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IP Coating Explained

Why plating?

Early development

When it comes to precious metals like gold and silver, people all across the centuries have found it prudent to plate objects rather than make everything from solid metal.
 
Why? Economics and practicality. Very few people could afford solid gold or silver items, whether they were religious icons, jewelry, or eating accouterments. Solid metal and silver were soft and heavy.
 

Think of the workout you'd get dining with a solid gold dinner set. Also, the cutlery and serving pieces would take on lots of dents and dings.

Covering an item in a thin layer of gold produced the look and luster of a solid piece but at a far lower cost. Gold was used earliest and most frequently because it was easy to flatten into thin sheets (think paper-thin - or papyrus for the Egyptians) and could be worked without smelting

WWI and the interwar years

Evolution of plating techniques

Today, most people think of gold plating as a chemical process. That is true but only since the early 1900s. Before that, plating using thin sheets of gold ruled the day. The craftspeople would hammer gold into thin sheets and then apply them to the object they were creating.
 
The earliest technique involved pushing the foil tightly against the object using hand pressure. I am sure some sort of glue was also involved. Over time, hammering the gold into place and into the object's design produced better results. Crafters can use the same technique today, burnishing sheets of tissue-thin gold leaf onto their creations.
 
When it came to using this approach on items that received regular use, like a watch, for instance, our ancestors discovered that the gold wore off in rather short order. A new method was needed.
 
The kickstart that electroplating need was the invention of the electrochemical battery by Alessandro Volta in 1799. Volta, voltage, volts, get it? Say, what if the inventor had been Bob? You'd be buying batteries in bobs rather than volts. "Hi, I need a pack of AA 1.5 bob batteries." But, I digress, and badly.

In five short years following Bleriot's flight, Europe and most of the rest of the world was plunged into the horror of WWI. Dirigibles and observation balloons were still in use but eventually succumbed to the rapidly developing airplanes. Watches and compasses now served to guide bombers to targets to deliver their ordnance as accurately as possible.

The airplanes of WWI were often hard to control. That meant the pilot was ill-advised to take his hands off the controls to retrieve his pocket watch. The same value that leads Santos-Dumont to seek a solution carried full force into combat.

Most aerial combat during WWI occurred during the day due to lack of proper instruments and lights. Bad weather almost always grounded the planes of the time. So watches did not need large quantities of luminescence. The just needed to be easy to read. Therefore, the iconic black dial and large contrasting Arabic numerals became standard issue.

As a result of experiences in WWI, U.S. Navy captain Philip Van Horn Weems designed an independently adjustable seconds ring. This feature allowed pilots to accurately synchronize their watch with a radio time signal without stopping the sweep seconds hand. Although "hacking" watch movements to allow everyone in a combat unit to synchronize their watches to the second, the practice could result in throwing pilots off course, ruin missions, and risk the airplane and crew.

Following his successful trans-Atlanic flight in 1927, Charles Lindbergh collaborated with Weems to develop the Hour Angle system which further enabled the wristwatch to determine longitude.

The German military specified a design that set the standard for what we think of as a classic pilot's watch today. By 1936, aviation advances allowed airplanes to fly at all hours and in foul weather (although grounding in severe conditions was common). The result was the Beobachtungsuhr (B-Uhr), or Observer.

With a compact source of electricity readily available, people began working on ways to use it. One such way was electroplating. This process was described in 1801 by one William Cruikshank and Luigi Brunatelli made it work around 1805.
 
During the decade of the 1830s, the Elkingtons patented several electroplating processes, but they never made much of an inroad until the end of the decade when European investors began to use the process for more industrial applications.
 
As the Industrial Revolution spawned a new generation of wealth, demand for "statement" pieces that showed of a person's wealth exploded. Eager to take advantage of the resulting market, electroplating was back in the game.
 
It wouldn't be until the 1910s that electroplating became a science. Up until then, it was more an art with process recipes closely held. As a result, economies of scale and replicatabilty were limited. Electroplating was an established field of study and industry.

"When we use a coating to achieve a design objective, we only use ionic plating technology. It’s as tough as our watches. Our fans deserve nothing less."

- Chaz Chazanow

Co-Founder at LIV Watches

Enter IP coating

Ion plating (IP) is to electroplating as the latter was to foil plating. It was a quantum leap forward. As good as electroplating is at providing a uniform coating that looks like the solid metal, it still suffered from wear. Items used every day would soon end up with the gold plating worn off, exposing the underlying metal.
 
