Beginners Guide to Carbon Fiber Watches (+Top 10 Picks!)

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There’s quite a bit to be said about carbon fiber watches. While little has changed in the luxury watch market regarding movements and precision for generations, case materials have given historic brands the opportunity to reinvent themselves a bit and update their lines while keeping their DNA intact. Quite a few watchmakers have stepped into unique case materials, though this tends to be more along the lines of metal alloys, such as gold, and more recently, titanium. Ceramic also ranks among them, but it’s carbon fiber watches, also referred to as carbon composite, carbon graphite, or graphite fiber, which is often hailed as the most innovative material of our time. On this page, we’ll go over some of the most frequently-asked questions about carbon fiber watches and break down ten of the most distinctive timepieces utilizing the material on the market today.

How are Carbon Fiber Watches Made?

The shortened version is that the fibers begin as a polymer resin which is then spun into incredibly thin fibers much thinner than a human hair or even a spider’s webbing. They undergo a chemical process and are heated until tightly-bonded carbon crystals form, eventually being oxidized and then spun into yarn. The process varies somewhat from one manufacturer to another, as do the raw materials. Ultimately, the yarn is woven into sheets. As one would expect, there are many types of weaves, and the weave pattern not only determines what a finished piece will look like, but the pattern it has too. For those interested in the scientific breakdown of how carbon fiber is made, there’s a comprehensive article on ThoughtCo.

What Makes Carbon Fiber Watches Unique?

Strength: On their own, carbon fibers are twice as stiff as steel and five-times stronger. They have other properties which make them a boon too, such as low thermal expansion and high-temperature tolerance.

Shock Resistance: Unlike other materials like ceramic which can shatter if caught wrong or metals which don’t offer much insulation, carbon fiber watches can take quite a beating and offer protection to the mechanical components inside.

Durability: When mixed with a polymer coating, a carbon fiber weave is incredibly resilient; nearly indestructible. This is one of the reasons it’s often used in aerospace and racing. If it isn’t involved in a serious collision or event, it could seemingly last forever.

Low Weight: Style trends are leading watchmakers back to larger cases, which in most situations, means heavy cases, but that’s not true where carbon fiber watches are concerned. Gold, for comparison, has a density of 19g/cm3. Steel comes in a hair lighter at 8g/cm3 and titanium at 5g/cm3. Carbon maxes out at just 1.9g/cm3.

Attractiveness: Most manufacturers leave their cases in a natural sleek black state. Some will press designs into it, though the weave pattern offers an understated contrast in others.

Why are Carbon Fiber Watches More Expensive?

At present, it’s incredibly difficult to mass-produce carbon fiber, so it’s typically done by hand in small batches. It’s expensive to produce. Most watchmakers who use the material release their timepieces as limited editions or only have a small amount available at one time because of this.

What to Look for When Buying Carbon Fiber Watches

Carbon Fiber Components: A lot of brands market pieces as “carbon” or “carbon fiber watches,” when they’re really not. In some instances, they slip the word in to denote a color. Other times, it’s only the strap that’s made of carbon fiber. That makes for a light and rugged strap, but most people want the case to be comprised of the innovative material.

Quality: Nothing beats a fine mechanical piece from a world-renowned brand. Because carbon fiber watches can seemingly last forever, it’s important to make sure the internal components will too.

Value: Value can be addressed on two fronts. First and foremost, you’ll probably want to purchase a pre-owned timepiece. With the durability of carbon fiber watches, even those that have been worn before are typically in good condition, and opting for pre-owned allows you to avoid the initial hit from depreciation. Secondly, if you’re purchasing as an investment, your best bet is typically to go with a limited-edition timepiece from a brand with a strong heritage and DNA. Although it’s not always the case, these tend to hold their value or even increase in value more than others.

Top 10 Carbon Fiber Watches

1. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Alinghi Team

The Royal Oak Offshore Alinghi Team limited edition featured the industry’s first forged carbon case. Though others had dabbled with the material in novelty pieces before this, the 2007 Alinghi Team model was the first real contender. Just 1,300 pieces were released, making it fairly rare, yet it was still one of the highest quantities of carbon fiber watches offered at the time. It’s also unique in the fact that it does not feature a traditional weave pattern; the fibers are randomly arranged and set in polymer, so the texture looks more like marble. While it hosts all the traditional features of a Royal Oak Offshore, it also contains pops of red and white, making it a truly striking piece. Audemars Piguet followed this up in 2009 with the release of the Royal Oak Offshore “Bumblebee.” Easily distinguishable as an Offshore, it’s done up in carbon as well, but with yellow accents instead.

2. Casio G Shock G-STEEL

Normally, Casio G Shocks aren’t considered luxury timepieces. They can take a beating and, with prices under $100, can be tossed without too much concern. That said, the line does get much pricier than that and features change with some of the better models. There’s the G-STEEL connected with a carbon bezel starting at about $600 new and the rugged Master of G FROGMAN with a carbon fiber insert band for a little over $1,000.

