Since the turn of this century, high-performance, cutting-edge materials—from various kinds of carbon to high-tech ceramic to transparent sapphire crystal—have been the news in watchmaking. Now bronze—an ancient alloy of copper and tin that has more than four centuries of history in the industry—is making its own vintage-inspired design statement. Durable, anticorrosive and developing a protective patina with age, the metal has a long heritage in the bygone eras of mariners and pioneering aviators.
Eterna ventured into the material for the first time with the KonTiki Bronze Manufacture Limited Edition ($2,950) that pays tribute to the 70th anniversary of Thor Heyerdahl’s storied raft expedition from South America to Polynesia, which was equipped with Eterna timepieces. Limited to 300 pieces and water-resistant to 200 meters, the watch stays true to KonTiki codes with luminescent, triangular hour markers set on a black granite-patterned dial for legibility. The unidirectional rotating bezel features a no-decompression-limits scale that indicates how long a diver can spend at a particular depth before needing to decompress.
Looking to the skies, Zenith introduced a new bronze version of its vintage-spirited Pilot Extra Special Chronograph ($7,100). The collection recalls the high-precision cockpit instruments and tool watches developed by the brand during the pioneering days of flight. The brawny 45-mm watch exudes rugged retro character in bronze with an oversize ratcheted crown, sandblasted black dial with large luminous Arabic numerals, and khaki green oily nubuck leather strap. At its heart is the El Primero Calibre 4069 high-frequency column-wheel chronograph movement that can track elapsing times to a tenth of a second.
Montblanc also referenced the aviation history of Minerva, a historic chronograph specialist that the brand’s parent company Richemont acquired in 2006 in a bid to endow the watch newcomer, best known for pens, with some watchmaking cred. The Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition Bronze ($27,500) takes its esthetic cues from a 1930s-era Minerva pilot’s watch. Details such as a railroad minute track, cathedral-style hands and Arabic numerals (treated with beige SuperLuminova for a luminous update), and an onion crown are faithful to the original, and Montblanc tags it with a 1930s-era version of its logo in keeping with the period mood. The beautifully finished mono-pusher Montblanc Manufacture caliber MB M16.29 is also modeled on the original Minerva pocket watch caliber.
The beauty of a bronze case is that as the metal oxidizes it darkens with a distinctive patina of brown, green and black shades that make it unique. And each manufacturer has fitted them with titanium or stainless-steel case backs to ensure that your wrist doesn’t acquire a green patina of its own.