Case finishes: Part I

There’s a lot of tricky terminology when it comes to watches. These can be quite confusing, especially when you’re new in the watch game! And one that comes up particularly frequently is the word ‘finish’. The finish is the manufacturing process where the surface texture of a metal is manipulated to give it an attractive surface appearance. That sounds simple enough but there are so many different types of finish, both with the movement and the case! Though, you will find some similarities with finishes both found on the case and the movement. This will be another two-part blog series exploring both the finishes used on cases and the finishes used on the movements! 

We’ll begin with case finishes!

POLISHED: One of the two most commonly seen finishes on the case of a watch. A polished, mirror-like finish. This is most commonly achieved by using various polishing wheels and polishing compound. The best polish is applied to movement parts and is called black polish due to the component often looking black as a result of the light reflecting off the perfect surface. A full polish case looks extremely smart and is most often seen on dress watches. This NOMOS Glashutte Ahoi Datum perfectly shows the way a finely polished case reflects light.

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BRUSHED: The second of the most commonly seen case finishes is brushed. Brushed finishes can vary significantly, but all feature uniform scratches on the case all in the same direction. There are two types of brushed finish. Straight grain, and circular grain. The circular grain is most commonly found on circular parts of the watch, such as the case back or bezel. This Rolex Datejust 126300 illustrates the difference perfectly. With straight grain brush on the case back and circular grain surrounding the case back and under the lugs.

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SAND/BEAD BLASTED: Sand or bead blasted finishes are less frequent on luxury watches as it is a very rugged type of finish. Blasting the case with flecks glass much like sand or fine beads gives the case a matte and rugged look. Almost looking like the watch has no finish at all due to the uniform and blank appearance of the case. It is only on very close inspection can the fine grain of the sandblasting process can actually be seen. The differing grain of the sand or beads used will change the appearance of the watch. A sandblasted finish is shown here on the buckle of this Preowned IWC Aquatimer Automatic 2000 46mm iw358002. 

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PVD/DLC & OTHER COATINGS: PVD, DLC and other coatings are often found on watch cases. Firstly, DLC. DLC stands for Diamond Like Carbon, where a carbon material with similar properties to diamond (extreme toughness and durability) is applied to the case or hardware of a watch. Leading to a black case due to the black of the carbon material. Next, PVD. PVD stands for Physical Vapour Condensation, where a coating in the form of vapour is condensed and applied evenly to the case of a watch. This Oris Big Crown ProPilot Date has a steel case that is PVD plated grey to make the watch more tactical and to avoid glare. 

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Other coatings include electro-plating. This involves plating one metal onto another by hydrolysis (we won’t go into the science behind hydrolysis and electroplating here as it is quite complex). Electroplating is how a lot of gold cases, as well as gold hands and markers, are created, coating another metal with a layer of gold of varying thicknesses depending on where and what is being plated. Like the hands and numerals of this Bell & Ross BR03-94 Golden heritage.

Golden Heritage

SPECIAL CASES – Other case materials are often used. Titanium is strong, light and durable. White, yellow and rose gold are also common and can be finished much the same as steel. And Platinum being found on ultra high-end pieces which is stronger and rarer than gold. However, all these different metals can be finished largely the same as steel. Special case materials like Breitling’s trademarked polymer/plastic composite case ‘Breitlight®’ can carry a completely unique finish! Here, with a smooth matte finish with the appearance much like that of forged carbon on this Breitling Avenger Hurricane 50 xb0170e4/i533/257s.x :

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Another case material that is becoming increasingly common is Ceramic. Ceramic is extremely light & hard wearing. The impressive toughness of ceramic makes it difficult to polish. However, when a polish is achieved it is very scratch resistant. Bell & Ross frequently construct entire cases from ceramic in a variety of finishes. Such as the Bell & Ross BRS 98 White Diamond pictured below as well its sister Bell & Ross BRS 98 Black Diamond in a similar black ceramic case. Both in polish!

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BEVELLING: Perhaps the most subtle of case finishes is bevelling or chamfering. this is where the sharp edges of the case are shaved down and polished. Some brands do this better than others and AP are unsurprisingly one of the best for case finishing on the market! Take the sharply bevelled lug edge of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Volcano 26170ST.OO.D101CR.01. A keen eye will spot bevelling on many different brands of luxury watch as it is a great way of smoothing out sharp edges and improving the quality of the finish of the case!

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HAMMERED: The remarkable, but also most infrequently witnessed is a hammered finish. Therefore unsurprisingly, another finish we don’t have in-stock here at The Watch Source. Most notably used on Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Frosted gold Ref: 67653or.gg.1263or.01. This finish is achieved using a timeless Florentine technique, hammering the watch case with a hammerhead that creates tiny indents in the case. That, as put by AP, creates a “Diamond dust” effect on the case!

VERDICT:

You now should be an expert on all watch case finishes you see out there in the wild! The finish of a case is often taken for granted and not paid particular attention to. However, when looking with a finer eye the case finish adds (or if done poorly, takes away) so much from a piece that we may not have noticed beforehand. Most high-end watches will feature more than one finish on the case. Usually combining brushed and polished finishes with bevelled edges. Occasionally, with a PVD or DLC case on top of all that!

PART II:

In part 2, we’ll continue our photographic guide by advancing into the even more complex world of movement finishes! Which is now available, view part II here.

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