IN 1988 watch designer Gérald Genta, the mastermind of Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus, unveiled the Gefica under his own company shingle. Eschewing a case of fancy gold or cheaper stainless steel, Genta chose bronze. It wasn’t a common timepiece material, being more frequently associated with a third-place medal or the advances of very early civilisation.
Today, alongside high-tech ceramics, future-forward carbon fibre, and technically superior titanium, bronze has become an alloy of choice for prominent and independent watch brands alike. The combination of copper and tin (or, alternately, aluminium) can quickly develop a patina, the earthy discolouration caused by copper oxidation. Since that patina will be slightly different for each wearer, bronze is “a living material”, says Ander Ugarte, Tudor SA’s head of design, changing over time depending on an owner’s experience.
Bronze resists corrosion in seawater, which is why it has an illustrious history of use for ship hardware and housings for nautical clocks. In 2011, Officine Panerai-Firenze SA chose the material for its Bronzo diver. By then bronze had undergone cosmetic advancements, and its likelihood of leaving a greenish mark on one’s wrist had diminished. Zenith, in 2015, joined the club with its Pilot Type 20 Extra Special. One year later, fervour over Tudor’s Black Bay Bronze would officially set a trend ablaze.
Tudor has released four versions of that watch — its latest has a slate-grey dial. All feature an alloy the brand spent three years developing; according to Ugarte, it hoped to control the oxidation process in a way that would “allow for the development of a patina that is consistent and beautiful”, with a dark chocolate tone.
Davide Cerrato, managing director of Montblanc’s watch division, adds that “bronze has strongly taken hold despite regular rumours that the trend will stop soon”. Like Tudor, Montblanc uses an alloy enriched with aluminium.
There’s a heft to bronze. It’s also antimagnetic and quite durable. But the real value is in the patina, a record the watch keeps of its time with the wearer.