Seeing The Light: The Appeal Of Titanium Watches

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Seeing The Light: The Appeal Of Titanium Watches

Words by Mr Timothy Barber

12 October 2021

Originally launched back in 1975, Girard-Perregaux’s Laureato has risen from the sidelines to become the core watch of the brand’s modern collection, and it’s easy to see why. At a time when dynamic sports-luxe designs from the 1970s are white hot, the Laureato ticks every box going, with its silky silhouette, prominent octagonal bezel, distinct heritage and versatility as a platform for characterful variants.

That’s particularly the case with the Laureato Absolute, the beefed-up version launched in 2019, in which muscular designs and innovative case materials such as carbon glass and sapphire crystal have taken things a long way from the retro blueprint. For a watch as statement-making (ie, big) and high-luxe as the Absolute, it seems, mere stainless steel is not an option.

The latest version, however, does take things in a more sleek and polished direction – we’d hesitate to say “understated” when we’re talking about a 44mm octagonal wrist sculpture – without resorting to the heft of steel or precious metals. Instead, we have a metal that’s becoming an increasingly hot topic in watchmaking: titanium.

About half the weight of its equivalent mass in steel, but just as strong, titanium is of course perfectly suited to sports watches, particularly those as large as the Absolute Ti 230. But it’s arguably suffered in the past from being seen as a bit too workaday, a bit too industrial for a luxury watch – just as steel was seen in the 1970s, before the Laureato and its ilk broke the mould. But that’s a perception that is changing fast.

For exhibit A, you could turn to its recent adoption by Greubel Forsey, the supreme makers of six-figure horological fantasies-made-real, whose titanium-cased GMT Sport is surely the most extravagantly crafted lightweight sports watch ever conceived.

Then, there’s the discovery that its reverberant properties make for brighter, louder chiming watches than do precious metals: H. Moser & Cie., Jaeger-LeCoultre and Audemars Piguet are among those to have used it for modernising (dare one say upgrading) the venerable genre of the minute repeater.

However, in an age when the steel sports watch is king, the popularity of titanium is down to the sheer versatility it offers, while being so much less of a drag on the wrist. Generally – and as with the Laureato Absolute Ti 230 – we’re talking grade 5 titanium, an alloy used in aerospace engineering that’s significantly harder than the un-alloyed version. Usefully for watches, it’s also highly anti-corrosive and hypoallergenic; for the few people who tend to get allergic reactions to stainless steel, titanium presents a very workable alternative.

The first time you wear a titanium wristwatch, such as Bremont’s recently released MB Savanna, for instance, or even Laurent Ferrier’s high-gloss Classic Origin Hand-Wound, the lightness can feel disarmingly peculiar. It can even feel somewhat anti-luxe, one reason perhaps that it’s taken so long for the metal to rise up the ranks of desirability (the first titanium watch actually came along in 1970). Precious metals have made us expect, and even enjoy, some serious ballast in our wristwear.

But watches are getting more streamlined, more “designed” and more adaptable. In a model such as the Laureato Absolute Ti 230, the sculptural expanse of the 44mm case exhibits a satisfyingly luxurious effect, with gently sandblasted surfaces contrasting with highly-polished bevels. And the slightly muted colouration of the metal, as compared with steel, only heightens the sleek sportiness of the model, while losing nothing in swank value.

That’s something present in all the other details, too, of course. Driven by a redoubtable in-house automatic movement, Calibre GP3300-1060, the Laureato Absolute Ti 230’s standout features include the stark “sandwich” dial construction, in which hour markings are cut out of the surface of the dial to reveal luminous material below, and a patented Rubber Alloy strap, which itself contains titanium. There’s a micro-adjustment system as well, to ensure a close fit on the wrist, while matching the lightweight ergonomics of the metal.

A new light