After three years of development work together with the EPFL, the Federal Polytechnic School in Lausanne, Hublot presented its new “Magic Gold” at its factory in Nyon on 15 December 2011.
The new composite gold has been certified as 18-carat gold by Switzerland’s Central Office for Precious Metals Control, yet it has a hardness of 1000 Vickers, which is more than twice that of the high-quality 18-carat gold usually found in watches and jewellery. This makes Magic Gold virtually scratchproof, since the only element capable of scratching it is diamond.
Hublot produces its Magic Gold in-house using its own high-tech foundry. The material is produced using the principles of metal matrix composites. A composite is a material that combines several other materials while preserving their individual characteristics. In the case of Magic Gold, the materials involved are 24-carat gold (75 per cent), aluminium for strength (3 per cent) and boron carbide (22 per cent).
How Magic Gold is made
Powdered boron carbide (a type of ceramic) is first formed into moulds that correspond to the shape of the finished part (e.g. a watch case, bezel etc.).
The mould is cold pressed at 2000 bar of isostatic pressure to produce a compact preform.
The ceramic particles are then bonded at 2200 degrees Celsius and 100 millibars of gas pressure.
Pure gold (24 carat) is casted by melting it at 1100 degrees Celsius and pouring the liquid metal into a mould.
The 18-carat Magic Gold is created by injecting the gold with 200 bar gas pressure at 1400 degrees Celsius into the sintered preform.
Hublot’s Head of R&D, Mathias Buttet, likens this to forcing water into a room full of footballs.
Hublot has patents pending on this process, which could also be applied to other metals, such as platinum or aluminium. The brand has already discussed its application with partner Ferrari for producing aluminium engine components. Hublot’s boss Jean-Claude Biver also hinted that the same process can be used to produce genuine “black gold”.
The first Hublot models using Magic Gold will be presented at BaselWorld 2012. Before then, the research and development specialists at Hublot need to solve two outstanding problems. The first is the final colour of this new material, since Jean-Claude Biver wants it to be distinguishable from “standard” gold; the second is how to hallmark Magic Gold, since even though it has been certified as 18-carat gold, it is impossible to hallmark using a conventional stamp because it is too resistant!
You can watch a video of the announcement and the production procedure here.