The use of ceramics in watchmaking is not something undertaken by many brands due to the complexity involved in working with this material. Tudor, however, turned as many heads as they did naysayers at Baselworld 2013 with the launch of their Fastrider Black Shield — a menacingly handsome timepiece clad in monolithic high-tech ceramic. By Suzanne Wong
Things have been moving with amazing speed and force at Tudor recently. And even though it’s only been in the last few years that Tudor timepieces have been generating enormous amounts of interest far surpassing anything that has gone before, you know for a fact that things behind the scenes have been brewing for much longer.
In 2010, we saw the gorgeously nostalgic Heritage Chrono; Baselworld 2013 brought with it the Heritage Chrono’s jaunty, Mediterranean-inflected cousin, the Heritage Chrono Blue. The Fastrider sports chronograph was first introduced in 2011 and was warmly welcomed by those who saw in the new collection, with its smart racing stripes, a renewed commitment to Tudor’s youth-orientated stylings. The watershed year for Tudor, however, came in 2012 as market buzz about the brand went into hyperdrive following the launch of the Heritage Black Bay and the Pelagos dive watch.
The Pelagos and the Heritage Black Bay more than earned their respective positions as the 2012 winners of Revolution magazine’s Ultimate Value and Best Watch Design awards. Both watches accomplished this with their timely and savvy revival of the iconic design codes of classic Tudor — big crowns, square hour markers, deeply bevelled lugs, ‘snowflake’ hands and square-tipped crown guards. In the case of the Pelagos, the construction of the watch in full titanium with a rotating bezel featuring luminous inset markers, a helium-release valve and quick-adjust deployant buckle, made it the entire market’s most competitive offering in its price category.
This year, Tudor’s Baselworld novelties included the Heritage Ranger, which resurrected a model from 1967 and revived the spirit of adventure and affinity with the great outdoors within the brand. Its appealingly plain and exceptionally legible dial is surmounted by a subtly 14cambered crystal that calls attention to the taut lines of the case. The Heritage Ranger was released alongside the new Tudor Style, a supremely accessible line that marries practicality with a dash of 1950s Italian dolce vita.
Here is the thing about Tudor today: not only are their watches consistently amazing value for money, but they also firmly acknowledge the historical and cultural ties of the brand; they make smart and well-considered use of material and design innovations. They are, in a single word, transcendent.
Start Your Engines
The Fastrider collection, as mentioned earlier, officially debuted at the 2011 Baselworld fair, in the same year that saw the Heritage Advisor alarm watch reinforce the retro-chic message set by the 2010 Heritage Chrono. The Fastrider collection was a full-on induction into the high-octane, powerful world of motorcycle racing. The Tudor Grantour line of timepieces, which was introduced in 2009, also came out with new models in 2011, strengthening the sports pillar of the brand — the Grantour was established in partnership with Porsche Motorsport. In the later half of 2011, the Fastrider cemented its sporting credentials with a Ducati collaboration that saw a new red-dialled, fabric-strapped model commemorating this union. The Tudor–Ducati collaboration was — and still is — a comparative rarity in that it involved a motorcycle company. Most motoring partnerships take place with car m arques, but Tudor’s positioning as a brand featuring high-spirited, sharply turned-out timepieces made it a unique fit with the emphatic muscularity of Ducati. “While we have had offers in the past to work with some other watch firms, we didn’t want it to be just a purely product-based collaboration, but to work with a company that shares the same values of performance and aesthetics,” said Lucio Attinà, Apparel and Brand Development Director at Ducati. Tudor CEO Philippe Peverelli concurred with this assessment, stating, “Ducati is the essence of the motorbike world, and Tudor belongs with a company that is a leader in the industry.”
In this way, as 2013 approached, Tudor was perfectly poised to take its contemporary sporting chronographs to a whole new level. While the Heritage Chrono Blue snagged headlines and column space due to its summery, 1970s leisure aesthetic, it was the other big Tudor novelty that dominated the technically innovative sphere.
The Fastrider Black Shield is a stealthy all-black timepiece that combines the ruggedness of high-tech ceramic with a battle-tested chronograph movement customised for Tudor. The challenge of working with high-tech ceramic, a material that is surpassed only by diamond in terms of hardness, is well known throughout the industry, and Tudor have built heavily upon the expertise they gained through producing the ceramic bezel of the Pelagos in creating the Black Shield.
Even in the field of materials science, the term ‘high-tech ceramic’ can be a nebulous one. In layman’s terms, it is an umbrella expression for a number of inorganic solids that are not plastics or metals. The majority of applications of high-tech ceramics in watchmaking require the material to be formed at high heat through sintering processes.
The extremely complex manufacturing process of high-tech ceramic in complex geometrical shapes (as necessitated by a watchcase) requires great levels of expertise. Until now, almost all existing ceramic watchcases are made in several parts — and even so, it is unusual to see a watch in full ceramic. The bezel, for example, is often to be found in stainless steel or titanium. This is because high-tech ceramic is known to suffer from brittleness despite its hardness. As the bezel is prone to hard knocks, many watch brands attempting to incorporate ceramic into their watches will avoid (as much as possible) having it on the bezel.
