Apple Watch Ceramic Edition Review

Apple Watch Edition paired with Product (RED) Sport Band. I call it ‘The Canada’.

Ceramic isn’t unusual for a watch. There have been ceramic watches for several decades, from IWC to Rado to Omega. Not many have been as fully ceramic as Apple Watch Edition, though, which uses it for pretty much everything on the casing that’s not sapphire glass.

According to Apple, the company’s particular blend of ceramic uses a high-strength zirconia powder combined with alumina to produce the desired white color. It’s compression molded and “sintered” — a process that uses pressure and heat to turn a powder into a solid without liquefying it. That solid is then polished with — get this! — a diamond “slurry” that makes it smooth and shiny. The end result is perhaps the ultimate extension of the look that Jony Ive began with iPod: A perfect-seeming capsule of deep, rich white.

And it takes days to make, because of course it does.

Ceramic is incredibly hard. Harder even than stainless steel. Combined with the sapphire glass, the new Apple Watch Edition is the most scratch and scuff-proof product Apple’s ever made.

There are different kinds of toughness, though. And, with ceramics, the worry has always been less about hardness and more about brittleness: The almost cliched image of a plate falling and shattering across the kitchen tiles.

As much as Apple’s materials team worked to amplify the benefits of ceramics, though, they and the design team also worked to minimize the drawbacks. That involved both the precise type of ceramics Apple used, but also the design, and especially the curves, of the case itself.

I spoke with watchmaker Jon Edwards about the new Apple Watch Edition, and he said:

Apple’s chosen a flavour of ceramic that is relatively robust, to help guard against breakage. In addition to this, though, the form of the case plays well to the ceramic’s strength. If the design team had ceramic in its sights for the Apple Watch from day one, the form of the case is pure genius.

In my experience working with ceramic watches, most damage tends to occur along sharp edges or where the ceramic is thin. The round curvature of the Apple Watch case will distribute the force of an impact and/or allow objects to easily glance off of its glassy, smooth surface. Edges that might pose a weakness are protected by the crown and strap.

The subtle step in the case where is meets the sapphire crystal, I imagine, was introduced, in part, to offer an extra bit of protection for the sapphire, which would be more susceptible to cracking if impacted along its edge where it meets the ceramic case than the ceramic itself would be.

While tougher than metal, the ceramic is also slightly heavier weighing in at 45.6g compared to 28.2g for the aluminum and 41.9g for the steel. In practice, though, I don’t notice it much. I’ve worn steel for most of the last eighteen months. Nike+ was breezy when I switched to it for a few weeks, but there’s a substance to the steel — and now ceramic — that I enjoy.

The digital crown and side button are made the same way as the case and in the same color. Though the cap on the crown is black, matching the ceramics on the heart rate sensor. At first, I thought a white cap would have been better but the contrast, which also matches the darkness of the display, has grown on me.

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