, inorganic materials. They are extremely hard with high resistance to heat and corrosion. They do not conduct electricity and make good insulators, and, despite their low density, retain their shape under the most exacting conditions. When a space shuttle re-enters the atmosphere, it is a cladding of ceramic tiles that prevents it from burning up. And the fact that ceramics are so compatible with living tissue predestined them for use as synthetic bones and joints, as well as for dental implants.

For some time now, ceramics have also been making great strides forward in the luxury goods industry. They are extremely scratch-resistant, lighter than steel and have an incomparable, silky touch, which makes them attractive to both watch and jewellery makers. And there is another advantage. Unlike metals, ceramics are not cold to the touch in winter and always feel pleasant on the skin. In 1986, with the launch of the Da Vinci in a zirconium oxide casing ring, IWC became one of the first watch manufacturers to use the material in a watch. “The new Da Vinci Chronograph Ceramic, which is housed in a geometrically demanding ceramic casing ring with titanium components, is proof once more of our innovative flair,” says Jannis Faupel, Senior Product Manager with IWC, not without a degree of pride.

The word “ceramic” comes from the ancient Greek “keramos”, the term used to describe claylike minerals and the enormously stable products that can be made from them when they are baked in an oven. The technique of manufacturing objects made of fired clay has been known to mankind for millennia. The first known vessels date back to the Jomon culture in Japan and were made around 13,000 B.C. originating in Asia, the technology spread slowly all over the world.

Modern-day industrial ceramics have little in common with the items thrown by potters. Their properties have been optimized for very specific uses. They differ from chinaware in that they are much purer and the grains of the original material are all of precisely the same size. The firing process also follows a very rigid procedure. As a rule, the workpiece is formed from powder, a binder and liquid before it is sintered at temperatures of over 1,000 degrees Celcius. It is the sintering process that endows the material with its typical characteristics.

Unlike bread, which rises in the oven, ceramic workpieces shrink by about a third when they are fired. This is where their greatest difference to metals lies. After smelting – the process of extracting metal from ore – metals already possess the properties that will remain with them, whereas the behaviour, shape and size of ceramic items are inseparably linked with the individual steps in the production process. The engineering aspect comes into play with the selective influencing of the material’s structure during the firing process. The loss in size needs to be factored into the dimensions of the blank.

In recent years, enormous progress has been made in what is known as ceramic injection moulding. This process is more industrialized and offers advantages over conventional pressing technology. In addition, like plastic injection molding, it opens the doorway to virtually unlimited possibilities with shapes. Without it, the efficient series production of delicate ceramic structures and complex geometries would be impossible. Only very few specialists in the world master this complex technology.

Very small manufacturing tolerances have to be maintained because the movement sits directly on the ceramic case

The movement is held firmly in the ceramic casing ring without an additional ring made of metal. This calls for very small tolerances and high-precision grinding of all the functional surfaces. These exacting demands are also crucial for the watch’s water-resistance. Apart from this, the case houses a number of functional elements that need to fit precisely. These include two rocker switches, whose movements are transmitted to the movement by non-wearing ceramic pushpins. “The difficult thing is defining exactly which positions will need to be created on the finished item directly after sintering and where other processing stages will be necessary,” is how Thomas Indlekofer, Project Manager Case with IWC, describes the problem. He and his colleagues must never forget that the case shrinks during the firing stage. Before they managed to get the process working perfectly and obtained the desired results, IWC’s designers and the engineers with the ceramics specialist had countless problems to solve.

The production process really is very complex and demanding. While synthetics turn to liquid the moment they are heated, in the case of ceramics, the original material in powder form has to be transformed into a homogeneous mass. To achieve this, a thermoplastic binder is mixed with the zirconium oxide. As a bonded granulate, it can be injected into the mould at a temperature of 170° Celsius. Certain parts of the casing ring are very thick, which means there is significant danger of air inclusions and checking the mould is a real challenge. The result of the moulding process is a green compact. The surface structure of each compact is given a thorough examination before it passes on to the next stage, when the first precise drill holes are made.

After the initial processing, the binder is removed using sulphuric acid. The resulting white compact is then fired at a temperature of 1,500 degrees Celsius for about two days. During the sintering process, it shrinks to its final size and takes on its characteristic, rich-looking black appearance. It is then sandblasted to give the material a matte finish. During the machining process, the holes and remaining geometrical characteristics are finished to the prescribed tolerances.

The bezel, case back, crown and buttons on the case are made of a quality, class-5 titanium alloy. This gives the designers a fairly free rein as regards the design of the surface. The material cannot be punched, so the individual parts are cut using water-jet cutting technology and then, in a complex, drawn-out process, milled into their final shape. All surfaces are given their finishing touches by hand. When the case is finished, the wonderful contrast of polished/satin-finished titanium and matte black ceramic immediately catches the eye. It takes several weeks until all the components are finished and assembled, but the watch’s future owner can look forward to an entire lifetime with the unique feel and outstanding appearance of the Da Vinci Chronograph Ceramic.

Explore More Articles
IWC Oils
Time That Runs Like Clockwork

Depending on the stresses and strains to which they are exposed, around 50 points in the movement are treated with oils and greases developed especially for use in wristwatches.

Test Lab

At IWC Schaffhausen, new watch models are put through a gruelling test program involving up to 50 separate stages that include long-term immersion in warm salt water and being locked away in an environmental chamber. All this guarantees that they will be equipped for everyday use – and much more – when they finally reach their future owners.

Sound_check_engine_AMG_972x426
Sound Check

How the engineers at Mercedes AMG in Affalterbach, southern Germany, create the right engine sound.

HALF_WAY_TO_THE_MOON_Trucks_972x426
HALF WAY TO THE MOON

For the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team, following the Grand Prix circus means transporting 30 tons of material in 10,000 individual parts and at least 60 employees to venues on five continents. Of course, they have to ensure that everything arrives there on time what calls for a system and improvisation in equal measure.

Grande Complication Dial Explained
Small World

Time moves the world. The IWC Portuguese Grande Complication is an understated, beautifully designed way of summarizing time as the motor of all change: a time machine that shows a tilted globe on the dial.

89800 Calibre Movement
Eternity in Digits

The IWC-manufactured 89800 caliber, which made its debut in 2009, redefined the digital date display. The triple-disc mechanism in the perpetual calendar features large-format displays for the date and month and, slightly more discreetly, the leap year cycle. All are ingeniously synchronized.

Top Secret

In a small town in central England, over 500 specialists spend their time developing and building silver arrows for the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One™ Team. Almost every one of the 3,200 parts in each car is custom-made.

Ingenieur: the story of a legend

When the Ingenieur from Schaffhausen was launched in 1955 it created a storm. But its actual history goes back much further: to 1888.