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, created a new kind of luxury sports watch.

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