The Lightweight Strength of Titanium

The versatility of titanium at Bulgari and Panerai

“You shoot me down but I won’t fall/I am titanium,” sings pop star Sia in David Guetta’s Top 40 hit named for the elemental metal. And she’s right: Titanium is one of the strongest metals in existence, and counts bulletproof armor plating among its many applications. The metal’s name is derived from the twelve Titan gods of Greek mythology, ancestors of Greece’s ruling deities who were legendary for their enormous strength. So when it was discovered in 1791, titanium was appropriately named for its durability and seemingly impossible lightness.

The movement inside Bulgari's Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater.
The movement inside Bulgari’s Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater.

It’s that same lightness that has made titanium so popular in the watchmaking world—for sporty styles in particular, pieces for which weight is a definitive factor. Yet more and more horologists are putting titanium to work in service of other styles.

At this year’s Baselworld, Bulgari introduced the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, a new, limited edition chiming watch made entirely of titanium. Fabrizio Buonamassa, Bulgari’s head of watch design, chose the metal to craft the piece’s case for reasons that had nothing to do with lightness. “The density of titanium, as it is a very hard metal, allows for increasing and optimizing sound rendering,” he explains. The Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater is the thinnest minute repeater in production today, with its case height just 6.85 millimeters in thickness. This limited space posed a challenge to Bulgari’s watchmakers, who aimed to achieve maximum volume and resonance to the watch’s chimes. “As our minute repeater is ultra-thin and does not offer internal volume,” Buonamassa says,“the titanium properties help to balance and compensate so that sound can spread and disseminate. The titanium, thanks to its hardness, allows the sound to be crystalline.”

The Panerai Luminor Marina in titanium.
The Panerai Luminor Marina in titanium.

As impressive as such lofty employment may seem, artisanal experiments in titanium won’t have any effect on the metal’s popularity in the sports-watch arena. Angelo Bonati, CEO of Officine Panerai, considers titanium to be a staple of the brand. Panerai is “among the brands with the most complete collection[s] of watches in titanium. This metal fits our brand identity perfectly, and the needs of our passionate collectors in terms of both aesthetics and technical properties,” says Bonati. With case sizes reaching 44 millimeters and larger, Panerai uses titanium to help keep the weight of its timepieces manageable. “Compared to other metals, titanium is extremely light, which is very important for a brand with cases like ours,” Bonati continues. “Besides, it is anti-magnetic, hypo-allergenic, and has a high resistance to corrosion both due to salty water and chemical agents.” The Panerai PAM352 and PAM346, both diving watches, are obviously well-suited to this material.

Bulgari’s Buonamassa also concedes titanium’s advantage in the sporting world, due largely to the metal’s aesthetics. A “sporty watch will match better with titanium [than] a jeweled creation … Lightness and hardness are the main qualities of this metal,” he says. Clearly David Guetta, Sia, and the majority of horologists would agree. —Hyla Bauer