Being able to create a watch that utilises a monobloc case in high-tech ceramic, and having the confidence as well to have a ceramic bezel front and center, is a wonderful statement of committed quality from Tudor.
The case is created using ceramic injection moulding, which, when combined with highly refined ratios of raw ceramic material, results in the finest state-of-the-art high-tech ceramic with greater density, hardness and scratch-resistance coefficients. First, powdered ceramic material is shaped using organic binders and injected into moulds. The so-called ‘green’ forms then undergo a chemical process that leaches the binder from the forms while leaving the geometry of the forms intact.
After this stage, known as catalytic debinding, the forms are then subject to a sintering furnace. The temperatures achieved in this furnace do not reach the melting point of the ceramic, but instead cause an accelerated rate of atomic diffusion, such that the ceramic particles are densely bound together on a molecular level. During this process, the forms lose nearly 20 percent of their mass — this shrinkage has to be taken into account during the initial stages so that the final size of the product falls within the specifications of the watch dimensions.
When the sintering is complete, the finished forms are already extremely close to their final shape, thanks to the injection-moulding process that can accommodate intricate geometric structures. Other processes, involving the pressing out of blanks and milling them to the required shape, are far more time- and energy-consuming, which is why many early instances of ceramic watchcases favoured simple designs.
Other elements of the watch — the crown, chronograph pushers, shield-shaped date corrector, buckle — are executed in black-PVD-coated stainless steel. Although the temptation is to bring the watch out in polished ceramic to emphasise the near-adamantine surface of the material, the Tudor Fastrider Black Shield keeps things low-key with a matte finish. Or at least it keeps things as low-key as possible with those bright red accents that glower in the dark like the smouldering headlamps of an asphalt demon.
There Can Only Be One
Of course, this is the first time that Tudor have released a timepiece all suited up in black, and it’s completely to their credit that they’ve chosen to do things the hard way. It would have been much easier, after all, to PVD-coat the existing stainless-steel Fastrider and have exactly the same aesthetic effect at a fraction of the production cost. There are, however, a number of disadvantages immediately apparent in this approach. A beat-up watch in plain old stainless steel takes on a rugged, testosterone-charged life of its own, bearing its scratches like battle scars. However, the same transmutative principle does not apply to watches that come in black-PVD-coated steel — and, yes, they can and do get scratched, exposing the bright metal underneath.
While PVD treatment is ostensibly undertaken to ‘sportify’ a watch and make it more scratch-resistant, the fact is that watches given this surface coating are more often than not rendered unsuitable for an active life by that very same treatment. The entire business is thickly layered with something that’s not scratch-resistant coating — more like irony.
Tudor have released a watch with a monobloc high-tech-ceramic case, firstly, because it is virtually impossible for the case to be scratched; secondly, because even if through some unimaginable scenario you manage to scratch your Fastrider Black Shield (perhaps through the parlous confluence of carelessness, alcohol and diamond-tipped drill bits), the damage would be nigh invisible due to the uniform colour of the material throughout its entire volume.
Whereas the previous Fastrider bore its dial-side racing stripes with panache and flair (the stripes continued onto the fabric strap with a bold inversion of colour), the Black Shield goes fully dichromatic in red and black, with nothing interrupting the basaltic sheen of the dial except the lava-hued, arrow-tipped hour indices. The hour indices are markedly three-dimensional, with faceted surfaces that imply some sort of crystalline growth out of the dial — a ‘fearful symmetry’ that is highlighted in the raw futurism and naturalistic savagery of the Black Shield’s advertising campaign. The exchange of the squared-off Arabic numerals on the dial of the preceding Fastrider for the clean-edged hour indices of the Black Shield also indicates a certain terseness in expression that shuns extraneous signals. The watch is clearly not a machine that communicates freely, except in the inexorability and economy of its movement. The gasket sealing the dial crystal is also bright red, hinting at the barely contained aggression of the Black Shield.
The Valjoux cal. 7753 — with a three-six-nine orientation of the subdials and a 46-hour power reserve — beats within the Black Shield, and the watch comes with a strap in rubber or leather with red contrast stitching. Accompanying the launch of the Tudor Fastrider Black Shield is a unique model of the Ducati Diavel Carbon, finished entirely in matte black with red accents. For those who prefer a more muted palette to accompany their waking hours, the Black Shield also comes in a version with a bronze tint to the hour indices and hands, with a beige Alcantara strap.
With this year’s launch of the Heritage Ranger, Tudor have once again ascertained their exuberant embrace of their heritage; with the Fastrider Black Shield, the brand continues to sketch out a powerful direction for its future in sports chronographs and materials technology. It’s been said before in the past few years, but never has the message been stronger than it is now — Tudor is carving out a new throne.
Created by The Rake for Tudor