My original article focused more on micro brands, as back then apart from Anonimo and Panerai, it was only really the smaller independents that were producing bronze watches but since then; IWC, Oris, Pita, Tudor, Zenith (pilot watch), Zodiac and a few more brands have all released bronze models.
So here’s an
a new Bronze (DIVER) Age
When I think of the Bronze Ages, I am transported to my early school days, reading about ancient bronze helmeted soldiers from 3200 BC walking about with big bronze swords and shields, clunking each other on the heads. At least that's how I remembered them.
And while my childhood memories (as inaccurate as they may or may not be) revolved around bronze's use in early weaponry, it was its use in ship and boat building that eventually lead to its use in the watch industry despite its obvious aesthetic appeal.
[below: photo credit: NOAA Photo Library]
From hull cladding, mast and oar fittings to the engine components of seagoing vessels, underwater fastenings in naval architecture and the propellers of the most modern ships, bronze has been a maritime building material for centuries.
[below: PreVendome Panerai Mille Metri Bronzo Prototype]
So what is bronze, and why is it now being used in watchmaking? Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper with tin. However it can be combined with any number or ratio of metals such as aluminum, lead, iron or nickel.
[below: ENNEBI Fonale BRONZO]
Larger ratios of copper will produce redder tones such as we find in the popular CuSn8 alloy famously used by Panerai. When combined with zinc it becomes brass, another material as synonymous with the ocean as anything I know; although bronze alloys tend to be stronger and more resistant to corrosion than brass.
[below: AUDEMARS PIGUET Royal Oak Offshore Scuba BARTORELLI Edition]
We need only think of the iconic copper and brass diving helmets of the 18 hundreds or the diving bells that were used by the very first deep sea divers and we can see the relationship that there is with bronze and diving.
[below: ORIS Carl BRASHEAR Limited Edition]
Today bronze is often alloyed with aluminum to produce Aluminum-Bronze which is fortified with either: iron, nickel, and / or silicon for increased strength. It is highly favored in maritime industries and in the world of commercial and offshore diving thanks to its high corrosion-resistance to sea-water and its non-sparking properties, which are particularly critical in the oil and petrochemical industries.
[below: AQUADIVE Bathyscaphe BRONZE Black EDITION]
Not only is bronze aesthetically appealing with its lustrous gold-like tones (when new and untarnished) or its rich dark brown tones that come about from its natural oxidization process as it ages forming a protective coating AKA ‘patina’.
[below: ARCHIMEDE SportTaucher BRONZE]
But there is the romance that this metal evokes, conjuring up images of ancient mariners battling with giant squids or Victorian-esque aquanauts discovering lost worlds.
Was it any wonder that these two old companions would once again be reunited in the form of a bronze dive watch?!
[below: IWC Aquatimer CHRONGRAPH Edition EXPEDITION Charles DARWIN]
Although it is still very much a niche material in the watch making industry; bronze has in the last few years experienced quite an explosion in popularity particularly among smaller boutique brands especially those specializing in dive watches.
[below: ANONIMO 'Dino Zei' San Marco BRONZE]
So who was actually responsible for the first bronze wristwatch? The short answer is Panerai. Okay, maybe not such a short answer.
Pre-Vendome Panerai used bronze as an experimental material for prototypes of their legendary Mille Metri (Italian for, one thousand meters) that was commissioned by the Italian Navy in the 1980s.
[below: PANERAI Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days BRONZO PAM00382]
Prototypes of the Mille Metri were also built from Titanium; none of them were ever used by the Navy or indeed went into production. However a bronze prototype watch was sold at auction a few years back for in excess of 280,000CHF!
[below: PANERAI Luminor 1950 Submersible 3 Days Power Reserve Automatic BRONZO PAM00507]
The Mille Metri was later (in 2004) reinvented as the ‘Ennebi Fondale’ by one of Panerai’s former engineers responsible for its design, Alessandro Bettarini. And although Ennebi are renowned for producing small runs of artisan-style bronze divers, they were at first unconvinced of its potential as a mainstay watchmaking material. However someone must have convinced them otherwise ;)
[below: Visconto Scuba Abyssus 3000M BRONZE]
Back to Panerai – when they were taken over by the Cartier group , a team of watch-makers and engineers remained behind in the old premises – they later formed a new watch company called Anonimo (Italian for ‘anonymous’).
[below: TUDOR heritage Black Bay BRONZE]
It was Anonimo that actually pioneered the use of bronze in dive watches, using it for a number of their most important models. Sadly, they found themselves under new ownerships again in 2013. Some of those guys now work for Visconti – and were responsible for the outlandish, Abyssus 3000M Bronze.
[below: SQUALE Master PowerReserve 600M BRONZE]
Anonimo still produce dive watches (of a sort) including some bronze models, not in Italy but in Switzerland (imho, they aren’t a patch on the pre-2103 ‘Nimos).
[below: KAVENTSMANN Abyssos]
However Anonimo weren’t the only ones using bronze; a lesser known watch Manufacture called Julius Legend was also producing bronze models perhaps even earlier than them.
[below: ANGULAR MOMENTUM Beryllium Diver MAGNUS]
And would you Adam and Eve it (believe it) - Audemars Piguet also produced a special Bartorelli Edition of the ROO Scuba featuring a bronze fixed bezel with an internal rotatable divers bezel also in bronze, before Panerai readopted bronze for the PAM00382.
[below: GYAVIUS deepMARINE]
However it’s companies like Ennebi and many of the smaller micro brands such as Benarus and Helson (where did they go?) following in Anonimo’s footsteps, and you guys - the dive watch aficionados, collectors and geeks who fell in love with bronze that are ultimately responsible for companies like Tudor and Oris making the move towards it. Because they have never used it historically – but have simply followed a trend set by us!
[below: HELBERG CH1 Bronze 6000M]
Some current dive watch industry bronze players:
Angular Momentum, Anonimo, Archimede, Aquadive, Benarus, Cuervo y Sobrinos, EXTático, Germano & Walter, Gruppo Ardito, Gruppo Gamma, H2O Watches, Helberg, Helson, Kaventsmann, Kazimon, Kobold, IWC, Magrette, Oris, Panerai, Pita, Prometheus, Squale, Timemachinist, Thomas Prescher, Tudor, VintageVDB, Visconti, Zelos, Zenith (pilot watch), Zenton, Zodiac.
So who's gonna be next, I wonder?