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The Ultimate Guide to the Best Sapphire Cased Wristwatches

Sapphire in Watchmaking

While it might seem cutting-edge bordering sci-fi to use the second hardest material on Earth simply to protect a watch face, it’s something horologists of a certain calibre have been using for almost a century. We’re talking about synthetic sapphire, a material originally developed by Auguste Victor Louis Verneuil all the way back in 1902. However, in modern watchmaking sapphire can be used for much more than a just a watch’s crystal or the rubies in a movement, entire cases can be made out of it. That begs the question, what are the best sapphire cased wristwatches out there?

Bell & Ross BR-01 Cyber Skull Sapphire

Bell & Ross Cyber Skull BR-01

When I think of the signature square, cockpit-ready case of a Bell & Ross, I never once thought that what it needed, what it really, desperately needed was to be made of sapphire, or the kind of glam rock touches Guns ‘n’ Roses would have traded in cocaine for. Then the BR-01 Cyber Skull Sapphire came out and changed the game Bell & Ross were playing completely.

The squared case suits its new transparency perfectly. While crystalline curves slightly obscure what’s inside, the flat planes here do anything but. This isn’t the French brand’s first sapphire case watch of course, but this particular version pairs the see-through case with a memento mori, large skull and crossbones taking up the entire space between the sapphire crystals. When manually-wound, the skull moves. It’s something else, and definitely the most horologically extreme of Bell & Ross’s skull collection.

Bell & Ross Cyber Skull BR-01 Extreme Close Up

Despite the obvious haute horology on offer, it’s still very firmly a Bell & Ross, and for more than the shape. It still has the visible screws at the corners or the bezel (at the ends of the crossed bones) that give BRs their industrial twang.

Price & Specs

  • Ref: BR01-CSK-SAPHIR|
  • Case/dial: 43.5mm length x 45mm width, skeletonised faceted sapphire dial, sapphire case back|
  • Water resistance: 30m (3 bar)|
  • Movement: Calibre BR-CAL.209, manual winding, skeletonised, rhodium-plated main plate and bridges, 21 jewels, incabloc shock protection system|
  • Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)|
  • Power reserve: 48h|
  • Functions: Hours, minutes|
  • Strap: Translucent rubber|
  • Price/availability: £89,000, more details at Bell & Ross.

CODE41 X41 Edition 6

CODE41 X41 Ed6 Sapphire

By their nature, sapphire crystal cases tend to be a little on the pricey side. Between the manufacturing of the flawlessly transparent and excessively polished surface and merely sticking the pieces together to a point where its airtight, it’s an incredibly delicate process. At the same time, Code 41 aim to be the disruption the Swiss watch industry sorely needs; what better showpiece for them to set their sights on than the full sapphire case timepiece?

To put this all into context, the CODE41 X41 Edition 6 will set you back £13,995. That’s not accessible in the traditional sense of the word of course, but just look at it compared to the other pieces here. Granted, many of the others add a high complication or two, but there’s little denying that there’s enough watchmaking on display here to pique the interest of many a collector. An industrially styled, openworked movement, quirky dial finishes, a look that shouts performance mechanics, it’s a lot.

CODE41 X41 Edition 6 caseback

Best of all is CODE41’s signature transparency. The Swiss watch world’s often shrouded in mystery, but the brand has stated categorically that each X41 Edition 6 costs £5,304 to make and like every good student can show their working. We won’t wax lyrical on horological mark-ups here, but suffice it to say that this is probably the fairest price you’ll get for a full sapphire case watch.

Price & Specs

  • Case/dial: 42mm diameter x 11.7mm height, skeletonised dial with green, rainbow, blue, black or grey bridges|
  • Water resistance: 30m (3 bar)|
  • Movement: CODE41 manufacture calibre, automatic, 33 jewels, 297 parts|
  • Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)|
  • Power reserve: 45h|
  • Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date|
  • Strap: Rubber, leather or titanium bracelet|
  • Price/availability: £13,995 – £14,295, limited to 600 pieces, more details at CODE41.

