Modern watchmakers are crafting unique timepieces inspired by mankind’s most ancient obsession.
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: 1. The Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer Manufacture watch ($50,300) is crafted in 18k rose gold with a matching 18k rose-gold case and bracelet. It houses the self-winding UN-118 movement. B. Young & Co., 834 N. Rush St., 312-888-0027
2. From Bulgari, this stunning Serpenti watch ($59,000) is crafted in 18k white gold with a supple white-gold bracelet designed to emulate the creature’s appearance, including a tapered tail. 909 N. Michigan Ave., 312-255-1313
3. This Waldan International Power Reserve Chronometer ($20,000) features a two-part, 37mm 18k rose-gold case with fluted bezel. The COSC-certified chronometer offers second time zone, day of week, and power reserve indicators. Wilfred Newman, 750 N. Franklin St., Ste. 105, 312-929-3067
4. Buccellati has crafted this Cleopatra cuff watch ($43,500) in a proprietary 18k black gold. The cuff consists of 66.22 grams of gold and is set with 32 diamonds. 62 E. Oak St., 312-600-9224
Gold has been considered the ultimate measure of wealth since the beginning of civilization: As far back as 3600 BC, Egyptians portrayed gold in their hieroglyphics, and the Mesopotamians were among the first to craft gold jewelry. Throughout history, gold has emerged as a unit of currency, a factor in art, and a universal sign of love in the form of wedding bands. The luxurious partnership between gold and timekeeping began in the 17th century, which saw the creation of personal timepieces in the form of pocket watches, with early watchmakers naturally turning to gold to satisfy affluent clients.
In its pure form (roughly 24 karats), gold is incredibly soft and malleable—much too soft to be crafted into the hull of a watchcase that is meant to protect the movement within. As such, the most standard international karatage in watchmaking is 18 karat, which contains 75 percent pure gold. The remaining 25 percent is comprised of other metals or alloys (materials that make the watch stronger and can lend a new hue to the color). To form the hues of gold, a variety of materials are added to the original yellow gold ingot during the melting process.
Colors of gold trend over time, and yellow gold—though still consistently used—is less popular today than 18k white gold (made by mixing white metals like palladium or nickel with the gold) and 18k pink or “rose” gold (the more copper added, the richer and deeper the pink-gold hue). Typically the value of 3N and 4N is given to pink and rose gold, while 5N takes on a deeper, richer hue. Some brands refer to their 5N pink gold as “red” gold, with certain watchmakers going a step further to create their own gold hues—think green, orange, honey, brown, gray, and even purple—by adding various alloys. Others not only add special metals to achieve their own proprietary color, but also add materials to slow down or stop the fading of the color of gold, or assist in preventing scratches. To achieve certain unique shades like black, alloys are not part of the coloration process; instead, the color is achieved via an external coating in either electroplating, physical vapor deposit (PVD), or by controlled oxidation.