The last year saw a massive resurgence in two-tone watches, bronze also made a comeback, maybe we are back in a time where in general “materials” are back in front. From ceramic to titanium and bronze to new materials like Tantalum we can observe a focus on materials to differentiate watches. A very welcome trend for me. But let’s look at two-tones::
What do we consider a two-tone watch?
Left: Two colours (super fancy hydro-dipped Tockr) vs Right: Two-tone Rolex
For the sake of this article, we will consider a two-tone watch a watch that combines two different metals (or metal colours) for the case/head and/or the bracelet. Common combinations are:
- Steel & Gold
- Titanium & Gold
- White Gold & Gold
When referring to Gold it could mean Rose/Pink/Sedna Gold or Yellow Gold.
Technicalities – of metals used (or not):
- Metals are only coloured, no precious metals are used
- Gold parts of the case and bracelet are PVD or DLC coated with precious metals
- Gold parts are solid gold
- Gold parts are gold-wrapped (next best thing to solid gold)
Best of both worlds – or a compromise watch?
A two-tone watch offers great contrast and a more understated look compared to a solid gold one. It’s less flashy and less attention-seeking. However, a two-tone watch can have the status of gold without the blingy appearance. So depending on where you sit on the fence it’s either a compromise watch or the best of both worlds.
Two Two-Tones – Sedna vs yellow gold
Two-tone watches close the gap between a steel only watch and a full gold watch, they fill the huge gulf between these two price points.
Usually, the premium to go from a steel version to a two-tone version is substantial. Way more than the price of the precious metal used would justify.
For example, the Omega Seamaster Professional 300M Diver costs $4,900 on a rubber strap in steel, $6,500 on the same strap in two-tone (bezel, hands, He Valve and Crown in solid gold) be it yellow gold or the Omega special “Sedna” gold, a variant of rose gold. The difference is $1,600 dollars for these parts in gold.
This picture changes to an even bigger difference if you look at it with a bracelet:
$5,200 with steel bracelet vs $9,700 with a two-tone bracelet
That’s a quite substantial $4,500 difference nearly the price of two watches on a rubber strap. However – this can be even topped more with going for the Titanium – Tantalum – Sedna Gold version of the watch which will set you back a whopping $13,000….
Let’s switch our view to Tudor. One of my favorite brands. I personally own the Tudor Black Bay Chrono in steel – a watch that is a bit controversial in its design but for me just hit the sweet spot. Tudor calls it a Chronograph with an aquatic heritage, as it’s part of the Black Bay family (Diver watches) with the racing heritage of the chronograph watch. It has a fantastic movement with a vertical clutch and a column wheel and keeps incredibly accurate time for the last 2 years I own it with +/- half a second a day.
This watch in Steel&Gold (S&G) variant costs $7,000 opposed to $5,225 in steel only. That’s a rather humble $1,775 difference, a far cry from the Omega difference. Why?
Tudor Black Bay Chrono S&G next to Tudor Black Bay S&G
My best guess is that Tudor uses less invisible gold. According to Tudor the bezel is solid gold as is the crown and the chronograph pushers but the gold center links on the bracelet are actually not solid gold but steel links are wrapped (or capped) in gold. Do not confuse this with gold-plating which is really just a few microns of gold, that’s really just a few layers of atoms. A very welcome compromise as you have a few millimeters of gold, so even if you get a deep scratch – it would be highly unlikely to ever see the steel underneath opposed to gold coated/plated watches where scratches can reveal the steel underneath pretty easily. You get all the benefits but without the massive price increase and without the weight of solid gold.
This is an example of a Tudor gold capped bracelet link:
Photo credit: mui.richard (https://forums.watchuseek.com/f23/tudor-black-bay-s-g-wow-4342130-post42202842.html#post42202842) Richard Mui Photography HK
You can see the few millimeters of Gold wrapped around the steel center.
Here a small graph explaining the important differences:
Image: Own – Graphic not to scale
For completeness sake lets look at a Tag Heuer Aquaracer, which is “only” gold plated, for the 41mm watch with quartz movement we see a price difference on $750 (steel: $1,550 vs two-tone $2,300).
Now that we covered the basics, let’s get into the fashion aspect.
Richard Mui Photography HK
Why are they back en vogue now?
That is the million-dollar question and with all things fashion, everything comes and goes in cycles. From colours to cuts and even brands – sometimes they are just bound to bounce back. Two years ago – if I would have told you that Timex will produce a quartz watch that sold out a couple of times and watch nerds around the world were dying to get their hands on, you would have called me crazy.
So who do we have to thank for the two tones? Well there it is again – the big R – we have to talk about it again. Rolex has sort of created the two-tone watch and has always produced them without a break since the 30s – they even gave it a special name: Rolesor – please excuse me for just copy-pasting the Rolex marketing explanation here but it’s so fluffy and elegant, I need you to read it:
A meeting of metals
Rolesor is the auspicious meeting of two metals on a single Rolex watch: gold and steel, with their contrasting colours and radiance, in subtly balanced harmony.
The name Rolesor was patented by Rolex in 1933 and has become a true Rolex signature. The concept is simple: the bezel, the winding crown and the centre bracelet links are made of 18 ct yellow or Everose gold (Rolex’s exclusive pink gold alloy); the middle case and the outer links of the bracelet are made of Oystersteel. On white Rolesor models, the bezel alone is in 18 ct white gold.
Paul Pluta – actor who plays Archieluxury – with one of his two tone Rolex models.
Two-tone had a bit of a stench to it. With no disrespect – it had a bit of a wheeler-dealer flair to it back in the days. Something that was given to the office dweller for his biggest sale or 30 years of service. The heyday of two-tone was in the 70s and 80s where you got the flashiness of gold with the durability of steel. A perfect match.
It is perfect compromise watch.
So who do we have to thank for the resurgence? Well we have to look to Rolex again but this time not to Rolex itself but their sister brand Tudor who launched their Black Bay and Black Bay Chrono versions in S&G shortly after heavyweights like AP and Patek brought two tones back in their most sought after lines of the Royal Oak and the Nautilus in 2015:
AP Royal Oak
Patek Philippe Nautilus
So there you have it – two tones are back, it’s hard to find any watch brand who is not sprinkling some gold into their designs, maybe not full two tone watches but dials with gilt (gold) accents (example Tudor Black Bay 58, Monta Oceanking with Gilt dial).
4 of the 7 new watches from Tudor in 2019 were S&G models
Gilt accents – but not two-tone (Tudor Black Bay 58 and Monta Oceanking Gilt dial)
Two tones (for now) has lost its “stench” and is back “in”. Personally, I am actually quite smitten with the Tudor BB Chrono S&G and wouldn’t mind trading my steel version for one….maybe that should be a nice personal goal for 2020 – add some sparkle to my collection.
After all, it’s way classier than the all gold alternative:
Rolex Daytona 116588 TBR “Eye of the Tiger”
Ralf aka koolpep lives and works in Dubai, UAE.
If he is not travelling for work or on Safari in Africa, or on a race track, he loves to talk and collect watches and deep dives into the audiophile headphone abyss.