One of the most important decisions you will make when buying a watch is what material it’s made of. There are a lot to choose from and they each bring different pros and cons to the table and the decision is further complicated by the introduction of futuristic materials that can totally change the watchmaking landscape. But why limit yourself to just one material when you could use two, such as steel and gold? A watch that is made from multiple metals is known as bi-colour or bi-metal.
We all know that steel is a great material for watchmaking because it’s incredibly durable and easy to work with, but it is very common and can lack that star quality of more luxurious materials. On the other end of the spectrum is gold, beautiful and full of cultural status, yet liable to scratch easily. Put them together and you have the strength of steel with the flair of gold.
Bi-colour is mostly seen as a retro style, having adorned icons like the Rolex Daytona, Datejust and GMT Master II, in addition to the likes of the Patek Philippe Nautilus and IWC Ingenieur. In recent years it has seen a substantial revival that means virtually every watchmaker, no matter how small or large, dabbles in some form of bi-colour version of their signature watches.
So, when it comes to picking out the best ones there are a lot to choose from. Here are 10 of the most prestigious ones out there.
Rolex Explorer 2021
A tool watch might be an odd choice for steel and gold but Rolex are masters of bi-metal. Meaning that the Rolex Explorer is perhaps the grail watch of bi-colours because it perfectly encapsulating the dual aspects of ruggedness and elegance. The regular steel version is the most iconic mountaineering watch in existence, accompanying Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay to the top of Everest in 1953. Adding gold to the case turns it into an equally lovely dress watch without compromising too much on the signature durability that makes the Explorer famous.
Ref: 124273 | Case/dial: 36mm diameter, Oystersteel and 18k yellow gold case, black lacquer dial | Water resistance: 100m | Movement: In-house Calibre 3230, automatic, 31 jewels, Superlative Chronometer (COSC + Rolex certification after casing) | Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz) | Power reserve: 70h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds | Strap: Satin-finished Oystersteel bracelet with polished centre links in 18k yellow gold bracelet | Price: £8,700, available at Rolex.
Tudor Black Bay Chrono S&G
Where Rolex goes, Tudor shall follow. Perhaps an unfair assessment in recent years but the stablemates have certainly shared similarities in the past. So, it’s no surprise that if one brand produces bi-colour watches, they both do. Tudor give their bi-colour watches, like this Black Bay Chrono for instance, the S&G tag in its name, which stands for steel and gold. The yellow gold compliments the Black Bay’s typically earthy and dark coloured dials.
Ref: M79363N-0001 | Case/dial: 41mm diameter, stainless steel and yellow gold case, black dial | Water resistance: 200m | Movement: Manufacture Calibre MT5813, automatic, 47 jewels, Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC) certified | Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz) | Power reserve: 70h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, chronograph 45-minute counter at 3 o’clock, small seconds at 9 o’clock, date at 6 o’clock | Strap: Stainless steel and yellow gold bracelet | Price: £5,240, available at Tudor.
Patek Philippe Nautilus 5980/1AR
When I said brands tend to create bi-colour versions of their signature watches, you can’t get more signature than Patek Philippe’s Nautilus. Sports luxe is the perfect style for bi-colour because it already has a fusion of sportiness and elegance that is only emphasised by the combination of steel and gold. Or more specifically rose gold in this case. It’s a chronograph model with a blue dial and a 60-minute and 12-hour mono-counter.
Ref: 5980/1AR | Case/dial: 40.5mm diameter, stainless steel and rose gold case, blue gradient dial | Water resistance: 120m | Movement: Calibre CH 28‑520 C, automatic, 35 jewels | Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz) | Power reserve: 55h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, 60-minute and 12-hour mono-counter, date at 3 o’clock | Strap: Stainless steel and rose gold bracelet | Price: £54,190, available at Patek Philippe.
Cartier Santos De Cartier
When you think Cartier, you immediately think of the Tank’s pure elegance and refinement. However, the Santos De Cartier is also worth a serious consideration. Its square case gives it a more impactful presence on your wrist and the on display screws à la Royal Oak give it a robust aesthetic. But if you want to maintain the heightened elegance of Cartier, the bi-colour version might be for you with its yellow gold bezel and bi-metal bracelet.
Ref: W2SA0016 | Case/dial: 35.1mm x 35.1mm diameter, stainless steel and yellow gold case, silver dial | Water resistance: 100m | Movement: Calibre 1847 MC, automatic, 23 jewels | Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz) | Power reserve: 42h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds | Strap: Stainless steel and yellow gold bracelet | Price: £8,350, available at Cartier.
Omega Seamaster Aquaterra
Another watch that excels in bi-colour is the Omega Aquaterra. Similar to the sports luxe watches on this list, the Aquaterra already rides the line between sportiness and dress watch elegance. It’s definitely on the more luxurious end of the spectrum so the Sedna™ gold makes sense but if you do want to make use of its 150m water resistance by taking a dip off a yacht then having a steel base helps keep it robust.
