12/03/2021 | Updated on: 11/06/2023
 5 minutes

The Highly Underrated Brilliance of Two-Tone Watches

By Jorg Weppelink
2-1-Top-3

Most of us immediately think of stainless steel, when we think about the most popular material for mechanical watches. Another idea however would (logically) be a precious metal like gold or platinum. And in today’s watch world, titanium and ceramic also have their place. But what about a combination of materials? Does that pop into your head when you think about watches? The combination of gold and steel is well-known, and has been around for decades. Two-tone, or “bicolor” watches (as they are also known), have a certain style that most people associate with the 1970s and 80s. But is that really true? Let’s find out more about two-tone watches.

What is a two-tone watch?

Let’s first start off with the simple answer to this question. While most people think it’s just a combination of yellow gold and steel, that’s not the only correct answer. Two-tone, as the name suggests, is the combination of any two different materials to give a watch a unique two-color look. So, it could just as well be a combination of stainless steel and bronze, stainless steel and white gold, or titanium and yellow gold, for example. That said, the traditional combination of yellow gold and stainless steel is the one you see the most.

What components need to be made of different materials for the watch to be considered two-tone? Another good question. If we stick to the classic yellow gold and stainless steel combination, you’ll usually see a combination of a stainless steel case with a yellow gold bezel and crown. The bracelet will normally consist of a combination of stainless steel and yellow gold links. The overall aesthetic is striking. But a Rolex Datejust in stainless steel with a fluted bezel in white gold is also a two-tone watch, as is the Rolex Yacht-Master with its combination of stainless steel and platinum.

There are also watches made entirely of stainless steel with gold-colored elements. Technically, these are not two-tone watches in the sense that they combine the two tones of two different materials. But people will still refer to them as two-tone, or a watch with a two-tone look.

Are two-tone watches in style, or gaudy?

Speaking of that two-tone look: Is the traditional gold and steel combo stylish or tacky? The answer to that question is a very personal one. It is however safe to say that two-tone watches have passed the stage of tacky. There are plenty of people who love the look of a nice gold and steel watch. Not everyone will buy one, but the respect for them has grown tremendously as of late.

Read more: The 80s trend is back: two-tone watches. Are they too flashy or perfectly vintage?

What are the best two-tone watches?

If you ask me, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a two-tone watch. And I even think that some of these watches look at least as good as their stainless-steel counterparts, some even better. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite two-tone timepieces.

Rolex Datejust

Any list of two-tone watches wouldn’t be complete without the Rolex Datejust. This is the watch that most people think of when they hear “gold and steel.” The Rolex Datejust is the perfect two-tone statement piece, especially the variants with a fluted bezel and Jubilee bracelet – that combo is hard to beat. Personally, I would go for the classic 36-mm model because it has that typical 80s charm, which the larger 41-mm Datejust might lack for some folks. However, if the 36-mm option is too small for your wrist, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with choosing the bigger size. Both sell for around their list prices: roughly $12,000 for the 36-mm, and $13,000 for the 41-mm versions.

Cartier Santos

Another iconic steel and gold watch is the Cartier Santos. Favored with the aura of decadence that marked the 1980s, the two-tone Cartier Santos has become an industry classic. The classic Cartier look with its combination of gold and steel, and paired with the white dial, Roman numerals, and characteristic bezel, is truly unique. And the steel bracelet with its gold screws delivers something that’s truly one-of-a-kind. In 2018, Cartier introduced their latest update to the Santos line, which included a new bezel shape. This changed the design to some extent, even though the iconic two-tone look remains untouched. If you want that typical 1980s Santos style, this timepiece can be yours for $11,000.

Cartier Santos Santos De Cartier W2SA0009
Cartier Santos de Cartier W2SA0009

Oris Diver Sixty-Five

The Oris Diver Sixty-Five is a popular retro-style diving watch much-loved by watch fans because of its charming style, great case proportions, and affordable price. But Oris decided not to stick just to stainless steel models. The brand introduced multiple models that combine a stainless steel case with a bronze bezel or bronze bezel insert. The standout here is the stainless steel model with a stainless steel bezel, bronze insert, and dark blue dial. Combined with the stainless steel and bronze bracelet, this two-tone watch is super stylish. Expect to pay between $1,500 and $2,000 for one on Chrono24.

Oris Divers Sixty Five Blue & Bronze
Oris Divers Sixty Five Blue & Bronze

Zenith Chronomaster Sport

One watch that I absolutely love is the Zenith Chronomaster Sport. Upon its release, it was deemed the “Zaytona” because of its resemblance to the famous Rolex Daytona. But look again, and you’ll see plenty of Zenith history incorporated into the watch. Besides the awesome stainless steel and full gold models, the brand also offers a brilliant rose gold and steel version. The sporty style combined with the brilliant hi-beat movement makes for a great option that can be yours for under $15,000.

Zenith Chronomaster Sport 51.3100.3600:69.M3100
Zenith Chronomaster Sport 51.3100.3600:69.M3100

Rolex GMT-Master “Root Beer”

My personal favorite is the classic Rolex GMT-Master “Root Beer” ref. 1675/3 from the 1970s. But the later ref. 16713 would also be a great pick, as it has the same aesthetic, one that differs drastically from the famous black dial with the blue and red Pepsi bezel. The “Root Beer” features a brown dial with so-called “nipple” hour markers, hence the nickname “Nipple Dial.” The bezel is made of gold and features the iconic brown and gold aluminum insert. Add the gold and steel Jubilee bracelet, and you will have a stylish statement that I adore. Expect to pay around $18,000 for one of these classics in good condition.

Read more: Two-Tone Rolex GMT-Master II Models: Which one comes out on top?

Rolex GMT-Master 1675/3 ‘Root Beer’ GMT-Master Steel & Yellow Gold
Rolex GMT-Master 1675/3 “Root Beer” GMT-Master Steel & Yellow Gold

Tudor Black Bay GMT S&G

Now, if you don’t have the coin to go for a Rolex GMT-Master “Root Beer,” I have a sixth option. The Tudor Black Bay GMT S&G may have been inspired by the look of the vintage Rolex GMT-Master Root Beer models, but the modern Tudor Black Bay GMT has its own thing going on, with its stainless steel case and gold bezel. What sets it apart from the Rolex are its iconic snowflake hands, a different black and brown bezel insert, and a two-tone Oyster-style bracelet. Expect to easily acquire one for under $6,000.

Tudor Black Bay GMT S&G
Tudor Black Bay GMT S&G

Why should you consider a two-tone watch?

Plenty of watches perfectly display the brilliance of combining steel and gold. These just happen to be my favorites. I would love to add them to my collection. They offer a ton of style that sets them apart from their stainless steel counterparts. If you’re a little more adventurous in your style, why not consider a two-tone watch? You won’t be disappointed. Plus, they tend to go for very reasonable prices. What’s not to love?


About the Author

Jorg Weppelink

Hi, I'm Jorg, and I've been writing articles for Chrono24 since 2016. However, my relationship with Chrono24 goes back a bit longer, as my love for watches began …

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