Bronze is becoming a popular case material for some watch brands, particular for dive watches. And it has been a while since we looked at bronze watches. The last we did this in a Throwback Sunday episode was way back in 2016, where Robin proposed six of his favourite bronze watches. What are our current thoughts on beonze cased watches? Here are six.
Bronze. An alloy consisting primarily of copper and tin, often in combination with other metals like aluminum, manganese, nicle and zinc, and even with non-metals like phosphorus, or metalloids like arsenic or silicon. The alloy is usually harder than copper on its alone and may offer other useful properties like strength and machinability. The alloy forms a patina easily, a coating of oxide which highly protective, and quite stable. This patina is unlike steel, which oxidises and the rust which forms becomes a threat to structural integrity.
Make mine bronze: Six recommendations for watches in bronze cases
The archaeological period where bronze was the hardest material known to man was known as the Bronze Age, approximately 3300 BC to 1200 BC. Mankind advanced in a great leap as we learned to make tools which were capable of finer work than can be achieved by the stone tools of the previous era. The Bronze Age was followed by the Iron Age, and bronze became less popular, especially after the advent of steel which is harder and more corrosion resistant. In watchmaking, cases were originally made from precious metals like gold, silver and then in steel and titanium.
The earliest watch with a bronze case was the then highly creative use by Gerald Genta in the Genfica. This watch was launched in 1995, and featured a round case with rivets on its side. The watch is known to heavily patina over time, creating a unique aesthetic. But bronze as a case material was not popular untill Panerai launched the celebrated Bronzo in 2011. In our view, this was the catalyst which catapulted bronze as a fashionable case material.
Interestingly, even though the Iron Age came after the Bronze Age, the use of bronze cases meant that we are traveling back in time from the more regular steel case. But bronze has interesting properties. For one, it tarnishes. This may be seen as a negative, though as we noted above, this patina is protective of the material, and also if we take a liberal artistic perspective, this can be an advantage. The patina in which the bronze takes on after exposure to daily use is unique to the life it had, and indicative of the owner’s usage patterns. One of our most popular articles on this site is a primer on this very interesting aspect of bronze cases. Link here for the article, where we explored various ways to hasten and reverse the effects of the patina.
Bronze is also historically linked to diving, as the diving helmets worn by early divers were often made of bronze. And as a result, many on our list are dive watches.
Let us begin our list of six bronze cased watches which have a place on our Recommendations List. As usual, no particular order is suggested by this list.
Bell & Ross Diver Bronze BR 03-92 (SGD 5,300)
Though we say there is no particular order, we did place the Bell & Ross the place of honour as the first on this list as it was the donor watch for our experimentation on patina. (Link to article three paragraphs up).
The Bronze BR 03-92 was added to the iconic Bell & Ross BR 03 square collection in 2018. This collection was inspired by aircraft instruments and feature the now iconic BR rounded square case, with a round bezel, with bold and sporty dial layout. The signature dial is superbly clear and legible – large markers, big hands, excellent SuperLuminova.
The Bronze BR 03-92 offers a bronze patina character which develops quicker than some others in this list. Bell & ross tells us that this is their intention in the selection of the bronze alloy used in its design.
Tudor Black Bay Bronze Slate Grey (SGD 5,870)
The Tudor Black Bay was featured in our previous Bronze list. But it also features in this list, and we select a different Black Bay for this. The Tudor Black Bay Bronze first made its waves in Baselworld 2016 with a tropical brown dial. This was followed by a Bucherer Edition in blue, and the latest in Slate-Grey.
Tudor’s approach to the alloy used is different from Bell & Ross. Instead of choosing a combination which patinas easily, Tudor intends for their bronze case to develop a more subtle patina over a period of time. When new, the case is bright, almost gold in appearance, and through oxidation it will gradually darken in time. Our friend Jack Forster over at Hodinkee has documented his Black Bay Bronze’s patina journey here.
Montblanc 1858 Monopusher Chronograph Origins Limited Edition 100 (SGD 43,500)
The Montblanc 1858 Monopusher Chronograph is a landmark chronograph in the maison’s vast collection. The watch is well known for the magnificently laid out chronograph works , and for the fine finishing of the movement.
