Written by Martin Green
‘To boldly go, where no man has gone before;’ these words, spoken by Sir Patrick Stewart at the beginning of every episode of ‘Star Trek; The Next Generation,’ are still vividly in my mind as I grew up watches this TV-series. When I later became involved in the watch industry, something that has become a lifelong love affair, I noticed how much these words were taken to heart by not only the large brands and luxury groups but also by more niche players, such as Vault. It is no secret that mechanical watchmaking is obsolete. There are ways much less expensive and precise to tell us the exact time, but that is more of a blessing than a curse. While other industries have faltered under this, watches have entered into a renaissance. While they still tell time, they have transformed into an object of art that you can wear as a daily companion to enjoy whenever and wherever you like.
It has also given rise to brands like Vault, who consider it the ideal object to unleash all of their creativity on to. Such creativity is not only limited to the design of a watch, but also to how and from what it is made. While centuries old-craftsmanship is still a cornerstone for the industry, the high-tech approach is equally important. For Vault, this can be found, among other things, in the cases that they craft from innovative kinds of carbon composites. Here Star Trek comes to mind again, but the truth is very different. We expect the production process to be very high-tech,
with sophisticated machines making the product from start to finish, but in reality, it requires a significant amount of manual labor, craftsmanship, and finesse.
To boldly go where no one has gone before
For Vault, the V2+RCT isn’t the first time that they develop a new carbon composite, especially for a single watch. This is part of the bespoke approach that Vault cherishes so much, as it allows them to be creative in a unique collaboration with the future client and their partners. It does take some guts to do, but the reward at the end, and the fun in the process getting there, makes it all worthwhile. It has also earned Vault two world’s first, as they have crafted watches with both a carbon-titanium and a carbon-ceramic case.
The Vault V2+ RED CC, the world’s first watch with a carbon-ceramic case, was in particular an eyecatcher as it combined black with flashes of red. For this, a special mold had to be created, and every carbon layer had to be cut individually in just the right way to give the composite the right curved profil in both directions. Here you also see that high-tech materials require a lot of manual labor. It is not a fixed production method in which a pre-programmed machine takes care of the work but rather a highly-specialized process in which the engineers not only work with fixed data-sets but also from experience and gut-feeling. Even then, it is trial and error, as developing a new kind of carbon composite means that you travel off the map into the unknown. You are doing things that haven’t been done before, meaning that existing parameters might work or not. For the Vault V2+ RED CC no less than 20 tries were needed before the carbon ceramic composite met the high standards of Vault and could be processed into a case.
Their partner in this is Fatcarbon, a company founded in 2019 in the Lithuania city of Utena. Here composite engineer Ovidijus Jučius has brought together a team of experts that create composites for a wide variety of industries, from motorsports to the aviation industry and beyond. They match their experience with boundless creativity and thirst to discover and develop new composites, making them the perfect partner for Vault.
When carbon composite comes to life
For the V2+RCT, Vault and Fatcarbon are raising the bar, again, by creating what they refer to as ‘Dark Matter.’ It is a combination of carbon fiber strands with a high-performance bio epoxy resin, of which 35% is of a plant origin. The carbon fiber strands are packed by hand in a high-pressure steel mold, with the high-performance bio epoxy resin added to it. After that, it is experience that comes to the table as heat, pressure, and time become the three elements that all need to be just right to get the desired composite.
The entire process takes up to an hour, in which not only high temperatures but also pressures up to 150 bar are unleashed on the materials. The result is a cured composite consisting of 50% carbon fibers and 50% bio-based polymers, which has a dramatic dark, clouded look to it. However, it is not only its appearance that makes Vault go through all this trouble it is also the lightness of the material, which is why they choose this path. ‘Dark Matter’ is 26% lighter than the carbon-ceramic composite Vault previously developed with Fatcarbon. To put that into perspective, the case and caseback of the V2+RCT will weigh the same as the case without the caseback of the V2+ RED CC. This will make it the lightest Vault to date.
You try and try again until you reach perfection
Making the material alone is only half of the equation, as after this, it still needs to be machined in the correct form. The case of the Vault V2+RCT brings its own challenges when it comes to this, as it features several curved surfaces, which can be tough to machine correctly. While there is a great deal of experience in this field, when you work with new materials, you are never 100% certain how it will come out. It is again a process of learning, with as a reward experience with the previously unknown. In a way, this is also contributing to the strong position of Swiss watchmaking as a whole, as from this experience, future projects will benefit as well, beyond Vault and this watch.