A Tale of Two-Tone Metals: Are Two-Tone Watches Making a Comeback?

by John Wallis


September 25. 2017 - by John Wallis

A “two-tone” watch is one made with contrasting materials in the case and bracelet – most commonly steel and gold. These bicolour timepieces have divided opinion among buyers and collectors for decades, but it seems that their popularity has been on the rebound in recent years – perhaps owing to a surge in nostalgia for fashions from the 80s and 90s. Learn more about the current status of two-tone timepieces in today's watch market and discover our favourite models from Rolex, Omega, Breitling, and more, currently available in our online shop.

Gold and steel combinations are not new to the luxury watch industry. Two-tone Rolex watches famously began appearing in the 1930s, when the brand patented their own term “Rolesor”. Yet it remained widely accepted in the industry that one should not mix one's precious metals. It wasn't until the 1980s that the two-tone era as we know it today really took off. The spark that lit the fuse was perhaps Audemars Piguet's Royal Oak, released in 1972, which represented the first time steel had been openly used on a high-luxury watch. After that, gold and steel combos were only a matter of time. Today we remember the iconic two-tone Datejust worn by Patrick Bateman, the eponymous yuppie serial killer of American Psycho.

But fashions wax and wane, and the two-tone watches trend that was thought to have died away seems only to have been lying dormant. There is some indication that its popularity with young watch lovers is the main force behind its resurgence – especially those who weren't old enough in the 80s to be thinking about watches. Some collectors seem to be reacting against the fashion for minimalism, while others appreciate the better value of two-tone watches, which typically command lower price points for the same quality. Two-tone combos have recently been seen on the wrists of such luminaries as David Beckham, Jeff Bridges and Prince Michael of Kent.

So if you're considering making a foray into mixing your metals, or you're looking for a way to add a little boldness and glamour to your style, then why not take a look at what all the fuss is about? Here are some of our favourite options for two-tone watches.

Rolex Datejust 41

The Datejust 41 is perhaps the quintessential two-tone watch. This legendary timepiece is admired and widely sought for its classic elegance and complete mastery of form that lends itself perfectly to understated luxury stylings. The watch also played an important role in horological history, being the first model produced in serious numbers fitted with a date complication. Released in 1945, it set a trend that the rest of the industry would follow – or rather two trends, thanks to its gorgeous experiments in Rolesor design from early on. Today, a two-tone Datejust remains just as timeless and desirable as ever. 


Omega Speedmaster '57

Alongside Rolex, Omega is probably the company with the best-known history of two-tone watchmaking. Gold and steel cases can be found in many of its watch families throughout the 20th century, and remain popular among collectors today. The Speedmaster is one of Omega's more celebrated successes, thanks to its selection by NASA for use in spaceflight, leading to it becoming the first and only watch worn on the Moon. But the Speedy actually predates space travel; on its release in 1957, it was intended for sportsmen and drivers. The superb two-tone “57” Speedmaster commemorates this legacy. 


Breitling Galactic 41

The ultimate brand for aviators, Breitling has been making stunning pilots watches as long as anyone can remember. But this beloved Swiss firm is more than a one-trick pony. Enter the Breitling Galactic 41: a fantastically versatile timepiece boasting a design as elegant as it is sporty. The look and feel of the Galactic clearly references its more famous aeronautical brethren, evolving it into a pared-back masterpiece of class and sophistication. Many models bear a distinctive square on the dial, along with an even more remarkable big date complication in two windows. In any event, the two-tone models are among the best of this not-to-be-missed collection.


TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 5

Like many Heuer timepieces – especially those hailing from the glory days of the 1960s – the Carrera is a driver's watch. Named for the legendary Carrera Panamericana, the watch has carved out its own legend, and was quickly adopted on racetracks everywhere. Today it continues to serve as a timer for top racing teams and professionals. The Carrera Calibre 5, with its flawless Swiss automatic movement, is a wonderful, pared-down tribute to Heuer's unmatched racing heritage. What better way to enjoy it than with the added warmth that gold brings?


Rolex Submariner

The ultimate watch for divers, the Submariner has been one of the most famous and desirable luxury timepieces since its groundbreaking release in 1953. Its 600m water resistance at that time made history, and its stylish design cemented its place as horological royalty. The watch is also noted for its timeless versatility, being as wearable on the beach as in the office. The 16610 and its family of references remain the best-known and most popular, and the stunning two-tone model with blue bezel and dial adds an appropriate nautical theme to the familiar look that many collectors adore.

John Wallis

by John Wallis

Living and working in London, John has been writing about watches since graduating university. He got his start at SalonQP, London's finest watch show, where he was inspired by the breadth and creativity of the modern industry. His fascination with mechanical horology has only grown from there.

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