We're All One: The Integrated Bracelet Sports Watch StoryBy Ross Povey
The wonderful thing about collecting and enjoying watches is that, most of the time, literally anything goes. Take fashion, for example; it comes and goes, and certain looks from the past half century are best forgotten or possibly revived only for a fancy dress party. But then all trends come full circle, and as sure as winter becomes spring and spring becomes summer, eventually everything has its day … again. Watches, thankfully, sit above this trying transience and are, with very few exceptions, pretty much timeless. However, the market does ebb and flow to a degree, and certain styles or configurations become highly sought after on the vintage market. Indeed, the modern watch market does tend to move in something of a pack. Think “fauxtina” (false patina), brass watches, 2021’s green dials and the topic of this piece, the integrated bracelet watch, and you can spot, if not trends, certainly common themes.
Almost all watch brands now offer a watch with an integrated bracelet, with some creating new lines, others reigniting old designs for the modern buyer, and a good many having such watches as the core of their offer. It’s in this latter category that the kings of such watches dwell, namely Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet with the Nautilus and Royal Oak, respectively. Both penned by the hand of Gérald Genta, the Royal Oak first launched in 1972 and the Nautilus in 1976. Fast forward 45 years, and the Nautilus is one of the most staggeringly in-demand watches on the planet. The 2021 iteration of the steel 5711 has been given a green dial makeover (very on-trend!), and the retail price is just shy of USD 35,000. At the time of print (July 2021), these watches are trading on the secondary market for over USD 300,000 — if you’re lucky enough to find one. The Royal Oak is similarly in huge demand; even the recently launched Tudor Royal, based on the brand’s 1970s integrated bracelet watches, has a global waiting list for the flagship steel model.
To be clear, this article isn’t exhaustive but more of a whistle-stop tour through the greatest hits of the genre. So-called “Complete Guides” on a topic such as this inevitably lead to follow-ups of, “Yeah, but what about…?” type comments. Earlier this year, Revolution founder Wei Koh and I hosted a Clubhouse session where we attempted to discuss the entire history of these watches in a mere 90 minutes. What happened? Yes, we spent more time discussing watches that weren’t even on our pre-prepared list because once you get into this, it really is like going down the rabbit hole. I have grouped the watches into three sections. The Stalwarts have been committed to integration since day one, the Renaissance Kids are all about the relaunch, and the Bright Young Things are creating the next chapter in the story.
As mentioned earlier, it would be remiss of me not to mention Gérald Genta when taking a deep dive into this subject. The early ’70s was Genta’s most important era with him designing three of the most iconic integrated bracelet watches ever — the Patek Philippe Nautilus, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the IWC Ingenieur. At this point I’ll also mention the Vacheron Constantin 222. Many people miscredit this design to Genta, when it was actually a young Jörg Hysek who penned that particular piece. I have written about Genta before a number of times, but it is the story of him creating the Royal Oak that sticks most in my mind. In the early part of the 1970s, Audemars Piguet, like many other watch brands, was facing huge challenges due to the so-called Quartz Crisis. The brand’s representatives in Italy, however, truly believed there was an opportunity for a high-end premium steel watch. Italian collectors were credited with inventing the art of watch collecting and it seemed that in fact there was a demand. The then-managing director of Audemars Piguet, Mr. Georges Golay, took thedecision to commission the world’s leading watch designer Gérald Genta to dream up the finest stainless steel watch. Rumor has it that he commissioned Genta literally on the eve of the Basel Fair 1970. I like to imagine Genta working through the night, pen in one hand and espresso in the other, just finishing the sketches as the sun rose and then Mr. Golay unveiling the design on the opening morning of the show!
