Steel Watches: Why They Are Hot Right Now

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The humblest metal in high-end watchmaking may be its saviour in turbulent times.

Patek Philippe just snagged the title of 'Most Expensive Wristwatch Ever Auctioned'. Surprisingly, the watch wasn't clad in platinum or rose gold. Instead, it was encased in very unassuming stainless steel. While it's not the most precious material in watchmaking, stainless steel has proven to be a game-changer in the horological world. Here's the backstory and then some...

IT’S 1972 ALL OVER AGAIN. Back then, Audemars Piguet premiered the Royal Oak. Billed then as the world’s first luxury sports watch, it commanded a then-princely sum of 3,500 Swiss francs (approximately S$4,600).

 Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 1972

The price tag was considered excessive for a steel watch at that time. Fast forward to 2016 and steel watches are in the news once again. This time though, the circumstances have changed considerably. Steel watches from esteemed brands are now considered bona fide luxury objects. More interestingly, luxury steel watches are increasingly employed by watch companies to alleviate declining sales.

PRICE POINT ALERT. Steel watches can cost 30 to 40 per cent less than gold offerings, that’s why they are employed as gateway options for price-sensitive watch lovers. As for watch companies, steel timepieces brim with the promise and potential of higher sales volume. 

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CHECK THESE OUT. One of the most coveted timepieces of 2016 is Rolex’s Cosmograph Daytona in steel, which features a black ceramic bezel for the first time in the collection’s history (below).

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona in steel

While stainless steel versions of the Daytona are the most highly prized among collectors, the red-hot desirability generated by the latest version illustrates just how far stainless steel watches have come. At 11,800 Swiss francs, the new Daytona doesn’t come cheap, but we think the price tag is hardly going to be a deterrent. 

Another solid contender is Glashütte Original’s Senator Excellence (below).

Glashütte Original Senator Excellence

This watch houses the Saxon brand’s new in-house movement – a big deal for technical buffs. There is a version in red gold case, but with a starting price of S$14,300 for a steel option, compared to S$26,000 for the red gold model, the former makes an offer that is hard to refuse. 

AFFORDABILITY ISSUE. Not all entry-level watches are priced equally. At this high up the luxury ladder, everything becomes rather relative. Case in point: Blancpain’s Villeret Annual Calendar GMT, the brand’s most affordable complication yet in a stainless steel case, costs approximately S$37,800 (below). 

Blancpain Villeret Annual Calendar GMT

And also look at Jaquet Droz’s new Grande Seconde Dual Time, available in a ‘more affordable’ stainless steel version this year, priced at S$28,000 (below).

Jaquet Droz new Grande Seconde Dual Time

Affordable? Not to most. But as entry tickets to two highly respected and pedigreed watchmaking houses, these watches, thanks largely to their steel getup, certainly make attractive price propositions.

THEY SAY

“It may be the case for other brands, but our steel watches are not a reaction to anything. The thing is, we have always offered steel watches and also made very high-value, expensive pieces. What is important, whether in steel watches or otherwise, we have remained true to our creativity and originality.”  -- Alain Delamuraz, Blancpain vice-president

“Having more offerings in stainless steel automatically increases any brand’s accessibility. As a consumer I’m delighted to finally be able to afford a timepiece from that snarky high-end brand… even though the skeptic in me suspects that the margin for stainless steel watches is even higher for some models.” -- Willis Lim, watch enthusiast

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Alvin Wong

Editor-in-Chief

Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.  

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