A steel watch is grounded in practical confidence. It has no exotic pretenses; it feels hardier and simpler than watches made of other, precious, metals, each ding and scratch a testament to its wearer’s travels and adventures, rather than imperfections to be fretted over.
Finding a steel watch with a matching steel bracelet is fairly common. But getting them to sing together, just right, has proven elusive to even prominent watch manufacturers. When the steel pairing is done well, the watch looks timeless through decades of diverse fashion trends. In some cases, the design of a good bracelet becomes as iconic and copied as the watch itself. These eight watches show the range and beauty of going steel-on-steel.
If you like the Rolex Submariner, but have a budget limited to $1,000, the MkII Nassau is your best option. Designed and assembled by a single man in Pennsylvania, the Nassau is reminiscent of a 1950s Submariner thanks to a 39.2mm steel case with no crown guards. The classic look is complimented by the oyster-style steel bracelet that wears comfortably and pairs with both a T-shirt and a suit cuff. While the “MkII” on the dial may lack some of the cachet of its “Rolex” signature’s counterpart, a $900 price point is a fair trade-off.
Tudor Heritage Ranger
The Tudor Heritage Ranger may have been introduced last year, but its design, which harks to the original Tudor Ranger, is decades old at heart. The new Ranger is offered on an impeccable and simple steel bracelet, with a large center link flanked by offset ends. A tube to carry the spring bar, which holds the bracelet to the case, adds a unique touch of personality and practicality. The steel case measures 41mm in diameter, and its brushed surfaces and symmetrical dial fly under the radar.
Breitling Transocean 38
The Transocean 38 is among the most understated of Swiss watchmaker Breitling’s offerings. Its steel case is small at 38mm, its polished surfaces appropriate for the most formal corners of your wardrobe. The steel mesh bracelet is far more intricate in design and challenging in execution than a link bracelet, and proves the appeal of the style: it feels like a piece of cloth on the wrist. The watch’s symmetrical dial is highlighted by dual, oversized date apertures at 12 o’clock, and a simple sub-dial at 6 o’clock to track the seconds.
Grand Seiko SBGH001J
The Grand Seiko line of Seiko watches represents the pinnacle of watching from the Japanese manufacture. They can now be purchased in the United States, including the best steel-on-steel watch of the bunch, the SBGH001J. This Grand Seiko has a bit of a throwback personality thanks to a domed crystal and and oversized hour batons. Seiko’s steel bracelet offers a subtle variation on a classic three-link design, splitting the central row into its own set. Make no mistake, this is a true heirloom-quality watch.
Omega Speedmaster Professional
You can’t have a conversation about classic steel watches without mentioning Omega’s Speedmaster. Made famous in the late ’60s thanks to a few visits to the lunar surface, the Speedmaster Professional has stayed pretty much the same ever since. The steel case of the Speedmaster has beveled and polished edges that transition smoothly between the lugs and the bracelet end links. The bracelet itself is one of the most comfortable studies in steel around, and together with the watch, makes one of the most iconic timepieces on this list.
Another icon, the Rolex Submariner has a kick-ass history that dates back to 1953. Half a century of use by divers the world over, casual and professional, has made it the epitome of steel watches. Modern variants may not be made by hand like they used to be, but a basic steel Submariner, measuring in at 40mm, remains the ultimate tool watch, sometimes going decades between servicing. Its steel bracelet plays a major part in the watch’s formula of durability. Unlike most tool watches, the Sub looks as good with a t-shirt and jeans as it does tucked into a suit cuff. (If you want to see just how cool a steel watch can age, check out a Sub from the mid ‘60s.)
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15202
One of the greatest watches ever designed by Gerald Genta, the Royal Oak built by Audemars Piguet defines the gentlemen’s sport watch. At 39mm in diameter and 8.1mm in thickness, the Royal Oak disappears on the wrist. The unique steel bracelet is one of a kind, each hand-finished link a different size. The finishing of the bracelet is legendary: it was designed by bracelet-maker Gay Freres in the 1970s and made the industry standard look like child’s play. The intricate octagonal shape of the watch and the incorporation of the caliber 2121 movement makes it all the better.
Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1A
Gerald Genta’s other iconic sports watch, the Patek Nautilus, has changed little in base form since its introduction in 1976. The rounded octagonal steel case is 40mm in diameter, and features both brushed and polished surfaces. Because it’s a Patek, it carries the distinction of hailing from one of the finest watchmakers on the planet. Again, the unique bracelet design is as iconic as its textured dial.