Characterized by its signature eight-sided porthole- inspired bezel with eight white gold screws and visible rubber gasket, the physical watch was unveiled at Basel in 1972 as reference 5402. The Stern-manufactured “petit tapisserie” dial became an equally iconic element of the watch. With its flowing lines, thanks to the integrated steel bracelet, the watch was marketed in 1972 at CHF 3,300. This was a ballsy move by Audemars Piguet and is the equivalent in today’s money of approximately CHF 8,500. Many believed that the watch would be the ruin of the brand. However, quite the opposite was true, and Audemars Piguet’s fortunes were secured forever with talks at one point about even creating a complete brand as an offshoot of Audemars Piguet called Royal Oak. Genta was quite rightfully proud of the design and was often quoted as saying it was the watch design he was most proud of.
In 1976, Patek Philippe launched the other watch which Genta famously designed, the Nautilus. It seems that Genta was not a man who spent weeks and months agonizing about the designs of his watches, certainly when it came to his most famous duo, at least. Again, the story of the design of the Nautilus was that it was decisive and done in a few minutes on a napkin. In Genta’s own words, “I was at the restaurant of a hotel, and some people from Patek were sitting in one corner of the dining hall while I was sitting alone in the other corner. I told the head waiter: ‘Bring me a piece of paper and a pencil, I want to design something.’ And I designed the Nautilus while observing the people from Patek eating! It was a sketch that I completed in five minutes…” The watch that launched in 1976 was reference 3700/1A, aka the Jumbo, in steel. The watch measures a hefty 42mm at a time when many brands were still aiming for slimmer, more discreet watches. It was truly fit for purpose as a sports watch, being waterproof to 120 meters and rugged in construction, and yet supremely comfortable due to its integrated bracelet with supple links that wore beautifully on the wrist. In line with Genta’s penchant for maritime cues as seen on the Royal Oak, the Nautilus’ case construction was inspired by the locking mechanisms on the portholes of ocean liners. The two-piece construction was made watertight by the eight-sided bezel secured to the case by a hinged system that was tightened using four lateral screws.
Both the Royal Oak and the Nautilus were originally made in an era that preceded the current vertical integration of watch brands. The Nautilus also had its dial manufactured by Stern; a beautiful execution in charcoal gray or dark blue with signature horizontal stripes that was as instantly recognizable as the “petit tapisserie” dial in the Royal Oak. The movement was based on the Jaeger-LeCoultre super slim caliber 920, and the bracelet was created by none other than Gay Frères. At this point, it would again be remiss of me not to take a look at Gay Frères, without whom none of these early sports watches’ integrated bracelets would have been possible.
The Gay Frères (GF) story is essentially rooted in pocket watch chains and jewelry. In fact, GF’s jewelry pieces from the 1960s and ’70s are highly desirable amongst collectors of high-end artisanal work. Much like its watch bracelet business, GF made jewelry for many prestigious houses such as Hermès and Van Cleef & Arpels. In terms of the brand’s horological credentials, its name became well known for pocket watch chains in Geneva where it was first based. With the advent of the wristwatch, many pocket watch-centric companies began to fold, but GF adapted its work to making wristwatch bracelets, with one of the most well-known and successful being the Bonklip, which it sold in large volume to Rolex to be fitted for military deliveries.
In the mid-century, the popularity of stainless steel for watches really took off, and many of the important maisons needed a company that manufactured steel bracelets of the very highest quality. GF was the market leader in steel bracelet manufacturing, which is much harder than working with gold. Technical know-how and the correct machinery were both key in this success, and it led to GF being awarded contracts by all the key players in the industry. There was simply no other factory able to build the extremely complicated bracelet that was a key element of the Royal Oak, and the same was true when Patek Philippe needed the integrated bracelet for the Nautilus. GF was also key in making one of the most iconic bracelets of all time, the Rolex Oyster. The Oyster also had an integrated iteration that first appeared in the 1970s.
