It’s been a while coming, but 2019 will be remembered as the year two-tone watches recaptured the centre ground
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that only a few years back, bi-colour watches lacked sartorial credibility. They were a throwback to the tasteless indulgences of the 1970s and 1980s. Like a Filofax full to bursting and bullying red braces, they were showy symbols of flimsy boom-and-bust prosperity.
The end of an era
Little sums up the collective cold-shouldering of bi-colour quite like the Rolex Datejust worn by Christian Bale’s murderous 1980s financier Patrick Bateman in the 2000 film American Psycho. The steel and gold piece, on a Jubilee bracelet, was the perfect token of 1980s greed and his moral ambivalence. And in the sensitive post 9/11 age, no one wanted a slice of that. Bi-colour fell from fashion like a stone in water.
Out went pieces such as Omega’s Constellation Manhattan, Cartier’s Santos, Ebel’s Sportswave and TAG Heuer’s 2000 series. In their place came utilitarian steel designs and the warmer, subtler tones of rose, red and pink gold.
Changing times, changing tastes
But at some point early in this decade, that all started to change. Bi-colour stories started emerging; in ladies’ watches first as the likes of Chopard began experimenting with steel and rose gold. Then fashionistas and style mavens started picking up on it, calling out bi-colour or ‘two-tone’ as a future trend. Before long, the trickle had turned into a flood, so much so that this year’s SIHH and Baselworld shows have been awash with bi-colour models. Bi-colour is back.
It’s not just the colour combination that’s returning. Other 1970s and 1980s trends are back, too. Rolex’s Jubilee bracelet is in-vogue once more, with Tudor following in behind with a version of the Black Bay on a five-link metal bracelet this year – in bi-colour, of course. In early summer, Bell & Ross will introduce a design that encapsulates the uncompromising proportions of 1970s and 1980s design. Gucci’s surprise cushion-shaped Trip, also launched this year, is pure 1970s kitsch. And there’s a buzz around March LA.B, the Franco-Californian brand that looks like it was born in the decade that style supposedly forgot and never got out.
The best of bi-colour
So who’s at it now? Rolex has been spearheading the move for some years. Followers will recognise last year’s brown and black ceramic-bezelled GMT-Master II ‘Clint Eastwood’ as just one of a number of Rolex bi-colour models introduced in recent times, but this year’s polemic Sea-Dweller in yellow gold and steel (or Rolesor, to use the name Rolex gives its two-tone watches) took the trend to a new level. A bona fide tool watch, water-resistant to 4,000 feet in bi-colour?
Omega, another bi-colour veteran, makes a two-toned version of its Globemaster (the blue-dialled version taps into two trends at once – and very successfully, too), while tastemakers were uncommonly united in adjudging last year’s steel and Sedna Gold Seamaster 300 M the pick of the revamped collection.
Cartier’s Santos is back, and last year the 40th anniversary of its revival was marked with a steel model with a gold bezel and screws; Audemars Piguet does a steel and yellow gold version of the Royal Oak; and even Baume et Mercier, Richemont’s one-time baby, does a bi-colour version of its Baumatic.
Because of the gold element, bi-colour watches tend to be pricey, and so some brands have turned to an alternative metal to create more accessible two-tone watches. Both Montblanc and Oris have deployed bronze in bezels and crowns, a popular material that patinates over time (which some will see as a bonus, and others a flaw). This year’s two-tone Oris Big Crown Pointer Date with a blue dial is a critical success, as are those steel and bronze pieces in Montblanc’s 1858 collection.
Not everyone’s singing from the same two-tone hymn sheet, though. IWC, which has never been afraid to experiment with materials, has so far declined to jump on the bi-colour bandwagon, perhaps believing that its tool-watch credentials don’t bend to the current bias. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s ladies collection, particularly the Rendez-Vous, dips in, but bi-colour is conspicuous by its absence from its men’s line-up. The suspicion is that it’s only a matter of time, though. A bi-colour Polaris would surely find a home in the family.
But despite the exceptions, 2019 will be remembered as the year bi-colour went mainstream.