05/11/2017
 6 minutes

Two-tone gold and steel watches… can you handle the double standard?!

By Jorg Weppelink
Two Tone Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Image Audemars Piguet
Two-Tone Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, Photo: Audemars Piguet

In the stages of development, the evolution of one’s personal taste coincides with a sense of being an individual. In the course of discovering your self-identity, you might notice that your aesthetic taste changes quite drastically over time. Within the world of watches, this is no different. On a personal level, you may immediately fall in love with some watches, others you won’t ever like, and others still may grow on you over time. There is a different set of rules when it comes to culturally defined taste, however. What exactly does that mean?

Let me try to explain with three examples: What is the appropriate age for one to start wearing a yellow gold Rolex Day-Date “President”? Would you ever wear a watch with diamonds on the bezel? And lastly, could you ever wear a gold/steel or so-called two-tone watch? The last question is admittedly a tricky one. In general, one could say that two-tone watches are not as favoured as regular steel or full gold watches.

Patek Philippe Nautilus "Jumbo"
Patek Philippe Nautilus “Jumbo”

Even when it comes to famous models like the Rolex Daytona or the Patek Philippe Nautilus, vintage and pre-owned two-tone watches usually cost less than regular steel watches. This is a phenomenon that is remarkable, but it’s simply the result of people’s demand and therefore you could say that the gold steel combo is culturally less popular. On top of that, it’s also the epitome of 80s style – a decade defined by excess and a lack of good taste.

Does this mean that two-tone watches can’t ever grow on you? No. It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t legendary watch models that have become famous specifically due to their material combination. You could become one of the happy few that truly appreciates the gold/steel combination.

Rolex Datejust

One of the most well-known gold/steel watches is the Rolex Datejust. While it’s not only famous for its material, it has become one of the most famous gold and steel watches in history. The Datejust was introduced in 1945 to celebrate Rolex’s 40th anniversary. The watch was the first in the world that automatically showed the date and updated itself every night at midnight. The Datejust was more innovative than any other watch on the market at the time. At first, it was only available in 18k gold, but soon after, a gold and steel version was introduced.

In 1954, the Datejust was updated and given a Cyclops lens that magnified the date. This feature is still present on today’s Datejust and has been added as a standard feature on several other Rolex watches like the famous Submariner. In 1957, Rolex introduced a thinner movement to the Datejust so the case could be flattened. Over the years, Rolex also introduced a flat dial instead of a curved one, as well as the Rapid Date Change, also known as the quickset feature. All of these features resulted in a watch that is one the greatest classics known in the watch industry.

Rolex Datejust
Rolex Datejust Image: © Bert Buijsrogge

The watch has been made available in a variety of layouts and colors, making it hard to choose which combination to go with. Here’s some advice: A Datejust with a Jubilee bracelet is the way to go if you are considering a Rolex in gold and steel. Whether you go for a dark or light dial, however, is entirely up to you.

Omega Constellation

Another iconic watch that is well known for its two-tone design is the Omega Constellation Manhattan. The original Omega Constellation was introduced as the flagship watch of the brand in 1952. Named after the Constellation jet that flew during World War II, the watch verified Omega’s commitment to timekeeping excellence. Over the course of the next 20 years, the Constellation proved to be a great success. It wasn’t until the late 60s and 70s that Omega started to take the design of the Constellation in different directions. However, rectangular shaped cases, the introduction of quartz movements, and a great variation in models didn’t really contribute to the success of the Omega Constellation family.

It wasn’t until the introduction of the new Omega Constellation ‘Manhattan’ in 1982 that a new chapter in the history of the watch proved to be successful. The Constellation ‘Manhattan’ was introduced in gold and gold/steel versions with a quartz movement. In 1985, versions with an automatic movement followed. The gold/steel design of the watch turned out to be a great success in the years to follow, making the Constellation a true icon within the world of watches.

Two tone Omega Constellation
Two Tone Omega Constellation

The first major update followed in 1995, but there were no big changes to the overall design. Although new movements were introduced, the iconic four claws stayed in tact even though they lost their original function of keeping the glass in place. Domed glass also replaced the flat-looking sapphire crystal from the first model and the Roman numerals were moved from the dial to the bezel. These tweaks adjusted the watch design, but did change not the overall look and feel of the watch. In fact, the same look and feel is still present in today’s Constellation.

Over the last two decades, Omega upgraded the watches to feature their Co-Axial movements, but they still haven’t really altered the design. There are various two-tone versions available, but the gold and steel version was, and still is, the way to go for the Omega Constellation.

Cartier Santos

Another incredible classic that has become famous in gold and steel is the Cartier Santos. The Cartier Santos is a very special watch. Though many watch enthusiasts understand the significance of the Santos and recognize it as a true classic, younger generations probably don’t look at the Santos when searching for a watch. That’s truly a shame, because the Santos probably has the best story of them all.

In 1904, Louis Cartier designed the Santos for his good friend Alberto Santos-Dumont, who was incidentally also a pilot. It was the first watch specifically designed to be worn on the wrist. Santos-Dumont was looking for a timepiece that was better suited for use while flying than his classic pocket watch. He wore the watch every time he flew which did not go unnoticed among the public. People read about Santos-Dumont in the newspaper, looked at the photographs, and asked, “What is that strapped to his wrist?” This was the start of something special. Not only was the Cartier Santos the first wristwatch specifically designed for men, but it was also the first pilot’s watch ever produced.

Cartier Santos 100 XL
Cartier Santos 100 XL in gold and steel

The gold/steel version of the watch wasn’t introduced until 1978. It was the first affordable version of the Cartier Santos on the market; up until that point it was only sold in solid 18k gold. Once again, this did not go unnoticed. Cartier decided to add tiny screws to the plate bezel, a feature that was widely appreciated because it added to the original design of the watch without changing it too much. The gold/steel version of the Santos was the watch to have at the end of the 70s and most of the 80s. In a decade of extravagance and abundance, Cartier was the brand to have and the gold/steel Santos proved to be a huge success, becoming the standard for gold/steel watches. Of course, you could go for the current stainless steel Santos 100 with a nice leather strap, or even a titanium version, but it wouldn’t have the same “cool” as the 1978 two-tone version.

Looking Forward

When reading about these three watches you might think, “Great stories, but aren’t all of these watches a bit dated? Is a two-tone gold and steel watch really that cool?” The answer to those questions is a very loud: “yes!” Not only are they cool because together they defined an era and pay homage to the past, but also because two-tone watches are cool today. Several brands have recently introduced watches in two-tone configurations using gold and steel, as well as other combinations such as gold and titanium or ceramic.

Take a look at the recently reintroduced Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, for example. It comes in versions with stainless steel and 18K pink gold. Likewise, Omega has successfully introduced models in Sedna gold and steel. Last but not least, let’s not forget that Rolex has been selling two-tone watches in yellow gold and steel, and their own Everose and steel configurations in models like the Datejust, Submariner, and Daytona.

It goes to show you that although many define the 80s as a decade of bad taste, it doesn’t mean everything from that era is worth forgetting. Just take a closer look at the whole story and you might begin to appreciate the true beauty of the gold/steel combination even more than you expected.

Read more about these brands and models

Legendary Watch Brands : OMEGA

Top 10 Rectangular Watches

Legendary Watch Brands: Rolex


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About the Author

Jorg Weppelink

Hi, I'm Jorg, and I've been writing articles for Chrono24 since 2016. However, my relationship with Chrono24 goes back a bit longer, as my love for watches began …

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