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Featherweight Watches

Laurie Kahle
From the Print Edition:
Jeff Bridges, July/August 2013

When tennis champ Rafael Nadal returned to the circuit this year wearing Richard Mille’s RM 27-01 Tourbillon Rafael Nadal, he was styling an important trend in watchmaking: the use of high-tech alloys to make superlight cases. The $690,000 sport watch weighs only 19 grams (about two-thirds of an ounce) with a case made from carbon nanotubes and a movement suspended by tiny shock-absorbing cables, allowing it to withstand forces exceeding 5,000 Gs. While Mille has taken high-watchmaking for sports performance to unfathomable extremes, you don’t have to be a millionaire star athlete to reap the benefits of the latest advancements in materials technology and robust movement design.

“A sport watch design requires lightness and durability,” says Hartmut Kraft, president of Maurice Lacroix North America. The brand’s new Pontos S Extreme ($5,980, left), with input from automotive designer Henrik Fisker, features a case made of Powerlite, a patented alloy of aluminum, ceramic, magnesium, titanium and zirconium. “We wanted a technical feature that goes beyond water resistance and antimagnetic properties,” explains Kraft. “Powerlite is half the weight of stainless steel and five times harder, yet it is not as brittle as titanium.” The ceramic element, he adds, endows the material with aesthetic novelty as well since it can be produced in colors: red, green and blue.

Linde Werdelin’s SpidoLite II Tech Green ($14,000, right) features an inner case crafted from the brand’s proprietary ALW, a metallic alloy that is half the weight of titanium and stronger than steel. The lightweight ALW inner case is matched with a skeletonized outer case made of forged carbon paired with a ceramic bezel and a ceramic-coated titanium crown. Both green and rose gold versions are limited to 75 pieces, and they connect with the brand’s exclusive digital Reef and Rock modules that track and log your performance stats.

The French brand B.R.M. (Bernard Richards Manufacture) unveiled two new superlight sport watches this year. The MK44 chronograph ($13,450), weighing in at 48.8 grams, features a clear case made of Makrolon, a polycarbonate material used for the windshields of racecars. Also tipping the scale at less than 50 grams is another model ($12,750, center) with a unique synthetic polymer case combined with an innovative movement construction that employs six shock absorbers. “The goal for the mechanism was to make something you can wear when playing sports like golf or tennis without any problems,” explains the company’s founder, Bernard Richards. “So, there are three shock absorbers on the front, and three others positioned vertically inside. There is also a braking system inside the rotor so when you go to hit the ball, the rotor will stop to avoid too much spin.”

And you don’t have to win the Grand Slam to afford to wear one. 

Visit richardmille.com, mauricelacroix.com, lindewerdelin.com and brm-manufacture.com

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