While watch collectors are truly spoiled for choice these days as far as strap and bracelet options are concerned, there are certain classic styles that have stood the test of time and don’t seem to be losing popularity.
Some began with brand-specific associations and have since spawned clones and copies, while others weren’t necessarily associated with one particular company, but one thing is true of all of them – namely, that they have attained an iconic status in the watch-buying world, and anyone who considers him or herself a watch collector should be familiar with them. Here are a few of our favorite iconic watch bracelets:
The Bonklip was developed in the 1920s and 1930s and was issued on certain British military wristwatches from the 1940s through the 1960s. These bracelets were mass-produced, easily adjustable, and machined from stainless steel (in fact, they were some of the first mass-produced stainless steel bracelets). Though bracelets were generally not offered as a standard option on the earliest Rolex watches, there is evidence that some may have been sold with Bonklips in the 1930s and 1940s.
Patented by Rolex in 1947 and first offered in 1948, the Oyster bracelet may be the most iconic bracelet in 20th-century wristwatch history. The Oyster went through several iterations throughout the years, beginning its life with riveted links, then progressing to the use of folded links, and finally, taking on the form in which it remains today, which uses solid links. The clasp design also evolved throughout the decades in order to ensure that the bracelet would remain secured to the wrist during sporting activities, such as SCUBA diving, for which the Submariner and Sea-Dweller were developed.
Introduced in 1945 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the brand (hence the name), the Rolex Jubilee bracelet is ubiquitous in the watch-buying world, and remains largely unchanged throughout the years. Initially designed for the Datejust model and only available in solid gold, the Jubilee would later be offered in two-tone and steel versions, and was eventually made available as an option on several sports models, though it remains decidedly more dressy in look and feel than the Oyster.
The Beads of Rice
Though produced by numerous companies over the years, the beads of rice bracelet is perhaps most closely associated with famed bracelet manufacturer Gay Freres, who supplied them to both Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin in the 1940s and 1950s in both stainless steel and precious metals. Gay Freres produced numerous versions of the bracelet, including more supple versions for complicated or dress watches and distinctly sportier versions for racing and pilot’s watches from the likes of Heuer. Today, vintage and modern versions of the beads of rice can be found both as aftermarket types and as catalog offerings from watch manufacturers.
The Royal Oak Bracelet
Although built specifically for the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, this steel bracelet (originally developed with design input by Gay Freres) has since become an icon in its own right (the Patek Philippe Nautilus, launched four years after the Royal Oak, features a similar integrated design, as both watches were designed by well-known watch designer Gerald Genta). These bracelets are avaiable in steel, two-tone, and precious metals.
Another Gay Freres design that was offered on the Zenith El Primero beginning in 1969, this bracelet features spaces between the folded links that give it the appearance of a ladder; though it may also have been an option on other Zenith designs, it is most often associated with this model, and vintage examples are difficult to come by.
The Milanese bracelet was created in 19th century Milan and perfected in Germany in the early 20th century. It was popular on both dress and tools watches in the 1930s and 1940s and later saw a resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s in a heavier form, often referred to as “shark mesh.” Today, this type of bracelet has become popular once again due to several design-conscious brands, not the least of which is Apple with their Apple Watch.
The most recognizable example of these spring-loaded, expanding bracelets is easily the Speidel Twist-O-Flex. Who can forget their almost elastic effect and retro style? They don't make use of a clasp and, rather, are sized to fit your wrist and then stretched over the hand to be worn. Speidel has been making them since 1959 and, in fact, is still around and producing the Twist-O-Flex and similar bracelets today (for pretty reasonable prices, too, and even for the Apple Watch), but other makers have offered the expansion feature in a range of designs, as well.