Watch design trends are not particularly fast moving – or they usually aren’t. The renewed interest in mechanical calibres is decades old. And the desire for smaller watch cases is at least fve or six years old, with 40/41mm the current sweet spot – far larger than vintage watches of the ’50s and ’60s, of course, but tiny compared to the behemoths of the last couple of decades.
Both of these – as well as smaller micro trends, like blue dials or three hand faces – are all part of a larger trend, however, one that says ‘away with the bling’ and concentrates on more of a back-to-basics, honest craftsmanship type approach. These days watchmaking – like much of the wider culture – seems obsessed with the authentic, the analogue and the ruggedly individual, and over the last half-decade, in particular, this has manifested itself in two new ways. One is the fresh enthusiasm for retro, vintage-style design, and the other is the seemingly unstoppable march of bronze.
“When we launched our frst bronze cased watch last year, it was a version of our best-selling C60 Trident,” says CW co-founder Mike France. “And though we hoped and believed it would do quite well, it was really something of an interesting experiment. We were totally unprepared, certainly, for just how quickly it took oﬀ. And if bronze was hot back then, it’s become even hotter since. The use of bronze for watch cases is a trend that shows no signs of stopping any time soon – or even of slowing down.” Bronze is, of course, an alloy of copper and tin – usually around 12% tin, occasionally with small amounts of other metals (from aluminium to zinc, nickel to manganese) mixed in. It was frst created six or seven thousand years ago, gave its name to The Bronze Age in the Near East (and, later, Europe) in the three millennia before Christ, and has been used for statues and weapons, mirrors and coins, music instruments and ship fttings. Until very recently, though, it was never used for watches.
Part of the reason, of course, is to do with its intrinsic qualities. It’s a little more brittle than stainless steel, and a little heavier, but the main diﬀerence is that it rapidly takes on a vintage-like matte patina on exposure to moisture (not necessarily buckets of water, but just the stuﬀ it absorbs from the atmosphere and your skin). This protects it from corroding beautifully – hence its use on ship propellors and the like – but gives each example a unique, ever-changing mottled appearance over time. This was a look that held little appeal to many in the past, but seems thrillingly personal, old-school and honest now.
The frst bronze luxury watch is generally considered to be Gérald Genta’s Gefca of 1988, and it took a while for the idea to catch on. Initially its use was limited to expensive, low-run models from the more risk-taking and smaller-scale end of the luxury watch spectrum, but over the last couple of years – and particularly with the launch of what’s rapidly growing into an extensive Christopher Ward Bronze Collection – things have been changing at quite a pace.
“Bronze watches are a perfect example of the low key, keeping-it-real aesthetic so many of us embrace these days,” Mike says. “And the way they develop a patina with age is endlessly fascinating. It gives them an individual edge few things can match. People tell us that their bronze Tridents have become their most treasured watches, and a big reason why is that your watch becomes unique to you.”
With the immediate success of the frst bronze Tridents, then, Christopher Ward wasted no time in widening the range to four. That the bronze case should now be made in both Trident sizes – the regular, fairly large 43mm case and the more modest and versatile 38mm – was something of a no-brainer, but then came a rather more radical thought. Why not oﬀer each of these in two versions?
One would be ‘raw’, with the bronze unmarked and untouched, ready to develop its own unique patina on the owner’s wrist, and the other would be pre-patinated, so the wearer wouldn’t have to wait weeks or months to enjoy the full extent of bronze’s unique oxidising properties. “Achieving this meant experimenting endlessly with the properties of bronze,” says senior designer Adrian Buchmann, “but we eventually came up with a new process to oxidise the surface at high speed, quickly ageing the copper in the metal to bring out the blackness.
We experimented with pre-aging the cases before constructing the watches, and how long we should pre-age them for – it was all a bit of an adventure – until we arrived at the process that seemed best. We now force-age the complete watch – so the matching buckle enjoys the same process, and it’s only the exterior of the bronze case that starts to oxidise, not the inner surfaces – and we only do it long enough to get the process going, not so much that it goes very dark and doesn’t allow the owner to add their own patina through use.”