Ref: 18.104.22.168.02.001 | Case/dial: 41mm diameter, stainless steel and Sedna™ gold case, silver dial with horizontal “teak” pattern | Water resistance: 150m | Movement: OMEGA’s Master Chronometer calibre 8900, automatic, 39 jewels, Certified Master Chronometer approved by METAS | Frequency: 25,200 vph (3.5 Hz) | Power reserve: 60h | Functions: Hours minutes, seconds, date | Strap: Stainless steel and Sedna™ gold bracelet | Price: £9,730, available at Omega.
Glashütte Original SeaQ Bi-Colour, £10,900
While the Aquaterra we just looked at is fine dabbling in the water, the Glashütte Original SeaQ Bi-Colour is a fully-fledged diving watch. Bi-colour dive watches are perhaps the biggest point of contention among the watch collecting community. That’s because the softness of gold makes it frankly a bad material for the underwater world, where there are hundreds of hazards waiting to give it a big old’ scratch. However, it does look great when you’re on land or a boat.
Ref: 1-39-11-10-90-34 | Case/dial: 39.5mm diameter, stainless steel and yellow gold case, galvanized blue dial | Water resistance: 200m | Movement: Glashütte Original manufacture movement calibre 39-11, automatic, 25 jewels | Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz) | Power reserve: 40h | Functions: Hours minutes, seconds, date | Strap: Blue fabric | Price: £10,900, available at Glashütte Original.
Grand Seiko Spring Drive Chronograph GMT 140th Anniversary Edition
Grand Seiko usually let their dials and their incredible movements do all the talking for their watches, housed in nice but not ground-breaking steel cases with classic GS Zaratsu polishing. So, it’s nice that for their 140th anniversary Chronograph GMT edition a lot of its visual impact is due to the interplay between the steel and gold of the bi-colour case and the black dial. The high contrast really emphasises all the complications and subdials that it sports.
Ref: SBGC240 | Case/dial: 43.8mm diameter, stainless steel and yellow gold case, black dial | Water resistance: 100m | Movement: Calibre 9R86, automatic, 50 jewels | Frequency: 36,000 vph (5 Hz) | Power reserve: 72h | Functions: Hours minutes, sub-seconds, 12-hour chronograph, central chronograph seconds, date, GMT hand | Strap: Stainless steel bracelet with an additional crocodile strap | Price: £17,300, available at Seiko Boutique.
Bulgari Octo Roma
Something you begin to notice time and time again with bi-colour watches is that the best ones are those which apply the combination of materials to designs that already lend themselves really well to steel and gold separately. That’s certainly the case with Bulgari’s Octo Roma. Because its ultra-thin proportions and unique appearance suit any material and bi-colour emphasises that versatility.
Ref: 102854 | Case/dial: 41mm diameter, stainless steel and rose gold case, brown dial | Water resistance: 50m | Movement: Mechanical manufacture movement BVL 191, automatic, 26 jewels | Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz) | Power reserve: 42h | Functions: Hours minutes, seconds, date | Strap: Stainless steel and rose gold bracelet | Price: £11,800, available at Bulgari.
Breitling Super Chronomat 44 Four-Year Calendar
So far, the majority of watches on this list are alternative versions of existing watches. However, sometimes a new watch is only available in bi-colour, such as Breitling’s Super Chronomat 44 Four-Year Calendar. It’s essentially the most advanced watch in the super chronomat range. Meaning the bi-colour case is an excellent way to give it a bit of extra status and allure over the base models.
Ref: U19320161C1U1 | Case/dial: 44mm diameter, stainless steel & 18K red gold, blue dial | Water resistance: 100m | Movement: Breitling Calibre 19, automatic, 38 jewels, COSC-certified chronometer | Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz) | Power reserve: 42h | Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, chronograph, day, date, moon-phase | Strap: Stainless steel & 18K red gold bracelet | Price: £13,650, available at Breitling.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is a classic design that has been reimagined in many different materials over the years. So, it’s no shock to see a bi-colour version or two amid the collection. Like the Nautilus, the RO comes from a pure-bred sports luxe lineage so steel and gold bi-colour is a natural fit. In fact, the two tone version is less extravagant than many Royal Oaks that feature frosted surfaces or dozens of precious gems. Again, exemplifying the dual nature of elegance and ruggedness.
Ref: 15450SR.OO.1256SR.01 | Case/dial: 37mm diameter, stainless steel & pink gold, silver-toned dial with “Grande Tapisserie” pattern | Water resistance: 50m | Movement: Calibre 3120, automatic, 40 jewels | Frequency: 21,600 vph (3 Hz) | Power reserve: 60h | Functions: Hours, minutes, centre seconds, date | Strap: Stainless steel & pink gold braclet | Price: £25,000, available at Audemars Piguet.