I’m including Rolex in this list because technically the Oyster is a sports watch case, and because they are personally very close to my heart. In fact, both Rolex and Tudor deserve a mention as they were both producing integrated bracelet watches from the early 1970s. The Rolex story can actually be traced back to the 1950s and a quirky little watch known by collectors as the “UFO.” OK, so it’s not an Oyster and so not really a sports watch per se, but it’s a cool Rolex Precision reference 9083 with waffle dial and integrated rivet Oyster bracelet, most certainly a GF creation for Rolex. In 1972, the Rolex quartz watch, reference 5100, was launched as part of the Beta 21 quartz initiative. Cased in white or yellow gold, the so-called “Texan” was a big watch with an integrated bracelet, but again it wasn’t a sports watch. However, in 1973, Tudor offered the Ranger II, a steel Oyster watch with integrated bracelet and all the hallmarks of Wilsdorf’s Oyster vision — waterproof case with screw-down crown and caseback, automatic movement and the Rolex guarantee.
In 1975 Rolex unveiled the reference 1530, a watch seen by many as a prototype for the Oysterquartz that came two years later in 1977. The reference 1530 housed a regular Datejust movement and dial but cased in a new steel integrated bracelet watch. The angles of the case were squarer than a traditional Oyster, and the lines flowed seamlessly into the bracelet. The Oysterquartz was made in two versions, both iconic Rolex “brands within a brand” — the Datejust and the Day-Date.
Heading back to Gérald Genta designs, another stalwart of the integrated sports watch scene is the IWC Ingenieur. The Ingenieur story actually begins back in the mid-1950s, when it was realized as an antimagnetic watch intended for scientists, much in the same way as the Rolex Milgauss. However, with the advent of quartz watches, which were pretty much immune to magnetic forces and recovered straight away once exposure to the magnetic force was over, scientists and other people who might experience such elements could buy a cheap quartz watch and not be too troubled. However, IWC was convinced that there was still life in the old dog and asked Genta to give it a makeover. Clearly, the man had time as the Nautilus design only took five minutes over light supper, and so he also “squeezed in” a new Ingenieur design.
The watch looked more Royal Oak-esque than Nautilus, but it still very much had its own character and vibe. The bezel was flat like the Nautilus but had five rivets that bore a passing resemblance to the Royal Oak. The watch was a good size at 40mm and had a bracelet that was fully integrated. The dial had a basket-weave, waffle-esque look that, like early Milgauss models, added to the watch’s antimagnetic properties. Like other watches of the era, the reference 1832 is known as the Jumbo and due to its very poor performance at launch, is thought to exist in only around 1,000 examples. The story didn’t end there, though. The watch had a brief and slightly unhappy return in 1989 before being resurrected in the 2000s with a tourbillon version, a chronograph and even a perpetual calendar!
Vacheron Constantin entered the sports integrated bracelet watch fray in 1977 with the reference 222 — a watch that was very much of the era and hence why some people mistakenly think of it as a Genta watch. Apparently, the story is quite simple. A young watch designer called Jörg Hysek was hired by Vacheron to create something new and in line with the mid-1970s horological zeitgeist. Hysek sold them the design which they then produced. Easy peasy! The watch follows many of the familiar steps that we have covered already. Dial by Stern?
Yep. Movement by Jaeger-LeCoultre? Indeed, sir. What — another GF bracelet? That’ll be another affirmative, your honor! The Vacheron 222 is the perfect illustration of the power of horizontal watchmaking of the 1970s.
The 222 was available in three sizes, but we are really only concerning ourselves with what collectors term the Jumbo size that was a snip below the others at 38mm, featuring a stylized “222” engraving on the caseback and a gold VC Maltese cross on the lower right lug. The bezel was unusual without being “too much,” having notches around the circumference that almost looked like they could be gripped to rotate it. The majority of the 700 Jumbos made featured either blue or charcoal gray dials, with a small number having silver dials and a handful with white dials. One natty point to make is that the watch was sold with a matching money clip in the form of the bezel. What a great set to have bought!