Aventi A11 Pure Sapphire

Aventi A11 Pure Sapphire

Aventi A11 Pure Sapphire

If you thought CODE41 offered good value then you might want to pay attention here. The Aventi A11 can showcase multiple colours of crystal ranging from this pure and transparent sapphire to a deep blue colour more royal than the Star of India. It’s magnificent.

The case itself is squarely aiming at the kind of guys for whom nothing but a Lamborghini will do, with sharp, automotive-inspired facets so performance focused you can all but hear the revs. It’s a serious chunk of crystal.

Aventi A11 Pure Sapphire Black Dial

Aventi A11 Pure Sapphire Black Dial

The tourbillon movement has been skeletonised – and yes, I did say tourbillon. The Hong Kong-made movement might not have the classical prestige of a Swiss number, but it has more than enough going for it to hold its own – including a 72-hour power reserve. On paper, this should be one of the priciest timepieces around. But it’s set you back just $10,800. I’ll let that sink in a little.

The main reason that’s possible is that Aventi use Asian manufacturers mainly, cutting costs dramatically but, as is the case with many a Chinese-made watch, not compromising on the mechanics. If you want performance over prestige, Aventi is a name you need to remember.

Price & Specs

  • Case/dial: 48.5mm diameter, black or pure sapphire dial|
  • Water resistance: 50m (5 bar)|
  • Movement: Aventi A11, automatic|
  • Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)|
  • Power reserve: 72h|
  • Functions: Manual winding, two hands at center, double barrells|
  • Strap: Clear silicone|
  • Price/availability: $10,800 USD (approx. £8,585), more details at Aventi.

Hublot Big Bang Integral Sapphire

Hublot Big Bang Integral Sapphire Watch

Until now we’ve only ever seen cases made of sapphire. Sure, that’s impressive enough for most watchmakers, but Hublot aren’t most watchmakers. Just as fully transparent cases become… not the norm, but common enough that they don’t warrant a fanfare and firework display, the footballer’s favourite has upped the ante by adding a full sapphire bracelet.

It’s not just any sapphire bracelet either, but Hublot’s incredibly tactile Integral, which when it was released a couple of years back was somehow the brand’s first integrated bracelet. The case may be relatively par for the course by now but the bracelet is worth taking a closer look at.

Hublot Big Bang Integral Sapphire

Made from 22 sapphire components linked in a framework totalling 143 pieces, it’s a magnificently over-machined piece of transparent watchmaking. Sapphire isn’t light, but thanks to most of the other pieces being titanium, the bracelet still sits comfortably on the wrist (provided you’re comfortable seeing your wrist through it).

The movement makes the most of its setting. With a micro-rotor at 12 o’clock and a tourbillon at 6, it seems proportioned specifically to be housed in sapphire. It’s not subtle, nor should it be at this price. Fingers crossed we’ll see it in Hublot’s immense orange sapphire at some point soon.

Price & Specs

  • Ref: 455.JX.0120.JX|
  • Case/dial: 43mm diameter, sapphire crystal dial|
  • Water resistance: 30m (3 bar)|
  • Movement: CHUB6035 calibre, automatic|
  • Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)|
  • Power reserve: 72h|
  • Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds on tourbillon|
  • Strap: Polished sapphire crystal bracelet|
  • Price/availability: £349,000, limited to 30 pieces, more details at Hublot.

Zenith Defy Zero G

Zenith Defy Zero G Front

Zenith’s Defy is built for off-kilter watchmaking materials and sapphire is no exception – except in that it’s been saved for an incredibly exceptional piece. The Gravity Control movement is basically a gyroscopic tourbillon, meaning that it will always work to offset gravity, no matter how your watch rests.

It’s a physics-based approach that’s been paired with a fittingly out-of-this-world design. The dial is a heady mix of grand feu enamel, starry aventurine glass and meteorite, with a gravity-defying cut-out for a seemingly floating tourbillon.

