Here’s How Carbon Is Changing the Idea of Luxury in Watchmaking

Tough as nails and light as a feather—and it comes with a price to match.

By Paige Reddinger 06/05/2019

By now, you know that carbon makes a watch look pretty cool. But the modern material is more than a sleek show-off for your wrist—it can build a better timepiece that’s both tough as nails and light as a feather.

It was only a matter of time before carbon made its way into the world of watches. Used in everything from Formula 1 cars to Tour de France bikes—anything that could benefit from incredible lightness and strength—the material made its first appearance in timepieces in the late ’90s, when brands like Audemars Piguet began using it as an alternative to steel, gold, and platinum. In 2013, Richard Mille developed Graph TPT, a carbon-based material that’s six times lighter and 200 times stronger than steel, kicking off a race in material innovation among the industry’s heaviest hitters. And this year, carbon is officially everywhere, from Roger Dubuis’s million-dollar Excalibur One-Off, which took inspiration from the body of a Lamborghini SC18 Alston hypercar, to Panerai’s Luna Rossa Challenger Submersible made with Carbotech, a composite that mimics the material used in racing yacht hulls.

More brands are now following Mille’s example and playing inventor. In January, Ulysse Nardin introduced Carbonium, a lightweight and eco-friendly material made of the aeronautical-grade carbon fibres found in aeroplane wings and fuselages that it now offers for its Freak X and Skeleton X watches. Girard-Perregaux has also recently launched a prototype for its Laureato Absolute Carbon Glass, which integrates coloured glass fibres into carbon to create a marbled material that the brand claims is 100 times stronger than steel and completely airtight.

But the biggest development comes via Tag Heuer’s new Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph (below). Rendered in a blackout titanium case, the watch features a patented carbon-composite hairspring designed by Guy Sémon, CEO of LVMH’s Science Institute and a virtual Nikola Tesla of modern watchmaking. The hairspring is a technological game-changer, nearly impervious to gravity and shock, making it more durable—and potentially more precise at telling time. Though the invention is exclusive to Tag Heuer, its innovative application is no doubt a glimpse of what the future of carbon watchmaking will look like.

Check out six more carbon beauties below.

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic Tourbillon
PRICE: $130,200
CASE SIZE: 42mm

Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic Tourbillon.
Courtesy of Bulgari.

Roger Dubuis Excalibur One-Off
PRICE: $1,000,063
CASE SIZE: 47mm

Roger Dubuis Excalibur One-Off.
Courtesy of Roger Dubuis.

Panerai Luna Rossa Challenger Submersible
PRICE: $20,500
CASE SIZE: 47mm

Panerai Luna Rossa Challenger Submersible.
Courtesy of Panerai Luna Rossa.

Ulysse Nardin Freak X
PRICE: $24,000
CASE SIZE: 43mm

Ulysse Nardin Freak X.
Courtesy of Ulysse Nardin.

Girard-Perregaux Laureato Absolute Carbon Glass
PRICE: Not yet available
CASE SIZE: 44mm

Girard-Perregaux Laureato Absolute Carbon Glass.
Courtesy of Girard-Perregaux.

Tag Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph
PRICE: $25,500
CASE SIZE: 45mm

Tag Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02T Tourbillon Nanograph.
Courtesy of Tag Heuer.

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