The final watch that I am including in this section is the Cartier Santos. All watch brands were struggling in the 1970s, and Cartier was no exception. The CEO of Cartier in 1975, Alain-Dominique Perrin, knew that he had to do something a little different in order for the brand to survive. The Must de Cartier diffusion line was launched in 1977 and was a huge success, making the brand’s iconic watches available to the masses, and so Perrin launched the established Santos as an integrated bracelet watch in 1978. In what was a hugely bold move and completely out of kilter with Cartier’s previous output, he decided to make the watch in steel. However, this being a Cartier, it had to have an element of luxury, and so he used yellow gold for the bezel with steel screws and placed yellow gold screws on the bracelet — and so the two-tone watch was born. The watch featured the signature black painted Roman numerals on a white dial and small, discreet crown guards which added to the piece’s sporty aesthetic.
The watch was nothing short of a smash hit for the brand, and it became one of the most instantly recognizable watches on the planet. A significant part of this iconic look is down to the bracelet, which is arguably one of the most important bracelet designs ever. This watch became more than a watch; it was almost a fashion accessory. In 1987 Cartier introduced the Santos Galbée, with slightly bigger case dimensions and softened edges and retaining an integrated bracelet. In fact, it was a yellow gold Galbée that Michael Douglas wore in Wall Street, a film that became synonymous with wealth and style during the economic boom of that decade following on from the mid-’70s recession. Wei Koh tells of a fascinating insight into the Galbée’s appearance in the movie: “I had the pleasure of working for Alexander Kitman Ho, the film’s producer, and I recall him saying, ‘Everything in the film was meticulously selected by Oliver Stone. The cigars were Davidoff, but they had to be Cuban Davidoff. The suits were made by the incredible Alan Flusser. The watch had to be a Cartier.’”
The Renaissance Kids
With the huge rise in interest in sports integrated bracelet watches over the past few years, many brands have looked into their back catalogs and revived old friends for the modern market. One such brand is Chopard who in 2019 launched the Alpine Eagle which was based on a watch from the company’s past hits, the St. Moritz. The name itself imbued the watch with a sense of glamor that truly peaked in the 1970s and ’80, with St. Moritz being the Euro playground to which the Côte d’Azur dwellers decamped during the winter months. The St. Moritz project was spearheaded by the then 20-year-old Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, who convinced his father, Karl Scheufele III, that the family brand needed a watch in tune with the times where the sports integrated watch was definitely king. His father acquiesced and the new watch was born.
In Karl-Friedrich’s words, “I knew that this was exactly the type of watch my generation wanted, something I could wear while skiing but also when I put on a tuxedo.” The watch was made entirely in-house and was pre-launched in Hong Kong in 1979 and then officially released at the Basel Fair in 1980. Interestingly, the watch was an immediate hit with Chopard taking 1,000 orders at Basel that year, making it a faster seller than other watches in this genre from that era. The watch features a bezel set with eight screws, but with unusual curving elements shaped around each of the pair of screws at the quarters of the bezel. The integrated three-link bracelet was almost utilitarian and minimalist compared to other bracelets of the time, with utterly clean lines.
In 2019 Chopard unveiled the Alpine Eagle, a continuation of the integrated sports watch story and a very handsome watch indeed. In an amusing turn of events, the Alpine Eagle was actually proposed by Karl-Fritz, the son of Karl-Friedrich who, in a storyline accurately mirroring his father’s crusade in the late ’70s, felt that it was time to revive the family classic, having seen the watch on the wrists of people within the brand and being aware that Chopard retailers were repeatedly asking if the St. Moritz would ever be re-released. His father wasn’t initially enthusiastic about the idea but following intervention from his grandfather and aunt, eventually the project got the green light. The watch kept certain visual references from St. Moritz, with pairs of screws on the bezels at the quarters and a riff on the very neat and clean three-link bracelet.
