The intertwining of the worlds of watchmaking and jewellery has always been very close: after all, the wristwatch is in fact a bracelet. While during the 20th century its practical utility predominated over its ornamental aspect, so to speak, today that we can comfortably read the time on our phones: timepieces have once again become – above all – an aesthetic quirk. And of all watches, those that best express the close connection between the two worlds are undoubtedly the models with integrated bracelets.
What exactly is… an integrated bracelet?
Giving a technical definition of these watches is more difficult than it might seem. Certainly, an integrated bracelet does not preclude the possibility of replacing it with a strap, as the many references of Nautilus, Royal Oak and Octo Finissimo – to name the three most famous – combined with crocodile or rubber prove. Let’s say then that a bracelet can be defined as integrated when there is no solution of continuity with the watch case. When, in other words, the case does not have the ‘canonical’ lugs for attaching a strap.
Historically, watches with integrated bracelets have been the prerogative of the female sphere. It would almost be more accurate to speak of ‘bracelets with integrated watches’. Take a look at the first wristwatch in history, Countess Koskowicz’s Patek Philippe, but also at the splendid high jewellery creations produced over the years by brands such as Piaget. These were objects designed to be first and foremost jewellery: the possibility – admittedly welcome – of reading the time on them was however secondary.
However, there is no shortage of men’s watches designed to be one with their metal bracelet: there are, for example, some splendid Patek Philippe watches from the 1940s with removed lugs and a soldered bracelet, most notably a 1518 in pink gold with a Gay Fréres ‘brick’ bracelet. It was probably this piece that inspired the reference 3970/2, a rare and fascinating variant on the perpetual calendar chronograph that relaunched the Geneva Maison in the 1980s.
It was not until the 1970s, however, that the integrated bracelet became a stylistic choice that spread across the entire watchmaking universe. In perhaps the most turbulent and revolutionary decade for Swiss watchmaking, as some fought the quartz crisis and others rode it out, design styles changed forever – in a way uniting both camps.
Gerald Génta and Jorg Hysek created two of the most famous mechanical sports watches in history, both with integrated bracelets (and both still in production today); only a few years later, Rolex, which had been working on a quartz watch for some time, launched the iconic “Oysterquartz” – offering an interesting and still relevant interpretation of its iconic Oyster bracelets, Jubilee and President, now integrated into the case.
Since that decade, timepieces with integrated bracelets have become a constant presence in the catalogues of almost all watch brands, from the oldest and most famous to niche or independent brands such as Lange with the Odysseus and Moser with the Streamliner. Their success was disruptive and, above all, lasting, a clear sign of an enthusiastic reception by customers, who evidently wanted a design that broke with the classic concept of the ‘dress watch’.
However, it would be disrespectful to underestimate the major role that a single designer played in this revolution. The aforementioned Gerald Génta, in fact, designed the two watches with integrated bracelets par excellance, the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. And he is also responsible for the design of one of the most loved (and polarising) timepieces on the contemporary scene, the Bulgari Octo Finissimo.
Whether you too are an admirer of Génta’s work – or at least of the revolution he started – and would like to add a watch with an integrated bracelet to your collection, our team of experts will be happy to help you: don’t hesitate to contact us to make your dream come true!
written by Alvise Mori