Hard Timers: How Hublot Conjured its Magic Gold

Hublot Big Bang Ferrari MagicGoldThe Hublot brand is known for its use of unusual materials, including cermet (a mix of ceramic and metal), tungsten, and something the brand named “Hublonium” (an alloy of magnesium and aluminum). Now the company has unveiled one more: a very hard and therefore scratch-resistant alloy of gold Hublot has dubbed “Magic Gold.” Click here to read Gisbert Brunner’s report on how Hublot creates it.

Despite all the excellent properties of conventional gold, it is very soft. Measured on the Vickers scale, 18k gold has a hardness of 140. By comparison, the steel alloy that’s commonly used for watch cases and bracelets, 316L stainless steel, ranges between 200 and 240 on the Vickers scale. Rose gold is slightly harder than yellow gold because there’s more copper in rose gold. Magic Gold, however, scores nearly 1,000 on the Vickers scale.

Hublot is not the first to introduce a harder form of gold. In 2010, A. Lange & Söhne developed a gold alloy for its 165th Anniversary Homage to F.A. Lange watch. It refers to this alloy, which measures 300 to 320 Vickers, as “honey-colored” gold.

Developing Magic Gold involved taking advantage of the minuscule pores in ceramic, an extremely hard substance. The manufacturing process, for which Hublot has received a patent, begins with ceramic powder. In this instance, the material is boron carbide, which is pressed into the desired shape under a pressure of about 30,000 lbs./sq. inch. The pre-formed pieces are then “baked” in a sintering furnace at 2,200 C: this heat treatment gives them a hard and porous structure, but doesn’t change the exterior shape. Next the technicians heat 24k gold, i.e., pure gold, to a temperature of 1,100 C and introduce the molten metal into an ultramodern machine. There, the liquid gold infiltrates the pores in the ceramic blank under a pressure of about 3,000 lbs./sq. inch and a temperature of 1,400 C. The liquefied gold fills the capillaries in the ceramic – and a new material is born.

You may wonder whether this new alloy is actually 18k gold, which must be composed of 750 parts pure gold out of 1,000. The answer is yes. After thorough research, the Swiss Central Office for Precious Metals Control determined that it does in fact consist of 75 percent pure gold.

In the next step, the piece is milled from the block of Magic Gold into the desired shape. The part is then further processed so it can be used for a Big Bang or King Power watch. Because the metal is so hard, diamond-tipped tools must be used to shape the piece. The surfaces are polished and then exposed to high-frequency ultrasound (50,000 hertz), which gives them an understated gleam. Watch cases made from Magic Gold components are assembled in the normal way.

The Big Bang Chrono Magic Gold, introduced at Baselworld in March, was the first Hublot watch made from the new material. The watch has an ETA 7753 movement and an entirely black dial.

Hublot found the team to create Magic Gold at Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), headed by Andreas Mortensen. On Mortensen’s team was a young metallurgical engineer, Senad Hasanovic, who joined the group as a doctoral candidate. After the project was completed, Jean-Claude Biver,  Hublot’s former CEO and now its chairman, hired Hasanovic to work at Hublot and to produce the new material entirely in Hublot’s factory. Now 30, Hasanovic directs the manufacture of Magic Gold at a high-tech foundry that is part of Hublot’s watch factory in Nyon, Switzerland.

This new technology may be applied to some other metals, too. According to Hasanovic, aluminum and other metals can be melted and pressed into porous ceramic, but only if the metal’s melting point is below 1,500 C. Even carbon is suited to this process, a fact that especially interests Biver because Hublot recently formed a partnership with the Italian carmaker Ferrari. Hublot presented its Big Bang Ferrari Magic Gold watch at Baselworld.

Hublot Magic Gold Process Step1

To make Magic Gold, powdered boron carbide is first poured into a mold, then pressed, and finally hardened in a sintering furnace.

Hublot Magic Gold Process Step 2

The next step in the process involves melting pure gold.

Hublot Magic Gold Process Step 3

Pure molten gold is poured into the center of the ceramic cylinder.

Hublot Magic Gold Process Step 4

Under tremendous pressure and extreme heat, a machine presses the gold into the pores of the surrounding ceramic.

Hublot Magic Gold Process Step 5

The blank doesn’t yet look like precious metal, but it nonetheless consists of genuine 18k gold.

Hublot Magic Gold Process Step 6

Finished milled parts such as this bezel must now be polished to give them a metallic sheen.

Hublot Big Bang Ferrari Magic Gold

The Hublot Big Bang Ferrari Magic Gold

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About Mark Bernardo

Mark Bernardo is the digital media editor of WatchTime magazine, responsible for developing and overseeing the editorial content on WatchTime.com as well as for WatchTime's tablet editions for the iPad, Nook, and Kindle. As WatchTime's managing editor, from 2006 through 2011, he has written about numerous watch companies from major brands like Omega, TAG Heuer and Piaget, to exclusive artisan lines such as Jean Dunand, De Bethune and DeWitt. Prior to joining WatchTime, he was the editor of Smoke, a lifestyle magazine for cigar enthusiasts, whose beats included cigars, watches, cars, wines and spirits, celebrities, men's fashion, and other subjects, and has written about luxury items for a variety of men's-interest publications, including Robb Report, Robb Report Motorcycling, Stratos, Worth, and Bloomberg Markets.

Comments

  1. Jay Nelson says:

    Hublot has designed a magnificently beautiful and wonderfully creative time piece. I very much appreciated reading about the meticulous processes that went into the design and manufacture. Thank you for the the article.

    All the Best

    • WatchTime says:

      Thanks, Jay, we appreciate your support.

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