The transparent sapphire case is the finishing touch. Allowing more light into the movement, it shows off the distinctive architecture of the Gravity Control El Primero movement from all sides. Finished on a blue strap to match the aventurine dial, it’s a magnificently finished watch worthy of its name. It’s a stunner, of which there are only 10. Oh, and it also comes with an actual zero gravity experience in the stratosphere, if you needed another reason to grab one.

Price & Specs

  • Case/dial: 46mm diameter, openworked with meteorite & aventurine hour & minute dial|
  • Water resistance: 30m (3 bar)|
  • Movement: El Primero 8812 SK calibre, automatic|
  • Frequency: 36,000 vph (5 Hz)|
  • Power reserve: 50h|
  • Functions: Hours, minutes at 12 o’clock, self-regulating gravity control module at 6 o’clock, small seconds at 9 o’clock, power-reserve indication at 2 o’clock|
  • Strap: Black rubber with blue “cordura effect” rubber & grey stitchings|
  • Price/availability: Price on request, limited to 10 pieces, more details at Zenith.

Cyrus Klepcys Vertical Skeleton Tourbillon Sapphire

Cyrus Klepcys Vertical Skeleton Tourbillion Sapphire

If there’s one movement that deserves to be seen from all angles, its Cyrus’ now-signature vertical tourbillon. The watchmaker’s already had to include an absurdly large, domed crystal in order to show it off from the sides (where you can actually see the titular complication working) so making the entire Klepcys case transparent is the next logical step, especially when deciding how to celebrate Cyrus’ 10th birthday.

First, let’s run through what this watch actually is. It’s no secret that traditional wristwatch tourbillons don’t work like they should. It’s why you see so many funky variations on the anti-gravity theme. They were designed for pocket watches and so meant to stand vertically, hence Cyrus’ take on it. As it then takes up the middle part of the dial, you’re left with less room for indicators, so instead of central hands we have retrograde hours on the left, retrograde minutes on the right, all over a skeletonised dial. Both are operated by independent crowns and the power reserve is shown via the sphere at 12 o’clock. Seconds are indicated by the tourbillon cage.

Cyrus Klepcys Vertical Skeleton Tourbillon Sapphire wrist shot

It’s a lot, right? Between the idiosyncratic layout, the combination of black, gold and openworked mechanics and finished in that intensely machined sapphire case, it’s a serious piece of work.

Price & Specs

  • Ref: 539.506.ZG.A|
  • Case/dial: 44m diameter, openworked dial|
  • Water resistance: 30m (3 bar)|
  • Movement: Calibre 903, automatic/manual winding, 24 jewels, 450 parts|
  • Frequency: 21,600 vph (4 Hz)|
  • Power reserve: 100h|
  • Functions: Hours, minutes and small seconds on tourbillon|
  • Strap: White rubber strap with embossed prism pattern|
  • Price/availability: £245,000, limited to 10 pieces, more details at Cyrus.

Cvstos Metropolitan PS Skeleton Sapphire

Cvstos Metropolitan PS Skeleton Sapphire

Sapphire cases might be a budding trend but green is very much in its ascendancy. Cue the Metropolitan PS Skeleton Sapphire, courtesy of avant garde watchmaker Cvstos. First, the case. The multi-leveled tonneau number is entirely transparent, right down to its rounded crown guards, with beautifully tactile curves across the board. The only pieces of visible steel are where the strap attaches either end and the crown. That’s almost the case inside, too.

Despite it’s technical look, the Metropolitan PS is also an easy watch to read. Hours and minutes are told via the central hands, while seconds via Cvstos’ signature shuriken indicator in what would normally be a small seconds subdial. The jumping date is nestled at 6 o’clock.

