MCT and Anish Kapoor join forces to grow the world’s darkest man-made substance onto a watch face
There’s something about astrological watch complications that never fail to capture the imagination. Moon phases, planetariums, celestial charts and meteorite dials have always proven popular, but a new watch face – that claims to be the closest thing to a black hole – takes things to another dimension.
The face of the MCT Sequential One 110 Evo Vantablack you see here isn’t actually black. It’s colourless. The dial has been coated in Vantablack, the world’s darkest man-made substance – capable of absorbing more than 99.965 per cent of light. It’s so dark, it makes three-dimensional objects look flat.
Turner prize-winning sculptor, Anish Kapoor, owns the exclusive artistic rights to Vantablack. He describes it as ‘The blackest material in the universe after black holes… a physical thing that you cannot see.’ His collaboration with French watchmaker MCT (Manufacture Contemporaine du Temps) is the first time the near weightless material has been used in an artistic context. Parts on the Sequential One 110s have been treated, giving the effect that the mechanism is floating over a miniature abyss.
Surrey Nanosystems, the laboratory behind the groundbreaking substance, started out investigating nanomaterial growth platforms (nanomaterials are those in which a single particle is between one and 100 billionths of a metre), to reduce stray-light and improve the sensitivity of telescopes on satellites.
Vantablack, which stands for vertically aligned nanotube array black, isn’t a paint, pigment or fabric but a ‘functionalised forest’ of millions of carbon nanotubes. Each nanotube has a diameter about 3,500 times smaller than the average human hair. A surface area of 1cm contains around 1,000 million nanotubes. ‘Try to visualise walking through a forest in which the trees are around 3km tall,’ says Steve Northam, business development director at Surrey Nanosystems. ‘It’s easy to image just how little light, if any, would reach you.‘
So how do you cover a watch face in Vantablack? Surrey Nanosystems is cagey with the details – hardly surprising given the mysterious substance is worth pound for pound more than diamond and gold. ‘Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD) is a process used to deposit conformal films [a uniform coating] onto a substrate – a titanium watch dial in this case,’ says Northam. The CVD reactor involves a vacuum chamber and powerful lamps that heat the watch face to 430C – the temperature required to cultivate the nanotubes. ‘The type of film deposited will depend upon the chemicals we use, and in this case we use a specific recipe to ‘grow’ carbon nanotubes directly onto the dial surface.’ Only 10 watches have been treated and will retail at £76,000.
Surrey Nanosystems has developed a spray-on version with a reflectance of 0.2% on the visible spectrum – ever so slightly more reflective than the original, but that can be applied to much larger surface areas. Again, Kapoor has the artistic rights, but to what end, he’s keeping us in the dark. mctwatches.com