If you’re just getting into watches, it might feel hard to escape the hype of integrated bracelets. They were all the rage in the 1970’s, and we're seeing a remarkable comeback in recent years. Unlike the springbar and lug system found on most watches, integrated bracelets seamlessly attach to the case. Each example achieves this in a different way, but all integrated bracelets have two things in common: visual harmony and proprietary parts. While it’s much easier to replace the strap on a regular watch (or find a replacement in the first place), integrated bracelets provide a unique look to any collection. They account for some of the most timeless designs in watchmaking. Today, we’ll look at three iconic examples. These examples all have laundry lists of iterative references, so for the sake of simplicity, I’ll discuss each line somewhat broadly. So let’s get into it – what makes the integrated bracelet so special?
Vacheron Constantin 222
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The Vacheron Constantin ‘222’ is a lesser-known icon of the 1970’s. Although it was released in 1977 – after the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Patek Philippe Nautilus – the 222 blazed a trail for integrated bracelet sports watches. It features a thin, scalloped bezel – poles apart from the broad, angular bezels of the Royal Oak and Nautilus. This surface area is reclaimed by a Maltese cross on the case at 5 o’clock. I love this little addition. Not only is it unique, it draws attention toward the star of the show: the integrated bracelet. The 222’s brushed bracelet features hexagonal center links, a generous taper, and a hidden deployant clasp. This bracelet is widely regarded as one of the most comfortable ever made due to the fluidity of its links. The 222’s 8mm thickness adds to the comfort as well – this watch just hugs your wrist. Vacheron Constantin re-released the 222 this year, specifically, the gold, 37mm ‘Jumbo’ reference. This re-release is visually indiscernible from the original (aside from a slightly shifted date window), but the movement inside is entirely different. With the Vacheron Constantin Historiques 222, you’re getting modern technology (an in-house caliber 2455/2) in a timeless silhouette. The integrated bracelet is just a cherry on top.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
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A list of integrated bracelet watches is incomplete without the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. This is the integrated bracelet sports watch. Originally released in 1972, the Royal Oak has only increased in popularity. Its chunky, octagonal bezel is immediately recognizable from across the room. It features 8 “screws”, which are actually immovable nuts used to secure the screws on the caseback. This visually-but-not-actually-screwed-down bezel embodies the Royal Oak’s dual identity of sport and luxury. Although it has a rugged, industrial look, the Royal Oak is unmistakably an opulent watch. This dual identity continues to the integrated bracelet. Each link has a brushed surface with polished shoulders, toeing the line between capable and decorated. Like the 222, the Royal Oak’s bracelet has a generous taper, and is considered to be one of the most comfortable ever made. Each link has a triangular chamfer to prevent the bracelet from pulling hairs. On some references, the deployant clasp is constructed from an elongated ‘AP’ logo – a fun little easter egg for Royal Oak owners. No detail spared, no feature overlooked, the Royal Oak is hard to beat. . . unless you like micro-adjustments or high water resistance. If those things are important to you, our third watch is right up your alley.
Vacheron Constantin Overseas
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The 222 was an 8-year-long hail mary from Vacheron Constantin. As demand for integrated bracelet sports watches increased (because of the Royal Oak and Nautilus), Vacheron Constantin quickly responded with the 222. Time was of the essence – so much so that they didn’t give the watch a proper name. Despite its popularity, the 222 was a means to a financial end. . . and it worked.
In 1996, Vacheron Constantin released their flagship integrated bracelet sports watch – the Overseas. With more than 2 decades of integrated bracelet market research, Vacheron Constantin knew exactly what to include in the Overseas. It makes up for the technical shortcomings of the 1970’s, with each model featuring 150 meters of water resistance and a screw-down crown. The borrowed design language from the 222 is apparent: round, two-surfaced bezel; tapered, integrated bracelet; and a gorgeous, no-frills dial. Like the 222, the integrated bracelet is the star of the show. Since its 2004 redesign, the Overseas’ links resemble a Maltese cross. This has become a defining characteristic of the Overseas.
In 2016, the Overseas became, in my opinion, the best integrated bracelet sports watch on the market. The bracelet adopted an ingenious micro adjustment system, the case received a quick release button to swap straps without tools, and the watch came with an additional rubber and leather strap to boot. In my opinion, this is an integrated bracelet done right. If you’re giving up the convenience of traditional watch straps, you should gain something beyond just looks. Not only does the Overseas’ integrated design look phenomenal, it’s functional.