The skeletonised movement allows a more-or-less unobstructed view through the watch, via PVD green bridges. The green in question isn’t your bog-standard forest green, but something altogether brighter and more vibrant. The indexes not only offer another spot of contrast with their mix of steel and lume, but they illustrate the sheer attention to detail here. While the cardinal numerals are rectangular, the rest are all angles to fit perfectly against the minute flange. A visual tour-de-force, this might just be the zeitgeistiest piece of modern haute horology around. Lacking a tourbillon, it’s also one of the more affordable full sapphire cased wristwatches here.

Price & Specs

  • Case/dial: 42mm diameter, openworked dial|
  • Water resistance: 50m (5 bar)|
  • Movement: CVS410 SQLT in-house calibre, automatic|
  • Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)|
  • Power reserve: 50h|
  • Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds|
  • Strap: Alligator leather or rubber|
  • Price/availability: £30,500, limited to 50 pieces, more details at Cvstos.

Jacob & Co. Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon Sapphire Crystal

Jacob & Co Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon Sapphire Crystal

If there’s one brand uniquely placed to make the most of sapphire crystal, it’s Jacob & Co. Favoured watchmaker of hip hop artists and Irish MMA fighters. If anyone has the budget and the guts to pull off an outlandish watch with a case made from cutting edge materials, it’s likes of Connor McGregor. And it doesn’t get more outlandish than a totally transparent recreation of a Bugatti Chiron engine in horological form. Which is precisely what the one of a kind Jacob & Co. Bugatti Chiron Tourbillon Sapphire Crystal is.

The movement contains an ‘Engine Animation’ complication, a purely visual element controlled by a pusher. It has 16 pistons and two turbochargers (down from four in the actual car) that move in a realistic imitation of an actual combustion engine. It’s housed within a monobloc sapphire crystal case, the delicate facets of which take over a month to create.

This is definitely horology as art rather than horology as an instrument. As much as a conventional watch collector might avoid something so off the edge there’s no denying that sapphire is the perfect material for a watch like this.

Price & Specs

  • Ref: BU210.80.AA.AA.ABRUA|
  • Case/dial: 55mm x 44mm diameter, anti-reflective sapphire crystal case, sapphire crystal caseback, sapphire crystal and titanium crowns and pushers|
  • Water resistance: 30m (3 bar)|
  • Movement: Calibre JCAM37, manual winding, 41.7mm x 15.60mm, 51 jewels, 578 parts, Incabloc shock protection system|
  • Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz)|
  • Power reserve: 60h|
  • Functions: Hours, minutes|
  • Strap: Rubber|
  • Price/availability: Unique piece, more details at Jacob & Co.

Richard Mille RM56-02 Sapphire Tourbillon

Richard Mille RM56-02 Sapphire Tourbillon

While there might not be any sapphire wristwatches in Richard Mille’s current collections, they’ve dabbled with the material several times in the past. Plus, given their ultra-high end street watch aesthetic, it’s a material they’re likely to return to at some point in the future. With that said, the last sapphire cased watch they created was the RM56-02 Sapphire Tourbillon.

It has the classic tonneau shape case, made from three blocks of shaped sapphire crystal. The movement is then suspended by the cable system first developed for the RM27 Rafael Nadal. Mixing the transparent crystal with the high flying cables makes for a unique aesthetic, light and airy as if the movement isn’t being supported at all. It’s little surprise that the production process takes 40 days to make the case and a further 400 hours to perfect the movement.

Richard Mille RM56-02 Sapphire Tourbillon

Created as a limited edition of 10 pieces, it showcases the best qualities of sapphire. Sporty, durable, stylish and impressively over the top. Elements that are emphasised by the layout and structure of the movement.

Price & Specs

  • Case/dial: 42.7mm width x 50mm length x 16.75 mm thickness, tonneau sapphire case|
  • Water resistance: 30m (3 bar)|
  • Movement: Calibre RM56-02, manual winding tourbillon|
  • Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz)|
  • Power reserve: 45h|
  • Functions: Hours, minutes, tension indicator|
  • Strap: Rubber|
  • Price/availability: $2,020,000 USD (approx. £1,650,000), limited to 10 pieces, more details at Richard Mille.