Though how quickly a bronze watch case will change colour depends very much on your skin type and where you live – hot, humid Singapore versus cold, dry Norway, say – these watches now come to their owners with something like four months worth of wear already ‘built in’. “Right now we’re probably selling around 30% of our bronze watches patinated, and the rest in their raw, untouched state,” Mike says. “And the plan is to oﬀer both options with every bronze watch we sell from now on.”
The C60 Trident Bronze Pro 600s are an open series, but their success has seen Christopher Ward start to oﬀer a number of additional new bronze models, all dive watches of one type or another, and all on limited edition runs. “Even so,” says Mike, “we now oﬀer perhaps the widest, most cohesive Bronze Collection available anywhere, with additional models being considered all the time.”
Next up, for instance, is the striking C60 Trident Bronze Ombré COSC Limited Edition, which answers a new question that few had thought about before bronze became so popular. With the case developing such an interesting patina, a striking contrast between that and the pristine face beneath the sapphire crystal starts to develop. For many that’s interesting and enjoyable, but what if you wanted a watch where the collar and cuﬀs match, so to speak, and the face has the same aged look as the rest of the case?
The answer is the Ombré COSC LE, which achieves its more unifed feel through a specially made dial, which is painted and then hand scratched – so no two are the same, just as no two cases will be – and gives you perhaps the ultimate in bronze individuality. “We’re bringing the outside inside, if you like,” says Adrian, “and it took quite a bit of experimentation to get to the perfect solution for this. The results, though, are extremely striking – while remaining resolutely anti-bling. In fact, this is perhaps the most individual watch of all, as both your dial and your case are unique. Only a handful of watch brands – Zenith and Anonimo spring to mind – have experimented with anything similar, so you’re almost certain to never see another watch like this.”
But that’s not all. Already available are a couple of other bronze models too. The C60 Trident Bronze GMT 600 Limited Edition runs an ETA 2893-2 movement, and marks the frst time we’ve seen a GMT complication in a bronze watch case. Interest in this particular watch is sky high, we’re told, and it looks likely to be another that will sell out rather quickly. “It’s particularly good looking, with the GMT hand in a nice light blue, which contrasts brilliantly with the bronze,” says Adrian. “It looks great on a leather or canvas strap, and comes in at £995, great value for a GMT.”
And then there’s the last of the Bronze Collection so far, the C65 Trident Bronze SH21 Limited Edition. This one’s been so popular, every one of the 150 made has already been snapped up, so finding one will be like hunting for hen’s teeth. “This is a very special watch, with a special look – not just the bronze case, but the fact that it has a small seconds subdial at 6 o’clock, unique amongst C65s,” says Mike. “It’s also the first C65 Trident Diver to run our in-house SH21 movement. Even so, though, we were surprised it sold out quite as quickly as it did. I suppose that, in retrospect, the triple whammy of the bronze case, the winning C65 aesthetic and it being a limited edition should have given us a clue!”
So what is the future for bronze watches? Interest is still on the up, it seems, and part of the appeal is that this metal looks so diﬀerent to anything else, and yet – unlike gold or platinum, or even something like ceramic – doesn’t cost too much more than regular stainless steel. Plus, of course, it suits today’s authentic vibe brilliantly. “We’re always interested in new case materials,” says Mike, “but not since titanium has anything seemed to work this well for watches. In fact, I think bronze has an even wider appeal.”
It must have some sort of downside, though, surely…? “Only that it seems to suit the more rugged, outdoorsy watches best. That’s why it works so well on Tridents, and why we haven’t yet attempted a bronze dress watch. For one thing, it would risk making your white dress shirt cuﬀs go green.” A minor issue, then, and easily fixed by a wardrobe of dark-coloured shirts. And anyway, small idiosyncrasies are all part of the appeal of bronze. These are not watches designed to be all things to all men – far from it – but instead to have a striking, unusual, inherently casual and highly personal allure. A bronze Trident – whatever the model – is a Trident that’s unique to you.
Source: Loupe Magazine - Issue 11 - Winter 2018