Render unto Caesar that which is… Chanel’s: the full black J12 was one of the first all-black watches, in ceramic, with three hands or chronograph – and intentionally unisex. However, the sheen of the material in question, a real innovation in the year 2000, did not meet with widespread acceptance, and matt black prevailed.
Breitling, a pioneer in this area, produced black PVD versions of most of its standard collections, including its Avenger, Super Avenger, Avenger Hurricane, and Avenger Blackbird. In 2006, Hublot took the same direction with its ‘All Black’ Big Bang models. The collection is still in production, and regularly celebrates its anniversary dates with new models in response to a demand that shows no signs of waning.
J12 « full black » © Chanel
Super Avenger Chronograph 48 Night Mission (2019) © Breitling
Several firms have combined the appeal of black with the technical qualities of carbon, which is itself naturally black. Victorinox is one; Panerai is another. The Neuchâtel-based Manufacture has several Carbotech models, in particular Submersibles. Carbon provides unparalleled strength – and shades of black that differ from one timepiece to another. It also allows a second colour to be used (notably for the hour-markers), providing the contrast that is much sought-after on diving watches. This use of contrast has also been adopted by Bell & Ross for the underwater world with its BR 03 92 Driver Black Matte – as well as by Tudor for racing watches, with its Fastrider Black Shields. Ulysse Nardin has taken a similar line, too, converting its Skeletons and Freaks to black.
Freak Out (2018) © Ulysse Nardin
Richard Mille has exploited the trend but with its own distinctive materials, in particular Carbone TPT – as found on the acclaimed RM 35-02 model dedicated to Rafael Nadal. The same is true of Zenith, with its Defy El Primero Carbon. Meanwhile IWC prefers Ceratanium, a black titanium-ceramic composite first used in 2017 for an Aquatimer, and later on its Top Gun aviation timepieces.
Bulgari has taken an entirely different tack: bucking the trend for military-style full black pieces, the Manufacture has instead opted to enlist all the refinement and singularity of its Octo Finissimo. The multiple GPHG prize-winner now also comes in full-black three-hand chronograph, or skeletonised versions. Piaget, the other ultra-thin specialist, may not yet have followed suit, but it has updated its Emperador collection with a modern, dynamic, black model.
Octco Finissimo Black Edition © Bulgari
Not content with mere surface treatments, a few firms have adopted another approach: Vantablack. This material, derived from astrophysics, is the darkest substance known on earth, absorbing up to 99.965% of visible light. Since the eye needs reflected light to perceive objects, Vantablack looks like an absence of material – a black hole. Several brands have dabbled in this form of black magic; they include Manufacture Contemporaine du Temps (MCT, with its 2017 Sequential One S110 Evo Vantablack), as well as Hautlence and H. Moser & Cie, with a few ‘concept’ pieces.
Big Bang All Black 301 (2006) © Hublot
*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English.