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In the luxury watch world, black is the new gold.
More and more owners of shiny new Rolex watches – whether stainless steel, yellow gold or platinum – are paying thousands of dollars more to turn their luxury timepieces jet black. And that's meant strong growth for a London-based company that's pioneered a new technology to black out the priciest timepieces.
"One of the reasons why someone might turn their Rolex black – particularly if it's a gold watch or platinum watch – might be that they don't necessarily want everybody to know it's a gold or platinum watch. Perhaps they want to be under the radar, less ostentatious," Luke Waite, founder of London-based high-end watch customizer Titan Black, told CNBC's "Secret Lives of the Super Rich. "
Indeed, the black watch trend is part of the broader boom in blacked-out bling – from Rolls Royce's new Black Badge models to high-end black watches from Richard Mille, Breitling and other brands.
At Titan, high-end watches are not painted, but rather treated with a "diamond-like carbon" (DLC) coating. The chemical reaction ultimately turns the metal ebony, giving the watch similar properties to that of a diamond: from hardness and durability to scratch-resistance and captivating black finish. And today's wealthy want watches that are unique.
"The consumer has become more aware of the ability to customize exactly what they want – as opposed to being dictated to by the brand," Waite said.
While the company specializes in customizing Rolexes, its artisans have also added bespoke features to other luxury timepieces – from Panerai to Audemars Piguet – including changing every single marker on a watch face to the color of a client's choice. They'll even swap out the dial altogether to a custom color not offered by the manufacturer.
One of Titan's clients requested a 24K gold skull carved into the face of his $18,000 Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. It took a master engraver more than 35 hours to create the masterpiece by hand.
"The face alone is worth upwards of $10,000," Luke's brother, Titan Black director Ben Waite, told CNBC. "We only make one of each dial... [each is] completely unique and one-of-a-kind," he explained.
Another custom touch is achieved when Titan artisans transform a watch face by sprinkling colorful layers of powdered enamel onto it. The powdery design is then literally baked onto the face. It's a process that can require dozens of firings in a kiln that tops 1,400 degrees, transforming the colorful grains of enamel into a shiny porcelain watch face.
The company's most elaborate transformation started as a $30,000 white gold Rolex Daytona. A member of the Middle Eastern royal family asked Titan Black to carve a family member's Arabic name into the watch face and illuminate in blue light. To fulfill the royal request, Titan engineered a patent-pending micro-lighting system, tiny enough to fit inside the watch's housing and made it controllable with the press of the chronograph button.
"It was the most complicated and intricate project we've ever developed," Luke Waite said.
The changes cost Titan's client an additional $40,000 – ticking the cost of the Swiss timekeeper north of $70,000.
The royals were so impressed with the results, they ordered two more for other family members bringing their Titan tab to more than $200,000.
Watch "Secret Lives of the Super Rich" on Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.