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How It’s Made: Rado’s High-Tech Ceramic Watches

The Rado True Phospho, part of the brand’s limited-edition True Designers’ Series

WRITTEN BY CHRISTINA GONZALES
Ten times harder (yet two-and-a-half times lighter) than gold, hypoallergenic, and adaptive to the temperature of the wearer’s skin, Rado’s high-tech ceramic is a lesson in design and innovation.

In 1962, Rado debuted its iconic DiaStar 1, marketed as the world’s first scratchproof watch, made from hard metal and sapphire crystal. Since then, material science has advanced a lot, and Rado continues to be pioneering. Best known for their transformative use of ceramic, one of the lightest and most durable materials used in high-end watchmaking, here, the science behind Rado’s high-tech ceramic.

ZIRCONIUM OXIDE

High-tech ceramic feedstock.

A high-tech ceramic timepiece starts off as an ultrafine powder made up of zirconium oxide, a compound used in medicine and space technology. Pigments are added to the powder to set its colour.

Because zirconium oxide has an extremely high melting point (above 2,000 degrees Celsius), the material can’t be cast. Instead, the powder is injected into a precision mould and sintered.

“Most people shy away from using ceramics because they’re harder to process than most metals,” says Rodney Rice, professor of ceramic processing at Purdue University in Indiana.

SINTERING PROCESS
The zirconium oxide is sintered at 1,450 degrees Celsius, shrinking the material by 23 percent and making it fully dense. The result is a revolutionary scratch-free ceramic that’s light and smooth.

For high shine, the pieces are polished for days or receive a matte finish. The colours offered include black, white, lunar grey, forest green, inky blue and chocolate brown, as well as plasma, a metallic-look treatment that doesn’t use metal.

PLASMA HIGH-TECH CERAMIC

Freshly injected high-tech ceramic cases.

Plasma is achieved by taking the already sintered high-tech ceramic pieces and inserting them into an oven that blasts the material at 20,000 degrees Celsius. The ceramic itself reaches a temperature of 900 degrees, and its colour changes into a metallic grey—the look of metal, with the advantages of ceramic.

The Rado True Designers’ Collection, made with high-tech ceramic, is an exclusive series of limited-edition timepieces produced in collaboration with renowned designers around the world. The resulting watches are luxe, wearable, and classic marvels of innovation, which will last a lifetime. High-tech ceramic is truly the hallmark of Rado design.