Another brand that wanted to be part of the new look watches scene in the late 1970s was Piaget. In 1979 Yves G. Piaget unveiled the Polo, a watch that was very much of the time aesthetically with a fully integrated bracelet and named after the sport of kings. Yves G. Piaget was quoted as saying, “The entire Polo philosophy can be summed up in one sentence: it’s a watch bracelet rather than a mere wristwatch. It was the first time one of our watches was created to meet demand. In 1979, it matched a strong desire expressed by the American market: our retailers wanted a luxury sports watch.”
The watch got its first serious outing when Bond girl Ursula Andress wore it to the World Polo Cup in Palm Beach. The watches were never branded on the dial as Polo, rather it was used in advertising. It was immediately taken up by tastemakers of the time and could be seen on many wrists including those of Andy Warhol and Brooke Shields and was associated with the sport from which it took its name. The watch was properly relaunched in 2016 as the Polo S, the “S” signifying steel, which was a departure from the earlier incarnations but perfect for the recent surge in demand for luxury steel sports watches. The new 42mm watch seemingly ditched the integrated bracelet, allowing for the option of a leather strap which is an important element of modern watch ownership, in my opinion. And, let’s be honest, when you rock this watch in St. Trop, you want to fit it with a JPM suede strap in turquoise anyway, don’t you?
In 1973 Tudor began to produce watches with an integrated bracelet with the Prince Oysterdate reference 9101, and the Ranger II reference 9111. Driven by a modified ETA movement, caliber 2784, the watches were 38mm in steel, gold or two-tone and featured quite a wide bezel with Tudor’s distinctive notching. There was also a similar watch with a rotating Submariner-esque bezel called the Chrono- Time. This watch was available with both plain and more exotic dials and was introduced in the mid-’70s. Embracing the quartz era and in line with Rolex’s Oysterquartz, Tudor also offered the Prince Quartz in 1979 that shared the same 38mm case with fully integrated bezel.
Then in 2020, Tudor rekindled its integrated sports watch affair by offering the Royal collection. The 41mm flagship model was a date and day model, but there were options in steel, steel and gold, and various dial options. All the watches in the Royal collection were powered by a Tudor T600 series movement, which allowed the watches to be offered at a very accessible price point. Cases and bracelets were in 316L steel, the soleil-finish dials featured applied Roman or diamond hours (or mother-of-pearl in some cases) and the watch came with Tudor’s standard five-year warranty.
The Bright Young Things
Not all brands have the history of the established houses, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t join in the party. I keep saying that the modern trend for integrated sports watches is huge, but it really can’t be underestimated just how colossal this market is. In 2014 Bvlgari unveiled its Bvlgari Octo Finissimo, a watch that I always find hard to believe is so young in the market. It feels more like a stalwart to me, such is its established place in the hearts of watch lovers. Even though the Octo Finissimo is a recent watch, there is a link to the master of eight-sided bezel integrated sports watches, Mr. Genta. In 2000 Bvlgari bought the Gérald Genta brand from the Tay family, owners of The Hour Glass in Singapore, thereby inheriting the eight- sided watch and eight-sided bezel that Genta had designed after setting up his eponymous brand and yet which had never quite reached its full potential.
Bvlgari, being rightfully very proud of its Roman heritage, wanted the new watch to express two very Italian qualities, strength and elegance, both of which were always key elements of its high-end jewelry and ladies’ watches. And so the dream team comprising Jean-Christophe Babin, Fabrizio Buonamassa and Guido Terreni set about reimagining the Octo watch with a very important objective, to make the watch the thinnest mechanical watch on the market, hence the Finissimo in the name. However, it was key that the watch being thin wasn’t the be-all and end-all; it also had to be innovative and be executed with finesse. Unlike watches discussed earlier, the Bvlgari watch was completely made in-house through Bvlgari’s vertically integrated business. Jean-Christophe Babin was quoted as saying, “The Octo Finissimo was only possible because we own our movement maker, dial maker, casemaker [and] bracelet maker, as it would be impossible to convince outside suppliers to make the effort we needed.”
