When Napoleon III ordered aluminum cutlery for the royal court, he planned to serve the table with them for himself and the most respected guests, the rest relied on simpler cutlery made of gold and silver. This anecdote would have been perceived as an anecdote if not for the fact that the production of aluminum in the middle of the 19th century was more expensive than gold. By the 20th century, the technology of industrial production of aluminum had already been developed, and the low weight, silvery-white color, high electrical and thermal conductivity determined the areas where this metal was most in demand. The watchmakers, apparently, simply did not understand why aluminum is needed, and were content with the traditional set of materials: steel, brass, nickel silver, gold and silver.
Aluminum entered watchmaking from the back door. In 1937, the Canadian corporation Aluminum Company of Canada began thinking about gifts for its most honored employees. Clock? It was in the spirit of the time, and someone from the company turned to Henry Birks and Sons, which owned a chain of jewelry and watch stores in Canada (they were called "Northern Tiffany"). Henry Birks and Sons was the official agent of Vacheron Constantin in Canada, so this Swiss brand was entrusted with the execution of the order. History (and Vacheron Constantin too) is silent about the difficulties the craftsmen faced when making purely aluminum pocket watches for the aluminum company. It is known, however, that they managed to cope with this work brilliantly. And what's more, extremely promptly:the first copies of the aluminum "vacherons" were delivered to the customer already in 1938 (by April 1950, the production volume was only 271 copies).
The case, dial, applied Breguet numerals, hands (gilded), platinum and mechanism bridges were produced in 44-mm suit (that is, thin) pocket watches from aluminum. Perhaps Vacheron Constantin did not even think about the "weight" world record, but it succeeded: the weight of the watch was only 19.61 g. Only recently, at the expense of incredible efforts and costs, the Richard Mille brand was able to slightly improve this indicator in the super-light RM 27- 01 and RM 27-02.
Vacheron Constantin aluminum pocket watch, 1951 © press office
In mass-produced wristwatches, aluminum was also used, but already due to its cheapness, and not its low weight. So, in the Soviet years, the models "Start" were equipped with gilded aluminum cases, and the largest men's watch of the USSR "Ural" with a diameter of 40 mm was made of anodized aluminum.
In fact, Bvlgari has rediscovered this metal for fine watchmaking, presenting in 1998 the ultra-light provocative sports watch Diagono Aluminum with a rubber strap. Meanwhile, sophisticated watch mechanics were gaining momentum, and engineers of watch companies, mainly Swiss ones, were looking for new materials for the designed models. The low weight of aluminum and its alloys was a very useful property in the manufacture of components of a complex movement, for which a decrease in inertia was one of the standard problems (in particular, it was this factor that led to the rapid development of silicon technology in watchmaking). In 2004, Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced the Gyrotourbillon 1 with an aluminum biaxial spherical tourbillon cage, in 2006 Audemars Piguet released the Millenary MC12 Tourbillon Chronograph with anodized aluminum movement bridges.A year earlier, in the first attempt to design the lightest watch, Richard Mille engineers used an aluminum-lithium alloy for the production of skeletonized bridges and platinum of the RM 009 Tourbillon Felipe Massa watch, even lighter than conventional aluminum grades, and for the case - a composite material based on aluminum and silicon carbide. The result is a watch weighing 29 g without a strap and priced at $ 350,000
The Geneva watchmaker François-Paul Journe, founder of FPJourne, interpreted his classic models in aluminum: in 2011, the all-aluminum (case, bracelet, platinum and movement bridges) Centigraphe Sport watch appeared, a year later - the Octa Sport. Hublot's R&D department has developed an aluminum composite to stabilize the foam metal. The results were passed on to Zenith (both brands are owned by the LVMH group), and in 2017, the Zenith Defy Lab Aeronite watch, extravagant in both exterior and mechanics, was released.
1 of 5 Chronograph Centigraph Sport Aluminum, FPJourne © press service Octa Sport Aluminum watches, FPJourne © press service Octa Sport Aluminum watches, FPJourne © press service Big Bang Millenial Pink watches, Hublot © press service Defy Lab watches from Aeronite, Zenith © press service
2020 has proven to be a milestone for aluminum. Bvlgari has relaunched its 22-year-old revolutionary aluminum project Aluminum. The Bvlgari Aluminum and Aluminum Chronograph watches feature a modern design in black and white, a 40mm aluminum case with a titanium case back and automatic movements (the original 1998 was quartz) - both models weigh just over 70g.
1 of 3 Bvlgari Aluminum Chronograph, Bvlgari © press service Bvlgari Aluminum watches, Bvlgari © press service Bvlgari Aluminum watches, Bvlgari
Aluminum is about 40% lighter than titanium, but it is less suitable as a base metal for watchmaking: it is susceptible to corrosion, and its compounds are not always safe with direct prolonged contact with skin. However, almost all negative factors can be eliminated by using alloys and composites containing aluminum, or by applying coatings. One of these coatings is anodizing, which makes the surface more durable and wear-resistant, moreover, anodized aluminum can be painted. The palette is practically unlimited, which should be recognized as an undeniable design advantage. In this regard, we will mention the new Hublot 2020 Big Bang Millennial Pink in an anodized aluminum case in a special pastel shade that is in demand among the millennial generation.
This ability of aluminum to take on different colors, as well as its low weight, is highly appreciated by jewelers. Suzanne Syz from Geneva has been working with this metal for five years, from which she creates huge and at the same time weightless Suzanne Syz Art Jewels earrings in bright colors. She uses gold only for setting diamonds and colored stones.
Four years ago, the jewelry and watch brand Chopard turned to aluminum. The first experience was a large flower brooch with Australian opal surrounded by red petals. In 2018, a scarlet set of necklaces and earrings was presented in the Red Carpet collection - rubies were fixed in a bright red aluminum frame. “Imperial Red cannot be obtained with titanium, so we used aluminum,” explains the head of Chopard High Jewelery (the company has not released his name). In the Red Carpet 2020 collection, aluminum found another use: a thin layer of anodized foil is attached under each stone of a luxurious necklace. “This helps to emphasize the natural shade of the mineral and creates a color gradient,” notes the head of the atelier.
1 of 7 Chopard Fleurs d'Opales Brooch © Press Office Red Carpet Collection Necklace, Chopard, 2018 © Press Office Red Carpet Collection Earrings, Chopard, 2020 © Press Office The Sweet Treats Earrings, Suzanne Syz Art Jewels © Press Service Edison Enlightenment Earrings, Suzanne Syz Art Jewels © Press Service NO Pop Series Earrings, Suzanne Syz Art Jewels © Press Service Epic Jewelery Earrings © Press Service
The young Russian brand Epic Jewelery launched its first aluminum jewelry (the company celebrated its 10th anniversary). “We work a lot with titanium, but it cannot be anodized black. The coating gives a completely different effect and look”, - comments the founder of the brand Zakhar Borisenko. After several attempts, it was possible to give the aluminum surface a deep, even black color - against this background, pavé from more than 1000 stones shimmers in the earrings: sapphires, rubies, spinel mahenge.>