The watch world revels in the archaic; need proof? How about the fact that they’ve only just entered the bronze age. At least, that’s what it’s starting to feel like given that the alloy has been the focal point of the last six months in watches.
OK, so there are some genuine plus points to bronze – even if it is 5,019 years old. It’s corrosion resistant, relatively hard-wearing and most importantly, gives a cool, steampunky twist to most watches. It also has the unique trait in watch cases of gaining a patina over the years.
That lauded patina is the metal oxidising and will change according to how you wear it, when you wear it, what it comes into contact with and myriad other little factors that are impossible to recreate from watch to watch. In a very roundabout way, that patina makes each watch unique.
On a more technical level, the fact that bronze is an alloy, it allows each watchmaker to customise it for their own needs. Sure there needs to be copper and tin mainly, but you can always shake things up with other metals to change the specs or colour of the metal. Brands will take any opportunity to formulate some new, “proprietary” material, even if it is just putting % more nickel in the mix.
Still, the way the majority of watchmakers has jumped on their favourite new zeitgeisty metal is almost alarming; there’s nary a brand without some flash of metallic brown somewhere in its collection. So, to save you wading through the mud-coloured mire of bronze, here are a few of the best out there.
Oris Big Crown Pointer Date Anniversary Edition
Even if you’ve not heard of the specific watch before, all you need to know is that the Big Crown Pointer Date, Oris’ flagship pilots’ watch, is now 80 years old. I’d hesitate to call it iconic, but it’s edging towards it. Either way, it’s one hell of a watch for the money at the worst of times; at the best of times you get this stunning bronze edition.
Now, it won’t be the only time you see the bronze case/green dial combo; IWC and Montblanc put it at the centre of their collections at the beginning of the year. That doesn’t mean it’s not a great one though, especially with that little flash of red on the circumferential date indicator. Finished with a fluted bezel, if you’re after a retro pilots’ watch you could do a lot, lot worse.
Panerai Submersible Bronzo
Want your wrist to feel like it’s strapped to a Jules Verne marine explorer? Look no further than this 47mm hunk of metal. It takes a certain kind of guy to be able to pull this particular watch off, but it’s worth if it you can. Daily weightlifting aside, it’s actually a reissue of the watch that popularised bronze in the first place.
Panerai weren’t the first watchmaker to use bronze – that would be the inimitable Gerald Genta – but when the original Luminor Submersible Bronzo came out it led the charge to where we are now. Here Panerai have kept things relatively unchanged on the outside and simply equipped this new model with a far superior movement, namely their own P.9010 in-house calibre with a three-day power reserve. It’s not a subtle watch and that’s why it’s awesome.
Zenith Pilot Type 20 Chronograph Extra Special
Not nearly as pricey as the Panerai but almost as chunky (bronze seems to suit largely-proportioned watches), Zenith’s 45mm classic pilots’ watch is about as perfect a canvas for bronze as you can get. That said, I might be a little biased, given that I’ve always had a soft spot for the Type 20. Everything from the curvaceous hands to that incredible, overcompensating fluted crown gives the steampunk-y impression of a converted Victorian-era pocket watch.
It comes with black and green (of course) dials, but for my money the blue is the coolest. Whichever you opt for, the movement is the same, which is a massive point in the Type 20s favour; it contains one of the finest chronographs ever built in the form of Zenith’s legendary El Primero movement.
Tudor Black Bay Bronze
Tudor is one of the better value-for-money propositions out there, leaning on the heritage of their older sibling, Rolex, while giving themselves room for some more modern divers. I mean, you wouldn’t see Rolex use bronze. Instead we have the latest iteration of the Black Bay Bronze, this time with a lovely slate grey dial.
Granted, it’s not a huge departure from the previous version with a simpler black dial, but it’s still a decent enough difference, particularly when worn on the bronze-striped fabric strap. It has everything a diver should have – unidirectional rotating bezel, lume and decent, 200m water resistance – and happens to be the watch of choice for Mr. David Beckham (featured image, top). You know, if that’s your reason to buy a watch. I won’t judge.
Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph Limited Edition
Want to pass your shiny new watch off as vintage? Montblanc’s historically-inspired 1858 might be just the ticket. Based on the watches produced by Minerva, the chronograph specialists that Montblanc absorbed when they got serious about watchmaking, it’s pure 1930s style, right down to the original Montblanc logo.
Of course I had to include another green-dialled bronze watch – I can’t say it’s a domineering trend without proving it now, can I? – and the khaki colouring here is a perfect fit with the piece’s militaristic roots. I’d pop it on a proper canvas NATO than the fabric strap it comes with but either way, it’s a fine timepiece that looks a lot older than it is. It’s a problem I know all too well.