In Depth

Light speed: The watches taking lessons from F1

Chronographs will weigh less than ever in 2017, thanks to atom-thin materials

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Watchmaking may be a centuries-old tradition, but as the latest crop of releases reveals, the industry is as dedicated as ever to finding new and innovative approaches.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that inspiration is sought from the high-tech world of motorsport, spurred on by brands' partnerships with some of the leading names on the track. Richard Mille has tapped in to the expertise of McLaren – with whom it signed a new 10-year deal last year – as well as the scientific know-how of the University of Manchester to create the RM 50-03, which boasts two horological firsts.

It's currently the only watch to incorporate graphene, the world's first two-dimensional material, which is just one atom thick. Its benefits are two-fold; not only is it highly durable (200 times more so than steel), it's also extremely lightweight, leading onto the timepiece's second record of being the lightest mechanical chronograph ever made, weighing in at a mere 38 grams. The fact that a raft of technical features takes a back seat is a testament to the watchmaker's skill, from a new split-seconds chronograph system to an ultra-light tourbillion constructed from titanium.

Roger Dubuis, meanwhile, has turned its attentions to the high-performance alloy cobalt-chrome, widely used in the aeronautical and medical industries. Here it is produced using a process called MicroMelt, a method used to guarantee better consistency and a higher strength from the final result. It has been incorporated into a new version of the Excalibur Quatuor, which sits among the first batch of timepieces born from the company's new alliance with Pirelli.

Carbon is becoming a common sight in watchmaking, but Panerai's latest update to its much-loved Luminor explores its potential in new and unexpected ways. The case of the LAB-ID is made from carbotech, a composite material obtained by compressing thin sheets of carbon fibre together with a special polymer; the result is lightweight, hypo-allergenic and resistant to corrosion, but also creates a slight variation in appearance, making each case unique. Panerai has used a coating of carbon nanotubes on the dial, which absorbs light and reduces reflection to a minimum, increasing the all-important legibility of this iconic diver's watch.

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