Translucency Trend: 9 Watches That Aid In Defining The Difference Between Transparent And Translucent
There has been a trend in watches for quite a while (can it even be a trend then?) to have unique views into a movement either via skeletonization or a cutaway/sapphire crystal dial or to have windows all the way through the movement, usually highlighting a tourbillon or other visually captivating function.
The idea of transparency has even come full circle with the development of sapphire crystal cases, making the entire watch see-through – and much more expensive (see Give Me Five! Sapphire Crystal Cases At Baselworld 2016).
But there is a problem that word nerds may have noticed: the word transparent is often confused with translucent, and many use the terms interchangeably. But there is a difference, and it is important to note it when thinking about design intent.
You can see through a transparent watch unimpeded, like through a window or a pair of glasses. Translucency allows light through but the medium is opaque not clear (see the Parmigiani Tonda 1950 Squelette above). You cannot see through translucent material.
Welding googles and stained glass are good examples of translucency; these allow light to pass through but it is scattered, either a little or a lot, so that you can tell there is something between you and what you are looking at.
Translucency drastically changes the feeling of a watch, and as it is used much less often than transparency it can make a timepiece unique. This year I’ve noticed more watches utilizing translucency, and given that sapphire crystal cases and dials are becoming somewhat “normalized” across the industry, I love this new use of light.
I’m not sure if translucency is going to become a real trend, but it seems to have a strong showing this year. Here are nine watches so far from 2018 that have done interesting work with translucency and may inspire other brands to pursue the idea further.
Louis Moinet’s semi-precious stone game is always on point, as it is the brand perhaps best known for putting rare or beautiful stones in its watches aside from Jaquet Droz (see Aventurine: Sparkling, Glittering, Mysterious, And Placing A Galaxy Of Stars On Your Wrist).
Baselworld 2018 saw the launch of the Spacewalker, a watch honoring the first spacewalk by Russian cosmonaut Alexey Leonov. The piece features a unique flying tourbillon at 12 o’clock backed by a beautiful piece of blue aventurine.
But instead of just creating a background, the aventurine creates a glowing visage of space if held up to the light. The cutaway in the movement for the tourbillon goes through to the rear, so in place of a dial there is a bit of a mystical window into the universe. It is very cool and an idea that I hope to see making its way into many watches across the industry!
For more information, please visit www.louismoinet.com and/or Louis Moinet Spacewalker: Spectacularly Highlighting First Human Spacewalk By Alexey Leonov.
Jaquet Droz is an artistic powerhouse. Aside from the technical expertise that goes into every automaton, the brand has honed fine artists in every skill imaginable. So it should come as no surprise that it has created something like the Petite Heure Minute Smalta Clara, which boasts a movement suspended in the middle of a mosaic of plique-à-jour enamel (see more at Jaquet Droz’s Petite Heure Minute Smalta Clara: A Ferociously Rare Art Form To Celebrate 280 Years).
Resembling a roaring tiger, the plique-à-jour enamel spans the entire case and has no backing: it’s an ethereal pane of delicately crafted cells of enamel. When held up to the light, the tiger shines as it comes alive.
The craftsmanship is superb, and the visual result was one of my favorite surprises from Baselworld 2018.
For more information, please visit www.jaquet-droz.com.
Stepan Sarpaneva Optical Fiber Moon concept
First off it should be noted that this watch is a concept in development, so it may (and I have heard, has) change from what you see here when it is finished. But that does not negate the incredibly awesome creation that utilizes a thin wafer of optical fiber machined to resemble the Sarpaneva moon.
The window at 6 o’clock is translucent, but not perfectly polished to become transparent. In the rear of the movement, a flying disk passes over the window over the course of the moon’s phases to indicate the exact phase.
It is an incredibly unique take on the moon phase mechanism, and I look forward to the official launch of it hopefully later this year.
While the three previous watches on the list had parts that showed light from the opposite side, the Métiers d’Art Les Aérostiers from Vacheron Constantin uses translucency differently.
Vacheron Constantin wanted to provide a peek into the movement but still keep it generally hidden. The central balloon engravings are mounted upon a fine layer of plique-à-jour enamel, which gives a glimpse into the gearing and disks for the time and date displays.
