Steel has long been the favoured material for making practical watches. Strong, light, economical, hypo-allergenic and non-magnetic, it was perfect for pilots, engineers and the military, but not a luxury material, not something to create dreams from. That is, until the 1970s, when watch designer and goldsmith Gérald Genta had a different vision. His early 1970s modernist steel watch designs, including the ‘Royal Oak’ for Audemars Piguet and the ‘Nautilus’ for Patek Philippe, integrated case and bracelet in a single fluid loop. His use of handbrushed and polished metalwork, typical jeweller techniques, creating new kinds of luxury sports watches.

Patek Philippe watch
‘Nautilus’ ladies’ automatic watch in steel and diamonds, by Patek Philippe. Fashion: Aylin Bayhan

It wasn’t long before women’s watches were just as vigorously proportioned – the new Patek Philippe ladies’ automatic ‘Nautilus’, which eschews the smaller delicacy of earlier models with its most generous dimensions yet, is a case in point. A dark grey opaline dial, when framed by a diamond bezel, becomes almost dainty. The grey steel hue of Bulgari’s ‘Octo Roma’ is made richer with rose-gold accents. Chopard’s ‘Alpine Eagle’, meanwhile, although crafted with heavy steel links, boasts a sleek, narrow silhouette, bestowing steel with the elegantly precious credentials it so richly deserves. §

bulgari watch
‘Octo Roma’ watch in stainless steel and rose gold, by BulgariFashion: Aylin Bayhan

As originally featured in the May 2020 issue of Wallpaper* (W*254), available to download free here