Unusual materials in watchmaking are cool – they’re a talking point, but they’re not the future. They’ll forever be categorized as quirks, conversation starters, or go-to ‘innovations’ when a press release is looking mighty thin. What I’ve noticed this month is the quiet reapplication of a traditional watchmaking materials that is poised to enjoy a subtle advent despite its already overwhelming ubiquity.
Steel Yourself for a Revolution
One of the most traditional watchmaking materials is, without a doubt, stainless steel. Nearly every brand you’ve heard of has steel watches in their collection: Nearly, but, quite crucially, not all.
A couple of brands you might want to invest in work exclusively with precious metals. For this article I’m going to focus on three: Patek Philippe, Parmigiani Fleurier, and A. Lange & Söhne. Patek has released steel models in the past, but now focus on the use of precious metals. Lange used to produce steel ‘courtesy’ watches for their clients to wear while their real Lange was being serviced. Realising the rarity of these pieces, many Lange owners ‘lost’ their courtesy watches and so eventually the service was stopped (they now sell for big bucks). On a handful of occasions, Lange fulfilled client requests for steel versions of their watches, and these too are fervently sought after to this day, rarely appearing at auction. Parmigiani, on the other hand, has never before used steel, but that’s recently changed.
A stainless steel Patek is so unusual that they actually go for much higher amounts than their gold counterparts in auctions. This is partly to do with their rarity, but also to do with the eminent wearability of steel.
German engineering is renowned the world over for its utilitarianism, which makes Lange’s exclusive use of precious materials a tough pill for many aficionados to swallow, but was an attempt by the Richemont Group, which owns A. Lange & Söhne, to clearly define the Glashütte-based brand as their crown jewel.
But perhaps times are a changing. Recently, Parmigiani Fleurier has announced the use of steel in their classic Tonda range for the first time. This is a seminal moment for a brand that, thanks in large part to global economic strife, seems to be priced a little out of reach of many.
I’ve worn a Tonda in the past, and I’m a huge fan of the teardrop lug design. I always wished there was a stainless steel variant for fans of the brand with slightly shallower pockets. Now it’s reality. With a growing offering in steel, Parmigiani might be paving the way for other precious metal only brands to create a more accessible entry point to their wares. From a collector’s perspective, keen to gain access to these excellent brands at a more affordable price point, I hope this is the case. The latest Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda 1950 Steel is available now and priced around $10,500.
About the Author: Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.