I have a prime example in my watch collection. My grandfather Tom Shufflebarger worked for the Norfolk and Western Railroad in Cambria, VA. His pocket watch has a beautiful gold plated finish, except where it wore off on the bottom, riding in his pockets every day for decades.
IP coating goes by various names, one of which I have used incorrectly for years. You may hear the technique called IP plating. Spelled out, that creates a linguistic echo, "ion plating plating." My apologies. It is properly known as one of the following:
  • IP coating
  • PVD - physical vapor deposition
  • Ion plating
  • IAD - ion-assisted deposition
  • IVD - ion vapor deposition
Without delving too deeply into the process of plating metals with ions of another metal, I can tell you the process takes place inside a sealed chamber where under partial vacuum conditions, a volatilized vapor adheres to the substrate, bonding at a molecular level. The benefits of this method include:
  • Wear resistance 4 - 8 times that of electroplating
  • Exceptionally thin coatings are possible (2 microns or so) reducing costs
  • You can ion plate in nearly any color, offering more color choices and surface finishes (gloss, matte, semi-gloss, textured, etc)
Check out the image below taken with a high-faluting elctron microscope. The thickness of the coating is 2 microns!

How large, or in this case small, is a micron? 0.001 mm or about 0.000039 inch. The image below, from Wikipedia, shows a 6 micron carbon fiber tube on top of a 50 micron human hair.

"Color is an important element of LIV designs. When the natural luster of 316L stainless steel doesn’t quite work, IP coatings give us long-lasting color options."

- Esti Chazanow

Co-Founder at LIV Watches

LIV and IP

Several LIV timepieces are crafted with IP coatings. Our base metal is no slouch, 316L stainless steel. On top of this rock-solid foundation, we apply a lustrous black, a silver-gray, and rich rose gold. Take a look at some of our specimens below. Crave-worthy timepieces you'll want on your wrist with a finish that will last through thick and thin.

Let's close the IP article with an admonition, you can scratch your IP coating. Yes, it's tough, but not impervious. Handle with a modicum of care, and your finish will shine on for years. Unless you select a matte finish...

Contents

Early development

Why plating?

When it comes to precious metals like gold and silver, people all across the centuries have found it prudent to plate objects rather than make everything from solid metal.
 
Why? Economics and practicality. Very few people could afford solid gold or silver items, whether they were religious icons, jewelry, or eating accouterments. Solid metal and silver were soft and heavy. Think of the workout you'd get dining with a solid gold dinner set. Also, the cutlery and serving pieces would take on lots of dents and dings.
 
Covering an item in a thin layer of gold produced the look and luster of a solid piece but at a far lower cost. Gold was used earliest and most frequently because it was easy to flatten into thin sheets (think paper-thin - or papyrus for the Egyptians) and could be worked without smelting.

Given the fact that Santos-Dumont was a regular participant at the airshows of the day, other pilots exhibited one of the earliest known examples of wrist envy. As a result, the pilot's watch soon became a "must-have" instrument in the cockpit. And, not just for "keeping up the the Santos-Dumonts" reasons. Advances in powered flight were enabling planes to fly further and faster. With a reliable watch and a compass, pilots had the tools they needed to calculate time-speed-distance, determine when to move to the next leg of a flight, judge how much fuel was left, and generally be safer in the air.

Pilot Louis Bleriot wore a Zenith wristwatch when he made aviation history being the first to fly an airplace across the English Channel in July of 1909. Taking advantage of the feat for marketing purposes, Bleriot commented upon landing that he was very satisfied with his Zenith and would recommend it to others. The records are unclear on the point of Bleriot's comment being spontaneous or rehearsed.

WWI and the interwar years

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua."

- Chaz Chazanow

Founder at LIV Watches

Advances during WWII

French watchmaker Zenith continued to manufacture their pilot's watches. Striking a neutral stance, Zenith sold its watches to both the Allies and the Axis. They used their 1939 Type Montre d"Aeronef design as the basis of their wristwatch. It featured the black dial and white arabic numerals with the large onion-style crown at 3 o'clock.

The United States did not produce a purpose-made pilot's watch. One of the most widely produced models supplied to American forces was the A-11. Manufactured by Bulouva, Waltham, and Elgin, the watch featured the required high-visibility black dial with white Arabic numerals. The manually wound movement featured a hacking function for synchronization. Some A-11s were waterproof, some were dust proof, some had luminous hands, , and some did not. All had a larger crown at 3 o'clock, but not in the onion style.

