History of Iconic Metal Watch Bracelets

History of Iconic Metal Watch Bracelets

For many, a watch can only be worn on a metal bracelet. Not a leather strap, not a nylon strap, not a rubber strap. Just a metal bracelet. The watch community can actually be devised between those who are for and those who are against metal bracelets. I know, it sounds a little silly. I enjoy wearing watches on metal bracelets for the most part as I like how versatile they are: robust enough for outdoors activities and elegant enough for black tie dinners. However, not all metal bracelets are made equal and there are many styles of bracelets that have become very popular—should we say, iconic? 

In this article, we’re going to take a look at three of these bracelets—the Oyster bracelet, the Jubilee bracelet, and the Bonklip—which have become iconic and which each come with an interesting story and unique specifications. Three bracelets, three stories, and three distinct designs that have been imitated many times over to the point where now many brands call a three-link bracelet an Oyster-style bracelet. I know, there’s a lot of gray area here which often happens when looking back at the history of certain iconic elements of watchmaking. 

Everest Journal History of Iconic Metal Watch Bracelets Source: www.xupes.com

The Oyster Bracelet 

Although today it is impossible to separate the Oyster bracelet from the Rolex Submariner or GMT Master II, it is important to note that watches were, for the most part and for many decades until the 1940s, delivered on leather straps. Metal bracelets were costly add-ons that several Swiss luxury brands offered to their customers. As the story goes, several early versions of what we now call the Oyster bracelet were being manufactured by several bracelet suppliers, but it is Gay Frères which patented the name and design for the Oyster bracelet in 1947. Gay Frères made bracelets for several brands and primarily for Rolex. The Swiss horological giant acquired Gay Frères in 1998 to streamline the production processes. 

Everest Journal History of Iconic Metal Watch Bracelets Source: www.hodinkee.com

What characterizes the Oyster bracelet is its three-link construction which strikes the perfect balance between utilitarianism and everyday elegance. It is said that Rolex and Gay Frères perfected the Oyster bracelet over several decades to make it more robust, more comfortable, and even more so elegantly versatile. Modern versions of the Oyster bracelet come with tool-less micro-adjustment clasps and a solid construction. Although the Oyster bracelet is offered on many Rolex models, it is best known to be paired with the Submariner and GMT Master II, to the point where these two models were constantly redesigned to naturally work with the Oyster bracelet. 

Everest Journal History of Iconic Metal Watch Bracelets Source: www.bobswatches.com

The Jubilee Bracelet 

Although we first talked about the Oyster bracelet, the Jubilee bracelet was released earlier than the first patented Oyster bracelet. Indeed, the Jubilee was introduced in 1945 to celebrate Rolex’s 40th anniversary. Unlike the Oyster bracelet that was made in different versions by different manufacturers over the years, the Jubilee truly was a Rolex creation. What is interesting is that it was first only made available in solid gold for the Datejust collection and then it started to be offered in two tone and stainless steel variants. While some modern references of the GMT Master II are offered on a Jubilee, this bracelet is mostly reserved for the more elegant models from Rolex’s catalog. 

Everest Journal History of Iconic Metal Watch Bracelets Source: www.debonarwatches.com

From a visual standpoint, the Jubilee is a mix of the Oyster bracelet and of the future President bracelet, the latter being the most elegant of all Rolex bracelets and one that was released in 1956 for the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date collection. The Jubilee has a 5-link construction with the three center links being narrower and polished, contrasting with the outer links that are wider and brushed. While the links on the Oyster bracelet are more flat than round, all links on the Jubilee are rounded off to make the bracelet more elegant. The alternation of brushed and polished surfaces make the Jubilee elegant by reflecting light in interesting ways. The 5-link construction also makes the Jubilee very comfortable to wear. 

Everest Journal History of Iconic Metal Watch Bracelets Source: www.rolex.com

The Bonklip 

The third bracelet I would like to highlight here is the Bonklip. The latter has a history that goes back the furthest of the three bracelets mentioned in this article. Indeed, it was  either created in the United Kingdom or the United States in 1929/1930. No-one can actually agree on who first designed the iconic ladder-style bracelet, but we do know that it is a New Jersey jeweler by the name of Walter M. Krementz who was first to patent the design in 1929. Whoever created the actual design and unique clasp, the Bonklip is regarded as the first affordable and mass-produced metal bracelet. 

Everest Journal History of Iconic Metal Watch Bracelets Source: www.fratello.com

The Bonklip could be purchased for any type of watch back in the 1930s, however it was made popular by the fact that it was the first bracelet worn by World War II British pilots on their Mark XI watches made by either Jaeger-LeCoultre or IWC. The Bonklip has a unique construction where the clasp can be lodged in-between any two links to adjust it to any wrist-size. This meant being able to wear it over a flight suit and then adjusted for everyday living. The ladder-style arrangement of the links also meant it’s comfortable to wear in all situations, and in particular when it’s hot and humid. 

Everest Journal History of Iconic Metal Watch Bracelets Source: www.lesrhabilleurs.com

Final Thoughts 

Although two out of these three bracelets are from Rolex, they have been around, praised, and imitated many times over. Sometimes with more success than others. And although there are many brands that offer Oyster-style and Jubilee-style bracelets nowadays, it is widely recognized that Rolex makes the original. The Bonklip, for its part, disappeared for many decades before being brought back by a few brands in the past few years and in different styles. The Bonklip is appreciated for the same qualities today that it was when it was first used by British pilots during World War II. 

However long their history is, the three bracelets presented in this article each have a history that goes back many decades and which are still popular today. But these are only my three favorite bracelets. Which one of these three bracelets is your favorite? And which other style of bracelet would you recommend and why? Please share your comments below. 

Featured image: www.xupes.com

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