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The essentials of steel watch bracelets

Anna Wu-Chauvineau
Le 3 July 2017

You must have understood by now the love, interest and importance we have for watch straps. We have spoken at length about different types of leather and the details which in our opinion contributes to the making of a real strap, functional, beautiful and in perfect harmony with the case of our watches. We haven’t really yet had the occasion to contemplate on its steel equivalent. Something we’re going to do today…

Steel watch bracelets. There exists a multitude of them. Almost as many as there are watch cases and dial colours believe it or not. It is however an extremely difficult and dangerous exercise to design a bracelet that is both elegant and comfortable, and which won’t uselessly weigh down on an ensemble but on the contrary enhance the presence of the watch case. Many have tried, few have succeeded. 

We won’t be listing all the attempts on the subject but rather we’ll take a closer look at the most iconic and exemplary steel watch bracelets which have inspired entire generations…

Rolex Oyster bracelets

The icon of icons in terms of steel bracelets, the Oyster designed by Rolex to adorn their sport watches is far from being the most known and recognisable. A 3-part link that generally falls 4mm from the lugs to the clasp. Finesse, comfort and simplicity. Although the bracelet has evolved technically speaking since its creation in the 1940’s, the design remains intact, for our greatest pleasure.

Rolex GMT-Master 1675

The famous Oyster bracelet was first made by folded links (the most vintage version, light and flexible, but the most fragile as well), then riveted links (the most “tool” version). Today’s version uses solid center links, more resistant but heavier and thicker than its predecessors.

There exists numerous references depending on the watch case and end-links. Based on the cases for which they are destined, these bracelets can be completely polished, from the sides and even to the central link. Our favorite version and the most iconic one, in our opinion, remains the reference 9315 with folded links and entirely brushed.

Rolex Jubilee Bracelets

Second legendary bracelet that comes to us directly from the crown brand: the Jubilee bracelet. The icon of the 1980’s that we associate with the GMT-Master its Pepsi bezel, but also to another generation of the “Datejust.” This bracelet has known the same technical evolution as its Oyster counterpart. Folded first, then solid links were used.

Rolex GMT 1675

If this bracelet is in fashion again today and in the spotlight, it’s also because this is the most comfortable steel bracelet ever made in history. The 3 central interdependent links offers an incomparable flexibility. Only drawback on the ones with folded links is that they will have suffered and loosened with the passing of time. The comfort level will remain the same, it’s simply an aesthetic notion.

Omega & The Milanese Mesh

The steel bracelet was originally something created to go with sport and dive watches so that leather straps would not deteriorate with constant contact with water or heavy sweating. We cannot allow ourselves to forget the Milanese mesh that represents the watch strap of the Seventies. The look of old divers by excellence, made especially popular by Omega on its PloProf and other Seamasters.

Omega Seamaster 200 - SHOM

With a crocheted mesh, function is a priority. Be careful, however, when choosing your mesh bracelet. Depending on its thickness and space existing between the crocheted mesh, round or flattened, it can be extremely comfortable and flexible or prove to be the complete opposite. It may even be a hair-pincher. Awful. A heads-up to gentlemen whose forearms rarely sees the sun.

Omega Ploprof

When a Speedmaster dons steel

The bracelet on the Moonwatch also has its own distinct features. Other than making a big splash at its release, the watch’s design has influenced a great number of creations afterwards. There exists various Speedmaster bracelets, and all excellent in our opinion. Our favorite version is the reference 1039 that accompanied the first Speedmaster 321 models. The folded links remind us of those on the Oyster, absolutely, but flatter, and with a larger central link and no drop, giving the piece real identity. Comfort, lightness, functionality and personality are present front and center. Mission accomplished.

So what?

There obviously exists numerous other beautifully made steel bracelets, especially the ones already integrated to watches such as on the Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet or the famous Patek Philippe Nautilus. Bracelets that are inseparable from the respective cases. A number of companies have even begun specialising in complicated bracelet design and production. Gay Frères, for example, would make several bracelets for Universal Geneve.

In conclusion, if we must summarise the essential qualities that make a good steel bracelet in our eyes, there will be 3 key points. First, it will be comfortable. Its end pieces will perfectly fit together to adapt to the lugs and the curve of the case, and not overpower the watch in thickness nor weight. As for clasps and diver extensions, it’s a whole other story that requires its own separate article. Stay tuned for it…