3. Hublot Big Bang Unico GMT Carbon Blue Ceramic

Hublot offers several carbon choices and the Big Bang Unico GMT Carbon Blue Ceramic starts on the lower end at a little over $24,000. On this piece, the distinctive weave pattern gives texture to the case and it’s paired with a vibrant blue bezel, rubber strap, and accents, such as the day/ night wheel. Its skeleton dial offers a glimpse at some of the timepiece’s 328 components, creating a very modern look, yet with the Big Bang’s charismatic DNA.

4. Hublot Classic Fusion Tourbillon Cathedral Minute Repeater Carbon

Although you probably won’t get your hands on a Classic Fusion Tourbillon Cathedral Minute Repeater Carbon, with just 99 pieces released and a new price of $253,000, it’s a good example to pair with the carbon Big Bang because it demonstrates the full breadth of what Hublot is capable of. With this particular Classic Fusion model, Hublot applies its love of mixed materials with gusto. It is a completely black timepiece, from the dial to the alligator strap, but between the materials and depth added by texture, it’s difficult to call it understated. The case and bezel feature a classic carbon weave pattern and there are no numerals to detract from the black skeleton dial. Inside is the HUB8001; a minute repeater tourbillon movement designed for precision.

5. IWC Ingenieur Automatic Performance Iw322404

IWC does not make a habit of producing carbon fiber watches, but it did hit a home run when the brand partnered with the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team and released an all-black carbon Ingenieur Automatic. With this particular piece, both the dial and the case are carbon fiber, woven into a pattern reminiscent of a racing flag. The brand topped it off with a black rubber and nylon strap. Pops of lime green at the minute markers and strap stitching add to the character. There’s also white on the hour markers, date window, and hands for contrast. Although IWC no longer lists this piece, pricing from third-party sellers typically starts at around $15,000 new.

6. Richard Mille Rm 35-01 Rafael Nadal

It’s probably not too surprising to know that Richard Mille makes some impressive carbon fiber watches. Mille refers to its material as “Carbon TPT®,” which is the brand’s own proprietary blend, composed of 600 layers of parallel filaments, designed for durability. The barrel-shaped case is pressed, so, although it’s carbon and hosts the signature black hue, it also has a grain pattern similar to wood. This is a skeletonized piece, again with no numerals to add clutter; simply red markers on the bezel. The piece leverages a free-sprung balance and double-barrel system—designed for absolute precision and shock-resistance. Most similar pieces from Mille contain a tourbillon and start in the $400,000-500,000 range. Because this one does not, it’s considerably less.

7. Tissot PRS 516 Automatic Chronograph

The PRS 516 series is racing-inspired, so much so that many of the case backs have a steering wheel design with room to view the movement. Unlike some of the other pieces outlined here, this particular one does not have a carbon case. The case is made from stainless steel with black PVD coating. However, the dial and bezel are carbon, giving it a premium look for considerably less than some of the other models. Pricing starts at little more than $2,000.

8. Ulysse Nardin Executive Skeleton Tourbillon

There are quite a few Executive Skeleton Tourbillons from Ulysse Nardin, though most feature a strap with carbon. Each one has a unique color scheme, with red navy blue, and black among them. The pieces are incredible with a flying tourbillon movement and power reserve of 170 hours. The case, itself, is a robust 45 millimeters and forged in titanium, then paired with a ceramic bezel, bringing together a brilliant fusion of materials. All pieces in the collection feature a rectangular bridge and massive roman numerals, yet visibility of the mechanical components is hardly obscured. Oddly enough, it’s also one of the more affordable pieces, coming in at $41,000 new.

9. Bell & Ross BR-X1 Carbone Forge Chronographe

Bell & Ross dabbles in carbon materials. Their BR 01-92 automatic aviation timepiece is an earlier example of one of their carbon fiber watches. Nowadays, the brand keeps similar items in its Experimental collection, and that’s where the BR-X1 Chronographe fits in. It’s a Carbone Forge model and blends a mixture of materials; titanium, ceramic, and rubber. It boasts a massive 45 millimeter square case and is done up entirely in black, but with white markings on the dial and some red accents, but perhaps what makes it such an interesting piece is that it is skeletonized, yet the mechanical components are black, giving it a bit of edge, but without being over-the-top. It starts at $23,000, but for those looking for a more serious timepiece, there’s the BR-X1 Tourbillon Carbone Forge starting at $167,000. Just 20 were ever produced, so it would be incredibly rare to see one out and about, but it does a fine job of blending precision mechanics with a rugged look.

10. TAG Heuer Monaco V4 Phantom

The TAG Heuer Monaco V4 Phantom is an updated version of the brand’s classic racing timepiece with a movement inspired by a Formula One car engine. Revealed in 2015, the timepiece is a descendent of the world’s first belt-driven watch. This particular version is a mostly monochrome matte black piece in a square Carbon Matrix Composite (CMC) case, which is micro-blasted to give it a marbleized texture. The wristwatch’s seven bridges are done up in the same material as well. A few pops of a deep reddish-purple hue in the jewels blend with the black mechanical components add a visual interest. TAG initially released just 50 of these pieces at $45,000 new.

View Our Selection of Carbon Fiber Watches and More

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