There’s always been an unquenchable thirst within the horological world for material innovation. The arms race in this new material age has spawned countless alloys — each outdoing the other in terms of strength and durability — over the last few decades. When even that got boring, the periodic table was plundered for the next exotic metal alternative to gold and titanium. Which brings us to today’s bizarre material of choice: Tantalum.
Tantalum watches are exceedingly rare, and for good reason. Also known as element “Ta” on the periodic table, the transition metal was discovered in 1802 in Sweden, and takes its name from Tantalus, the son of Zeus and father of Niobe. It has an occurrence rarer than that of gold and an unusually high melting point, making it notoriously expensive to mine and even more costly to machine. Milling tools can rarely be used again, making it highly uneconomical for watch manufacturers to dabble with.
Yet they still do. With a characteristic blue cast that lurks beneath the lustrous silver overtones, tantalum often provides watches a stealthy lustre that other metals fail to achieve — even titanium. The allure of the “murdered-out” monotone is accompanied by its corrosion-resistance and hypoallergenic properties, making it suitable for those with skin sensitivities.
Essentially, tantalum ticks all the boxes you’d have for an everyday high-end timepiece. You can expect the same premium wrist pull as platinum, while veering far from the ostentatiousness of gold. It also bears the same muted sophistication of ceramic and carbon, while being corrosion resistant and hard enough to last the ages.
Here are five of our top tantalum watch picks.
Though created as part of a stellar 14-model commemorative effort to celebrate 25 solid years of the Seamaster 300M, the Omega Diver 300M Titanium Tantalum Limited Edition easily stood out for its ultra-rare metal bragging rights. It’s inspired by the same model in 1993 (now a collector’s holy grail), though redesigned extensively — both inside and out — to keep up with modernity. Besides a weightier 42mm case that gives it even more presence, the diver’s favourite also gets reshaped hands, a ceramic bezel, updated bracelet, and the new Co-Axial Master Chronometer movement, the caliber 8806. The tri-coloured combination of titanium, tantalum and rose gold, however, stays true to the classic, only now the latter is rendered in Omega’s 18K Sedna gold alloy to prevent discolouration over time.
Based on the entry-level Chronomètre Bleu, the Tourbillon Souverain Bleu marked F.P. Journe’s first foray into the Only Watch auction, which raises funds annually for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Within the grey-blue tantalum case is a glossy lacquered dial — almost chrome-plated, if you will — which exposes the tourbillon in an aperture at 9, accompanied by subdials that display the minutes and hours, seconds, and a power reserve indicator. The movement is linked to two complications, a remontoir d’égalité (which provides constant force to the escapement), and a dead beat second (which makes the second hand beat once a second), making it a true and instantaneous complication.
The Big Bang has been Hublot’s bread and butter since it was launched in 2005, and while it’s been reimagined in a dozen different materials and colour combinations, the Tantalum Mat variation takes top spot as the most quietly sophisticated. At 44.5mm, the muted grey timepiece sees a case, lug, and bezel fashioned out of the rare metal, with a matte dial that showcases the time, date, and chronograph function. As with most Big Bangs, Hublot seamlessly fuses contrasting materials, combining the starkly subdued tantalum watch with a black rubber strap.
Launched as a special edition with only 300 pieces produced, Panerai toughens up its Luminor Marina a notch further with a good dose of brushed and polished tantalum on its case and bezel respectively. The 44mm timepiece takes on the Luminor’s classic cushion shape, with the same patented crown protector in brushed steel to ensure the robust unit can reach depths of up to 300 metres. A manual-winding movement powers the hours, minutes and small seconds of the watch, which are showcased against a jet black dial with contrasting SuperLuminova indexes and hands for maximum legibility.
Girard-Perregaux first launched the Tourbillon Bi-Axial in lightweight titanium, but alas, the haute horologers couldn’t help themselves. Barely a year later, its tantalum-cased variation was born — a stunning manually-wound mechanical piece that’s defined by its unique facade. Three bridges cut in glossy black sapphire form the bulk of the dial, each serving to slowly draw the eye to the immensely complex Bi-Axial Tourbillon, which sees two cages — one external and one internal — both spinning on the separate axes of rotation at different speeds. If there was a watch that nailed both showmanship and accuracy, it’s this one.