This alloy chosen by Montblanc is different from the bronze used in the Panerai’s Bronzo which are intended to patina to give a moulted and uneven look which is the appeal of the Panerai’s chunky design. The alloy used by Montblanc (and Tudor) is intended to patina evenly, and can acquire a nice tone within 3-6 weeks. Of course, it is no accident that the bronze selected by Montblanc and Tudor are very similar, as the design of both watches were undertaken under the leadership of Davide Cerato – as Creative Director in Tudor first, and then in Montblanc as CEO.
We currently do not see this watch in the Montblanc website catalog, which leads us to think that the 100 piece limited edition may already have sold out. We also liked the Montblanc 1858 Geosphere Messner Limited Edition 262 which might be an alternative, but we are certain that it is already sold out. So perhaps we should recommend the Montblanc 1858 Geosphere instead. No iconic Minerva styled chronograph movement, but one which features a complication which may be useful in travel.
As a side note, following Davide’s career to his current role in HYT, we have an insider tip that bronze will also soon be featured in a HYT case. We have it on some authority that this will be a September 2022 novelty, and look forward to seeing the convergence of high tech capillary hydro meets high end watchmaking meets bronze case.
Hanhart PRIMUS Nautic Pilot Bronze (EUR 2,950)
Hanhart, being a German manufacturer has included a limited edition pilot’s watch in a bronze case in their PRIMUS Natic collection. The watch is distinctive in design, with a brilliant royal blue dial contrasting nicely with the bronze case and a very eye catching red pump pusher at 4 o’clock.
Hanhart has chosen yet a different approach to the use of bronze as a case material. The case of the PRIMUS Nautic Pilot is made of bronze coated 316L steel. This combines the utility and practicality of a steel case with the aesthetics of bronze’s patina. Hanhart also claims that theirs is harder than steel. The bronze coating, made by PVD has a Vickers rating of 1,300 HV – more than 5 times harder than a standard steel case. And should prove to be highly resistant to scratches.
The watch has a striking resemblance to a cockpit instrument, the clear legibility, and a good balance in size and shape of the markers, skeletonise hands, screws and lines as well as the positioning of the (embossed) sub-dials results in a balanced design that is well executed. The case hue is somewhat more pale than the others in this list, but exudes a tough tool image.
Rado Captain Cook Bronze (SGD 3,740)
The Rado Captain Cook is an interesting collection from the watchmaker. The vintage-inspired watch has a nice case size coupled with the very aesthetically pleasing design. Its relative affordability certainly makes it a great value proposition. The use of ceramic, a material Rado has pioneered, in the bezel is a nice touch.. The Captain Cook Bronze was released in 2020 and is available in three colour variations – blue, green and brown.
Rado’s interpretation of the bronze case is interesting. A very fine (3 micron) layer of 23 carat gold plating is applied on the bronze case. The rationale behind this process is to stop prevent the patina from forming early – between the time the watch is produced and the time it reaches the customer’s wrist. Because it is so very thin, this layer of gold-plating will disappear over time – allowing the bronze case to oxidise and form its unique aesthetics affected only by the actions of the owner.
Omega Seamaster 300 Bronze Gold (SGD 17,750)
OK, this is not technically a bronze watch. But Omega’s take is a very interesting one. Based on their workhorse Seamaster 300 series watch, this 2021 release is a new take at the bronze aura that even Omega cannot afford to ignore.
As mentioned Omega’s approach is not technically a bronze case. The case is not an alloy made with copper, but is an alloy made by combining gold with palladium and silver. They call this alloy Bronze Gold, and is a specifically developed by Omega to offer not the pleasing aesthetic and hue of a bronze case. But bronze is not a hypoallergenic alloy. Many of the bronze watches above feature a stainless steel or sapphire case back to minimise direct contact. And Omega’s Bronze Gold is designed to able to be worn in direct contact on the skin. As the gold is only 37.5% of the alloy, making it 9K, the stability of gold as a component is highly compromised, allowing the alloy to age (slower than traditional bronze), and create a natural patina over a long period of time. Giving both the unique look of bronze, but one which is wearable.
And there you have it. Six bronze watches which represents our current thinking of the state of bronze watches. What would you have included in this list? Comments please, thank you!