Evolving Horology: Discontinued Watch Materials and Trends Due to Health Concerns

The world of horology has witnessed a constant evolution in materials and design, driven by innovation, craftsmanship, and, at times, health and environmental considerations. Some watch materials and trends that were once popular have been discontinued due to emerging health concerns, environmental awareness, or shifts in consumer preferences. In this article, we explore the discontinued watch materials and trends that have shaped the industry and the reasons behind their fading prominence. Watches like the Grand Seiko have a rich history, being founded in the early 1960s, some trends are sure to be left only in the annals of history books. In this article we are going to explore some materials no longer in circulation and why it has been banned.

  • Asbestos Dials: A Silent Hazard:

In the mid-20th century, asbestos was a common material used in various industries, including watchmaking. Asbestos dials were appreciated for their durability and heat-resistant properties. However, with the growing awareness of the health risks associated with asbestos exposure, particularly lung diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, its use in watches was discontinued. Today, watchmakers prioritize the safety of both wearers and craftsmen, opting for alternative materials with no health-related concerns.

  • Radium and Tritium Luminous Paint: A Glow in the Dark Health Risk:

Radium and later tritium were once popular choices for luminous paint on watch dials, providing an attractive glow in low-light conditions. However, both materials are radioactive, posing health risks to watchmakers and wearers alike. As the awareness of the dangers of radioactivity increased, watch manufacturers transitioned to safer alternatives, such as Super-LumiNova, which offers luminosity without the health hazards associated with radioactive materials.

  • Lead in Watch Components: A Heavy Concern:

Lead, known for its malleability and low melting point, was historically used in various components of watches, including soldering connections. As health concerns regarding lead exposure came to the forefront, especially its detrimental effects on the nervous system and cognitive development, the watch industry shifted towards lead-free materials and more environmentally conscious production processes.

  • Mercury-Based Compounds in Barometers: A Hazardous Legacy:

In vintage watches with barometers, some mechanisms used mercury-based compounds. Mercury, a toxic heavy metal, poses severe health risks, particularly through inhalation or skin contact. Due to the potential harm associated with mercury exposure, watchmakers phased out the use of mercury-based compounds in favor of safer alternatives, ensuring the well-being of both users and the environment.

  • Exotic Animal Leather Straps: Ethical Shifts:

While not a material per se, exotic animal leather straps, such as those made from alligator or crocodile hides, were once popular in high-end watchmaking. However, ethical concerns surrounding animal welfare and conservation have led to a shift in consumer preferences. Many watch brands now prioritize sustainable and cruelty-free alternatives, opting for synthetic or ethically sourced leather.

  • Chrome Plating: Environmental Considerations:

Chrome plating was a widely used technique for enhancing the aesthetics of watch cases and bracelets. However, the process involves hazardous chemicals, including hexavalent chromium, which poses environmental risks and potential health hazards for workers. In response to growing environmental awareness and regulatory standards, watchmakers are increasingly adopting more eco-friendly plating alternatives or exploring materials like stainless steel that require less aggressive surface treatments.

Conclusion

The evolution of watch materials and trends reflects a dynamic interplay between craftsmanship, technological advancements, and societal values. Discontinuing certain materials and trends due to health concerns showcases the industry’s commitment to the well-being of both its craftsmen and consumers. As the horological landscape continues to evolve, watchmakers will likely explore innovative materials and sustainable practices, ensuring that timepieces not only captivate with their design and precision but also align with contemporary values of health, ethics, and environmental responsibility.