As a sports superstar and fashion avatar, David Beckham has done his part to infuse newsboy caps, fauxhawk haircuts, neck tattoos and overtight underwear with an air of cool. Can he do the same for two-tone watches?
Last month, when Tudor introduced Beckham as a brand ambassador, he wore the brand's new Heritage Black Bay S&G divers' watch rendered in stainless steel and gold. Two-tone timepieces have a rich history in watchmaking (Rolex has been stylishly combining the metal of kings with sporty steel since the 1930s), but it is a look that comes with baggage.
To under-40 watch buffs raised on heritage chic, two-tone seemed like the horological equivalent of a yellow power tie. It was a holdover from the if-you've-got-it-flaunt-it '80s that called to mind Patrick Bateman, the brand-obsessed yuppie sociopath in American Psycho, who trumpeted his taste for luxe with a two-tone Rolex Datejust.
But, like stonewashed jeans, pastel polos and synth pop, two-tone watches are an '80s staple that is mounting a comeback. At the Baselworld watch fair in March, leading watchmakers unveiled new statement pieces in bold steel-and-gold versions, including the Tudor, Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sky-Dweller, Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra and Breitling Chronomat 44.
"There seems to be some rising backlash against the minimalism trend, and in a funny way, two-tone actually feels more maximalist and in-your-face than a solid gold watch," said Stephen Pulvirent, the managing editor of the watch site Hodinkee. "There's something very South Beach, early '80s, a-few-too-many-mai-tais about it that I think resonates in an era of crocodile Gucci mules and tricked-out G Wagons."
In the vintage market, younger collectors are warming to two-tone because it represents a greater value. Despite the fact they contain precious gold, two-tone versions of classics like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak or the Patek Philippe Nautilus often sell for a third of the price of the steel versions, said Eric Wind, the senior watch specialist for Christie's New York.
Although two-tone is often associated with flashy sports agents and Las Vegas high rollers, it can, worn the right way, add a welcome hint of alpha male sex appeal to an otherwise understated outfit. The dapper Prince Michael of Kent, a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, spices up his Savile Row suits and country tweeds with a two-tone Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Jeff Bridges, playing a fading country singer in the 2009 film Crazy Heart relied on a steel-and-gold Rolex Submariner to add a dash of showbiz glamour to his faded dungarees and dusty Stetson.
Besides, the new watches often dial back the inherent showiness of two-tones by employing utilitarian metals like titanium (Girard-Perregaux Laureato 42 mm) or bronze (Montblanc's retro-tinged 1858 Automatic).
A new generation
No wonder some younger watch fans are starting to come around.
"I personally welcome the return of two-tone," said Zach Weiss, 32, the executive editor of the watch site Worn & Wound. "I would never wear a solid yellow gold watch. It just isn't me. But I do like a hint of warm metal. It can add some dressiness to an otherwise sporty design, or elevate a simple dress watch to something more refined."
"As a millennial, my experience of the '70s and '80s is really secondhand, so while Patrick Bateman's two-tone Datejust might come to mind, it doesn't really taint the concept," Weiss added. "It's like the nostalgic feeling you get while watching Stranger Things, just on your wrist."