This method of showing without being obvious is perfect for a brand like the very traditional Vacheron Constantin as it allows a bit of playfulness even at the highest levels of watchmaking.
For more information, please visit www.vacheron-constantin.com.
The next addition to this list is from Ming, a young brand that has been very successful in understanding what collectors want.
The Ming 19.01, the second release from this micro brand, boasts one of the most effective applications of a sapphire crystal dial I have seen in a long time.
Starting with a domed sapphire crystal, a special printing process added a slowly fading circle of color across the dial. The center is completely opaque, but as you get closer to the edge the translucency increases until it is completely transparent.
The effect is truly stunning and even though it was released in late 2017, it is still on my mind and I think a great candidate for this list.
For more information, please visit www.ming.watch.
Bell & Ross BR-X1 and BR01-92 Red Radar
Bell & Ross is not necessarily known for artistic watchmaking, but rather aviation-inspired tool watches.
Designer Bruno Belamich and his team still make thousands of design choices for each timepiece, sometimes seeking to play with our relationship with light and visibility.
The BR-X1 Red Boutique Edition and its predecessor, the BR01-92 Red Radar, follow the simplest path towards translucency by using a sapphire crystal dial that has been tinted so it shows off the movement underneath but never feels too plain. In other words, it hinders the view just enough to create intrigue.
It is a subtle translucency, and probably the most common way you will see translucency in a watch, but the effect still works well to add another layer to these aviation-inspired classics.
For more information, please visit www.bellross.com.
The Corum Romvlvs Annual Calendar is a slightly strange mix of vintage Corum and modern design intent. The dial features the same method as the Bell & Ross above to create translucency – a tinted sapphire crystal – but this time a deep green to match the bezel and rubber strap.
It affords a view into the movement’s annual calendar mechanism and the perlage across the movement main plate; the effect bridges the gaps from its original 1966 design cues to the modern tendency to show the movement.
Interestingly, in the description provided by Corum, the dial is referred to as “transparent” instead of “translucent,” illustrating that the word is hard pressed to be used properly even by the brands themselves.
For more information, please visit www.corum-watches.com.
The Vault V1 launches a brand-new brand built around a unique movement concept. I’ve discussed it before, but it deserves mention on this list because it uses translucency in a supremely unique way: the ring on top of the minutes mechanism has a gradually increasing pattern of etched lines that grow darker and darker as the current hour approaches.
The current hour is completely visible, no etched lines about, before beginning the pattern around the dial again. Creating translucency using a method similar to old printing techniques for creating half-tone patterns is really cool and shows that even after the complexity of the V1 was worked out, there was still attention paid to smaller details like this.
It is still a far cry from the translucency created in the Jaquet Droz Petite Heuer Minute Smalta Clara, but definitely on par for unique methods!
For more information, please visit www.vault.swiss.
Sartory Billard is a bit of an odd entry in this lineup as the watches are priced at a very reasonable $650, but the implementation of translucency is yet another unique one. The model (and, really, the brand) relies on the concept of user customization, allowing the choice of two different dials and eleven standard bezel choices with three more premium bezels to choose from as well.
But that isn’t why we are here. The dial choices are both translucent in either anthracite or silver hues and, like previous pieces mentioned here, provide just a little something extra to glimpse the movement. A little spice, if you will.
Secondly, two of the bezels are actually acetate, a technical word for a plastic that can, in some instances, be translucent. Coming in faux tortoise shell brown and Côte d’Azure blue, both are indeed somewhat translucent and give real depth to the bezel.
While these are entry-level watches, the options and the translucency make them interesting additions to this list.
For more information, please visit www.sartory-billard.com.
You might also enjoy:
Ming 19.01 By Ming Thein, Unparalleled Quality For Price
Vault V1/V1+: An Intensely Personal Relationship With Time
Give Me Five! Sapphire Crystal Cases At Baselworld 2016
Spending Time With The Richard Mille RM 07-02 Pink Lady Sapphire
It’s Transparently Brilliant! HM6 SV By MB&F
Louis Moinet Spacewalker: Spectacularly Highlighting First Human Spacewalk By Alexey Leonov
Also published on Medium.