Postwar evolution

Evolution of plating techniques

Today, most people think of gold plating as a chemical process. That is true but only since the early 1900s. Before that, plating using thin sheets of gold ruled the day. The craftspeople would hammer gold into thin sheets and then apply them to the object they were creating.
 
The earliest technique involved pushing the foil tightly against the object using hand pressure. I am sure some sort of glue was also involved. Over time, hammering the gold into place and into the object's design produced better results. Crafters can use the same technique today, burnishing sheets of tissue-thin gold leaf onto their creations.
When it came to using this approach on items that received regular use, like a watch, for instance, our ancestors discovered that the gold wore off in rather short order. A new method was needed.
 
The kickstart that electroplating need was the invention of the electrochemical battery by Alessandro Volta in 1799. Volta, voltage, volts, get it? Say, what if the inventor had been Bob? You'd be buying batteries in bobs rather than volts. "Hi, I need a pack of AA 1.5 bob batteries." But, I digress, and badly.
 
With a compact source of electricity readily available, people began working on ways to use it. One such way was electroplating. This process was described in 1801 by one William Cruikshank and Luigi Brunatelli made it work around 1805.
During the decade of the 1830s, the Elkingtons patented several electroplating processes, but they never made much of an inroad until the end of the decade when European investors began to use the process for more industrial applications.
 
As the Industrial Revolution spawned a new generation of wealth, demand for "statement" pieces that showed of a person's wealth exploded. Eager to take advantage of the resulting market, electroplating was back in the game.
 
It wouldn't be until the 1910s that electroplating became a science. Up until then, it was more an art with process recipes closely held. As a result, economies of scale and replicatabilty were limited. Electroplating was an established field of study and industry.

"When we use a coating to achieve a design objective, we only use ionic plating technology. It’s as tough as our watches. Our fans deserve nothing less."

- Chaz Chazanow

Founder at LIV Watches

Enter IP coating

Ion plating (IP) is to electroplating as the latter was to foil plating. It was a quantum leap forward. As good as electroplating is at providing a uniform coating that looks like the solid metal, it still suffered from wear. Items used every day would soon end up with the gold plating worn off, exposing the underlying metal.
 
I have a prime example in my watch collection. My grandfather Tom Shufflebarger worked for the Norfolk and Western Railroad in Cambria, VA. His pocket watch has a beautiful gold plated finish, except where it wore off on the bottom, riding in his pockets every day for decades.
IP coating goes by various names, one of which I have used incorrectly for years. You may hear the technique called IP plating. Spelled out, that creates a linguistic echo, "ion plating plating." My apologies. It is properly known as one of the following:
* IP coating
* PVD - physical vapor deposition
* Ion plating
* IAD - ion-assisted deposition
* IVD - ion vapor deposition
Without delving too deeply into the process of plating metals with ions of another metal, I can tell you the process takes place inside a sealed chamber where under partial vacuum conditions, a volatilized vapor adheres to the substrate, bonding at a molecular level. The benefits of this method include:
* Wear resistance 4 - 8 times that of electroplating
* Exceptionally thin coatings are possible (2 microns or so) reducing costs
* You can ion plate in nearly any color, offering more color choices and surface finishes (gloss, matte, semi-gloss, textured, etc)
 
Check out the image below taken with a high-faluting elctron microscope. The thickness of the coating is 2 microns!

www.60clicks.com

How large, or in this case small, is a micron? 0.001 mm or about 0.000039 inch. The image below, from Wikipedia, shows a 6 micron carbon fiber tube on top of a 50 micron human hair.

LIV and IP

Several LIV timepieces are crafted with IP coatings. Our base metal is no slouch, 316L stainless steel. On top of this rock-solid foundation, we apply a lustrous black, a silver-gray, and rich rose gold. Take a look at some of our specimens below. Crave-worthy timepieces you'll want on your wrist with a finish that will last through thick and thin.

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua."

- Esti Chazanow

Co-Founder at LIV Watches

Let's close the IP article with an admonition, you can scratch your IP coating. Yes, it's tough, but not impervious. Handle with a modicum of care, and your finish will shine on for years. Unless you select a matte finish...

"Color is an important element of LIV designs. When the natural luster of 316L stainless steel doesn’t quite work, IP coatings give us long-lasting color options."

- Esti Chazanow

Co-Founder at LIV Watches