Watch bracelets were, until recently, somewhat ignored: while varied, interchangeable straps have flourished, the simple steel bracelet has tended to be seen as an item of practicality rather than refinement.
However, the increasing popularity of luxury steel sports timepieces, led by a surging market for examples descended from the 1970s heyday of prestige bracelet watches, has made them a talking point once more, and a focus for increasingly innovative design.
Hublot’s new bracelet-bound Big Bang Integral
Earlier this year, Hublot introduced a new bracelet-bound version of its 15-year-old Big Bang. As with those 70s models, the central concept involves integrating the case and bracelet seamlessly, rather than (as more often happens) attaching a bracelet to a case designed for a strap – an objective that required subtly redesigning the case itself, for a watch dubbed the £19,100 Big Bang Integral. It’s a development so suited to the lines of the Big Bang that it seems remarkable that it hadn’t been done before.
Breitling also made the bracelet a prime feature of its redesigned Chronomat chronograph, which reintroduced the prominent bullet-belt links of its “Rouleaux” bracelet, last seen in the late 80s.
Breguet took the unusual step of placing a high-complication wristwatch – its chiming Marine Alarme Musicale – on a chunky new bracelet, while Montblanc also made retro seem modern with the “rice-grain” links on the bracelets for its 1858 range.
H Moser & Cie’s Streamliner Flyback Chronograph Automatic sees the bracelet and case designed as an integrated whole
However, it was H Moser & Cie, an independent maker of formal, minimalistic haute horlogerie watches, which started the year off on this particular track with January’s launch of the eye-catching $39,900 Streamliner Flyback Chronograph Automatic.
Ostensibly a sports chronograph, the design of the watch began with the bracelet itself, according to CEO Edouard Meylan. “Moser is about functionality, ergonomics and minimalism,” he says. “So the single-link bracelet, which is rather uncommon, became obvious to us. We then started building the case and then found the right movement.” Like Hublot’s, the bracelet and case are designed as an integrated whole, though Moser’s version is almost menacingly smooth, eschewing normal geometries for something reminiscent of H.R. Giger.
Cartier’s Maillon de Cartier bracelet took one year’s research and 35 different prototypes to perfect
Czapek & Cie is another high-end independent bringing a new dimension to its watchmaking with an integrated bracelet model that harks back to 1970s forms. Known for crowdfunding its startup five years ago to the tune of 1.1 million Swiss Francs, the brand launched its £17,300 bracelet-bound Antarctique through an online subscription model during the pandemic lockdown, and business was reportedly swift.
Perhaps buyers were charmed by an unusual bracelet style that contrasts polished C-shaped links against the brushed steel panels, all finished by hand – though it may also be the hidden quick-release system which enables swapping in rubber or calf-skin straps.
For Cartier, the bracelet never went out of fashion, as evidenced by recent success of its sporty Santos line and its female equivalent, the Panthere.
This year’s £23,000 Maillon de Cartier introduces an entirely new bracelet style inspired by the chunky links of a curb chain. Concept is one thing, but execution of the geometrically complex interlocking twists is quite another. Cartier reports a process of one year’s research, multiple iterations and 35 different prototypes to ensure the links were flexible enough and that, despite the angular design, the articulation was smooth and the finished piece easy to wear.
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