Greubel Forsey Double Balancier Sapphire

Greubel Forsey Double Balancier Sapphire Watch

Greubel Forsey frequently test the limits of what’s horologically possible and one of their signature complications is the Double Balancier movement. It’s only natural then that a few years ago they launched a limited run of Double Balancier Sapphire case wristwatches, combining their high end calibre with a high end case.

The sapphire provides an intriguing window into the world of the watch’s two inclined balance wheels. However, it doesn’t double down on the visual qualities of sapphire to the extent that some of the other timepieces here do. By which I mean it doesn’t have a fully skeletonised dial, it’s only partially openworked, meaning that some of the inner workings remain hidden. Yet, the combo of the rich blue of the dial, the visible portion of the insane movement and the sapphire case is stunning.

Here, the role of the sapphire case is not to be an eye draw in its own right but to allow light into the body of the watch. It plays a supporting role, something it is exceptionally good at.

Price & Specs

  • Case/dial: 47.25mm diameter, twin fast-rotating barrels, mirror polished blue dial|
  • Water resistance: 100m (10 bar)|
  • Movement: Double balancier, 50 jewels, 284 parts|
  • Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz)|
  • Power reserve: 72h|
  • Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds|
  • Strap: Blue rubber|
  • Price/availability: $695,000 USD (approx. £571,000), limited to 11 pieces, more details at Greubel Forsey.

Purnell Escape II Absolute Sapphire Hancock Red

Purnell Escape 2 Absolute Sapphire Hancock Red

I decided to save the best ‘til last. Honestly, in this particular piece the fact that it’s in a full sapphire case is the least spectacular thing about it. Even the colour, an ironically ruby colour dubbed ‘hancock red’ is less of a showstopper than it should be. That’s because at the core of the Escape II is the world’s fastest double triple axis tourbillon. That means two triple axis tourbillons (already a mind-boggling feat of ingenuity) working together. Dubbed the Spherion by creator Eric Coudray, it’s not a new movement having been originally designed in 2012, but it only gets more mesmerising the longer you look at it.

Other than that movement, everything else is made from sapphire – the case, the dial and even the crown. It doesn’t really give you a view of the movement you wouldn’t already have with the open dial and exhibition caseback, but it transforms the aesthetics of the watch into something almost futuristic.

Purnell Escape 2 Absolute Sapphire Hancock Red

Rather than the earlier Escape II which contrasted transparent sapphire and blue, here it’s all blood red. All the hands – including on the ingenious suspended mobile cone mainspring sensor that shows off the power reserve – are scarlet, as are the spherical cages of the triple axis tourbillons. Everything bar the sapphire dial and the finer mechanical components in fact match the case perfectly.

Watching this thing go… there’s nothing quite like it. Sure, the power reserve is short, but only because there’s so much movement. The monobloc crystal case might not stand out as much here, but there’s no denying the Escape II sapphire is a masterpiece in the truest sense. God only knows how much it would cost – if, somehow, you could get hold of it.

Price & Specs

  • Case/dial: 48mm diameter, full “Hancock Red” sapphire case, smoked sapphire dial with applied hour indexes|
  • Water resistance: 30m (3 bar)|
  • Movement: P03 calibre, manual winding|
  • Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz)|
  • Power reserve: 32h|
  • Functions: Hours, minutes, power reserve indication via suspended mobile cone mainspring sensor|
  • Strap: White fabric|
  • Price/availability: CHF 2,000,000 (approx. £1,650,000), more details at Purnell.

About the author

Sam Kessler

Legend has it that Sam’s first word was ‘escapement’ and, while he might have started that legend himself, he’s been in the watch world long enough that it makes little difference. As the editor of Oracle Time, he’s our leading man for all things horological – even if he does love yellow dials to a worrying degree. Owns a Pogue; doesn’t own an Oyster Perpetual. Yet.

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