The first watch was only 5.15mm thick, comprising the caliber BVL 128 movement at 2.23mm thick and a dial that was 0.2mm thick, or should that really be thin! The eight- sided case had an integrated sapphire caseback and the octagonal bezel was affixed with screws that were secured onto the caseback with what looked like five-sided nuts. Two years later Bvlgari gave the world the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, making what was traditionally staid classical watch design new and relevant. Then the hits just started to flow, including an integrated bracelet version in 2017, the Octo Finissimo Automatic. In 2018 came the Tourbillon Automatic, a GMT Chronograph in 2019 and in 2020, the Revolution Edition Chrono GMT Limited Edition. In 2021, Bulgari set another world record with the release of its Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar. The watch was launched in titanium and, a first for the line, platinum is an incredible 5.80mm thick. And the movement? An incredible 2.75mm!
Bell & Ross released the BR 05 in 2019, and whilst it wasn’t technically the first integrated bracelet sports watch from the brand, it was a new direction and a commitment to join the fray in this segment of the market. Inspired by urban landscapes and modern architecture, particularly skyscrapers, the watches have a comfortably familiar look yet exude their own personality. There are some of the classic trademarks present, including a screw-down bezel, refined crown guards and a H-link style bracelet. The case is the signature B&R softened square that gently falls into the bracelet — an effect enhanced by the resolutely round hole — porthole-esque maybe but certainly a nod to the brand’s aviation links by resembling the instruments in a cockpit! An interesting element is that the crown guards are affixed to the case by screws, which nicely echoes the bezel.
Bruno Belamich, one of the founders for the brand, stated at the launch, “We wanted to complement our two existing pillars. It is the missing link between our two existing collections and case shapes. The round is inspired by the history of aviation, the past, and the square for its radical form and for professional use. We wanted to create a watch with the iconic Bell & Ross case and to merge it with a steel bracelet. With the BR 05, we now have a Time Instrument for urban explorers.”
A skeleton version first appeared in 2019 in gray, followed by a blue skeleton BR 05 in 2020 alongside a chronograph. Earlier this year, arguably the coolest of the bunch was unveiled — the BR 05 Skeleton NIGHTLUM with its blacked-out movement with seemingly floating luminous hour markers and hands. Bruno Belamich is, however, fully aware of the influence that the BR 05’s forebears have had on its appearance: “The case and bracelet form one unit. This type of design harks back to a category of watches which appeared in the 1970s, and when infused with Bell & Ross’s signature identity, the resulting graphic style is both striking and modern.”
Last in this roundup is the Moser Streamliner. H. Moser & Cie. is a name that actually dates back to 1828, when the brand was founded by Heinrich Moser in Russia. In the mid 20th century, the company had a short-lived tenure that became victim to the Quartz Crisis before being revived as the company we know today in 2005 by Heinrich Moser’s great-grandson, Roger Nicholas Balsiger, and Dr. Jürgen Lange. A year later the brand won the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix (GPHG) with the Moser Perpetual 1 and later in the decade came the Henry with double hairspring. In 2020 Moser launched the Streamliner, which very obviously does “what it says on the tin.” Unlike many integrated bracelet watches that by nature are quite angular, the Streamliner is soft and harmonious and, well, streamlined thanks to the brand deciding against a bezel.
The first iteration of the watch, the Flyback Chronograph, took a prize at the GPHG in 2020 and was followed in the same year by the Center Seconds. Where the Chrono was sporty and aerodynamic, the Center Seconds creation was utterly elegant thanks to the fume ́ dial, itself a Moser signature. The size is big at 42mm, but the sloping sides of the cushion case makes the watch look more compact and almost vintage-esque on the wrist. A butterfly clasp on the integrated bracelet rounds off a great-looking watch and a serious competitor in a highly competitive segment of the market.