Now that the statute of limitations on my classroom behaviour has expired, I can admit my mind was elsewhere during high school metalwork lessons.
And so, I’d never really given any thought to the fascinating properties or origin of bronze – but now, as one of watchmaking’s hottest trends, it has my full attention.
Google tells me what I missed in class – that bronze is an alloy of copper and tin (other metals and materials can be also be added to increase the resilience of the finished alloy) and that the Bronze Age, thanks to some canny tinkering by Ancient Sumerians, lasted roughly from 3000 BC to 1200 BC before iron became the go-to metal of choice.
Dawn of the bronze age
Ground Zero for the horological Bronze Age, though, can be pinned down to 1995 when watch designer extraordinaire Gerald Genta introduced his Gefica Chronographe, its design echoing that of old diving helmets or shipboard clocks and gauges, commonly made from bronze. (No surprise, then, that many of today’s bronze-themed watches have a nautical connection.)
While the Genta watch turned industry heads, it wasn’t until 2011 when Italian dive watch specialists Panerai launched their big, bold Luminor Bronzo model that the watch-buying public got ‘bronze fever’.
A standout feature was something that would normally be considered a flaw for most watches – a visible ageing process. As the bronze content reacted with the elements, the Bronzo would take on a uniquely rusty ‘patina’, or imperfect and discoloured appearance.
Testing their metal
That trait guaranteed every single model would be different, depending on where and how it was worn. Customers ended up with a truly one-of-kind watch without having to spend the megabucks usually required to be lavished on a bespoke timepiece.
Bronze is also generally softer than stainless steel, and so a bronze watch case will more easily pick up evidence of wear and tear via the nicks and scratches that come with everyday use. Some owners will welcome the lived-in look; for others, it’s an unwelcome side-effect.
The Bronzo proved a big hit and while Panerai now has four variants in its collection, rival watchmakers have also hitched a ride on the bronze express.
Go for bronze
This year alone, top brands such as Ulysse Nardin, Mont Blanc, Hanhart, Bell & Ross, TAG Heuer and Tudor have released new bronze-themed models.
Tudor’s elegant Black Bay Bronze (43mm) runs on a high-precision automatic Tudor movement housed in a case made of copper/aluminium alloy – highly resistant to corrosion, but still producing that sought-after individual patina.
Like virtually all bronze watches, the Black Bay’s case back is made from a material other than bronze to prevent skin reactions – in this case, bronze-coloured PVD-treated steel. Tudor rates the watch waterproof to 200 metres, with a 70-hour power reserve when fully wound.
French-but-Swiss-made brand Bell & Ross offers the BR 03-92 Diver Green Bronze (999 pieces worldwide), which is true to its name with a striking camouflage green dial combo offset by a square bronze case. The 42mm piece is water-resistant to 300m and features an engraving of a 1940s diver on the (non-bronze) case back.
Sports watch specialist TAG Heuer’s splendid retro-esque Autavia Isograph Chronometer also goes for the green/bronze look, this time with a titanium case back.
It’s water-resistant to 100m, powered by an automatic movement and features a 38-hour power reserve.
If you’re seeking a bronze ‘fix’ but want to steer clear of the dive watch look, the Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur Bronze (44mm with stainless steel back) or Mont Blanc Geosphere fit the bill nicely.
The Marine Torpilleur’s retro military look mixes large Arabic hour markers with a small seconds counter and the individual watch number in red on the dial (just 300 pieces), all beautifully framed within the bronze case. Water resistant to 50m, the automatic UN movement provides 60 hours of power reserve.
Mont Blanc’s spectacular 42mm 1858 Geosphere chronograph is very cool indeed, displaying two rotating hemisphere globes with 24-hour scale and day/night indicator on the dial as well as a second time zone (at 9 o’clock).
The case is satin-finished bronze, the bezel (with its compass points) bronze with green ceramic. The case back features a special “Spirit of Mountain Exploration” engraving and the automatic Mont Blanc movement has 42 hours of power fully wound.
Germany’s Hanhart offers a slight twist on the whole bronze scenario with its very modern Primus Nautic Pilot Bronze (44mm, 300 pieces, automatic Sellita chronograph movement).
With the Nautic Pilot Bronze, Hanhart has melded a bronze coating over a stainless steel base. The result?
A case that’s up to five times harder than a normal steel case but, more importantly, won't develop a patina. The Nautic Pilot is a bronze beauty that, over time, will keep its lustrous good looks.