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Watches - Feature Article

Gold: A History In Watchmaking

In our second instalment of our “materials campaign” (check out steel here), we take on the gold variations. Now I know some of you are thinking Del Boy (and I understand – some gold watches do tend to conjure up that visual), but that would be plain unfair. Gold may never have been hotter than it is now. With celebs and athletes as well as business tycoons rocking some form of gold wrist candy. I mean, Rolex even owns its foundry, seeing it exclusively use 18 ct gold, going from source to wrist is quite a statement of intent from the world’s biggest brand.

For thousands of years, we, as human beings have been attracted to the material (think Egyptian pharaohs and Roman emperors). Not only that, but it’s also rare. And that in itself creates demand. It also boasts fantastic properties. It does not tarnish, it’s very easy to work, can be drawn into wire, hammered into thin sheets, it alloys with many other metals, can be melted and cast into highly detailed shapes, has a wonderful colour and a brilliant lustre.

Today, most of the gold that is newly mined or recycled is used in the manufacture of jewellery (its about 78% of the gold that’s available). The first known use of gold in transactions dates back over 6000 years and it is true that early transactions were done using pieces of gold or pieces of silver. The rarity, usefulness, and desirability of gold make it a substance of long-term value. 

The 'dress watch' originated in the 30’s and 40’s really saw the end of the traditional pocket watch.  And this 'art deco' period also saw the increased interest in costume jewellery, and the rise in 32-34mm 9ct gold dress watches. In the 1980s many brands were attempting to appeal to a growing fashion market through the use of gold and at that time most gold-cased watches were either 14k or 18k gold. 18k gold watches are a relatively recent phenomenon, having become popular starting in the early 1980s, when gold prices began to increase, allowing watch makers to add more gold but also increase the prices of their gold watches.

By the turn of the 21st century watch makers had also started to produce Gold Watches that are designed for rugged pursuits. A paradox. A luxury sports watch in gold would have been unheard of in the early years of the wristwatch. It was also tradition to mark working achievements for many companies with a gold watch, engraved with the time somebody had worked there. In this piece I will guide you through the three traditional white, pink and yellow while finishing with a honey gold finale, let’s get into it.

White Gold

White gold is made of a mixture of pure gold and white metals such as nickel,silver and palladium, usually with a rhodium coating. White gold is real, it is not made entirely of gold, and tends to be more popular than yellow gold as its more stylistically versatile. Alloyed with stronger metals than yellow gold, making it more durable and scratch-resistant.

It is more affordable than platinum, stronger metals than yellow gold, making it more durable and scratch-resistant.  A good example of a white gold watch would be this spectacular Nautilus :

Yellow Gold

While we often think of yellow gold as being pure, the combination of pure gold with metals such as zinc and copper. As with other gold colours, the higher the karat amount, the higher the actual gold content. Yellow gold is the most hypoallergenic of all the three gold colours. It is the purest colour of all the golds and the easiest to maintain. An example of a great yellow gold watch is this IWC Minute Repeater:

Pink / Rose Gold

Rose gold is made of pure gold mixed with copper and silver alloys. Rose gold is real but it’s not made entirely of gold. The copper and silver helps to strengthen it and give it its rose colour, rose gold is 75% gold and 25% copper by mass (18K). It is durable due to the strength of copper, making rose gold tougher than yellow or white gold and it does tend to complement to all skin tones. An example of a great pink or rose gold would be this:

Honey Gold

Honey gold is a proprietary material specially created by A. Lange & Söhne in-house. It was first used in 2010 for the three watches of the "165 Years – Homage to F. A. Lange" anniversary edition below. In all, only eight limited editions cased in this alloy have ever been launched. And most recently this month in a trio of limited editions watches below which marks 175 years of watchmaking in Glashutte (the think 1815 is off the charts!). The specific alloy compound used to create this special gold is not known; what is known is that the metal is harder and more scratch-resistant than other gold alloys with a fineness of 18k.  

While I tend not to like the idea of gold watches being an indicator of success and status, they are. But more importantly, they just look so damn elegant! And for that, they must be celebrated.

Shop our collection of pre-owned gold watches.