Not everyone agrees that black is a colour. It is a shade, of course, but not a colour because true black is the absence of light. And if there’s no light, there’s no colour. And where this colour (that’s not actually a colour) is concerned, that’s not the only paradox. As a vector of meaning, it can signify practically anything. It’s an entire language in its own right. But its subtle vocabulary is full of nuances that can only be fully appreciated in context. Black is not unique, nor is it absolute. It has textures and variations, and can produce different reflections and different looks depending on its environment.
It can be the very soul of discretion. Given a matt surface and a frosted dial by Hermès, it embodies its fashion icon status as the ultimate style shortcut. With a touch of red along the thickness of the strap, the Cape Cod Shadow can’t help but turn heads. It might be borderline difficult to read but that’s not really the point. Black on black on black is a different register altogether. Bulgari calls it Ultranero: a satin-brushed black Octo case, with tone-on-tone indices, hands and dial showcase all the shades of black it’s possible to bring together in an area of few square centimetres. And it makes the Octo almost invisible.
But to achieve the height (or depth) of invisibility, a more high-tech approach is required. MCT has secured a licence to use Vantablack, a copyrighted name for a space-age coating composed of carbon fibre nanotubes. Their distinctive property is that they soak up light, creating the blackest black of all. The back of the dial of the Sequential One s110 Evo Vantablack is coated in Vantablack, which makes the movement appear to float above a seemingly bottomless watch face.
Black also represents the ultimate in high-tech. The TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-01 Full Black Matt Ceramic piles up different shapes and angles to produce an impression of rugged technicality. This multi-layered ceramic watch conveys something of the vertiginous sensation of seeing a black object streaking towards you in the rear-view mirror. Black is also associated with speed, as Montblanc proves with its TimeWalker Chronograph 1000. For the second outing of its dual-frequency chronograph, which tops out at 360,000 vph, the company has chosen black DLC titanium and a matching dial with red accents. After all, when it’s about speed, you need a little red.
But the high-tech element of black is not always visible. Look at Panerai’s pioneering LAB-ID Luminor 1950 Carbotech. Its PEEK/carbon fibre composite case is not new in itself, but the movement is made of tantalum carbide. Within this black ceramic material, the carbon acts as a solid lubricant. The pivots of the gears can rotate without friction. So, the black experience is all the stronger when it’s more than skin deep. When it’s black to the core.