Watches - PMM

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Platinum in the watch industry


Platinum is mainly used in the watch industry to produce cases and straps for high quality watches which contain complex mechanical movements. Although a very small amount of platinum is used for watches each year in comparison to gold, nearly all prestige watch manufacturing companies have a platinum watch at the top of their model range.

Production and value

The majority of the world's platinum watches are produced and assembled in Switzerland. From 1,200 watches in 1987, output reached a high in 1993, when SWATCH produced 12,999 pieces as a one off and the production in that year totalled 22,687 platinum watches. 2008 saw platinum watch production at 21,263 pieces before the financial crisis hit the industry and production more than halved in 2010. Output increased in 2011 to 9,163 watches.

In 2011 the average value of a platinum watch exported from Switzerland was 49,500 Swiss Francs, compared to an average of 11,500 Swiss Francs for an 18 carat gold watch. The additional value for platinum watches partly reflects the higher precious metal content of the case, the additional time required to work in platinum and the expense of setting up tools and equipment for the relatively small production batches which are typical of platinum models, but also the fact that watchmakers tend to encase their more complex and expensive movements in platinum.

How platinum watches are made

Platinum watches are normally made from 95 per cent pure platinum alloy, usually alloyed with ruthenium. The basic material is homogenized by hammering and annealing, so as to eliminate porosity. Even the minutest contamination might cause craters, fissures, indentations or an "orange-peel" effect on the case surface.

Platinum plate or sheet is rolled down to the required thickness and stamped out to form round or shaped blanks, or discs, for the watch case. These are machined in stages by computer-controlled lathes into the final configuration. Up to fifteen different tools are put into action to turn, mill and drill the case and other parts. It takes three times longer to produce a platinum case than one in gold, as slower tool speeds and lower pressures have to be applied to platinum to minimise friction and tool wear.

Having different metallurgical properties to gold, platinum is usually hand-polished by specialised polishers. The intricate process involves eliminating all the machining marks by applying successively finer grades of abrasive paste to achieve the characteristic lunar lustre of platinum. To complete the watch case, winding buttons and watch strap fasteners, also made from platinum, are fitted.