Unless you have been in solitary confinement or a coma, under a rock or sedation, you will have noticed that certain steel watches are hot, sizzling hot, so hot that you risk either facing extensive waits or having to shell out on the secondary market – twice or thrice list price for a steel Nautilus from Patek, or 100 per cent over retail for a steel Rolex GMT-Master.
But in the past year or two, another white metal has been making a stealthy comeback. Platinum, the heavy metal it’s OK to like, is throwing its considerable weight around in fine watchmaking. The winner of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève last November, the new Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ultra-thin self-winding perpetual calendar, with its case in platinum (for prestige) and titanium (to mitigate the weight), is just one example.
Marc Hayek, CEO of Blancpain, Breguet and Jaquet Droz, explains the appeal: “Platinum is among the noblest and most precious of metals. It has extraordinary properties that make it extremely resistant, but also difficult to process and finish. Creating platinum watch cases requires special savoir-faire. It results in beautiful white/grey-coloured models that do not tarnish. Hence, platinum is the perfect match for exclusive and complicated high-end timepieces.” Which explains why he has used it for the new Blancpain Villeret Ultra Slim Blue limited edition, and also for a Breguet Classique Tourbillon with a deep-blue enamel dial.
The metal is also a favourite choice for special-anniversary models. Breitling recently announced the next instalment of its acclaimed re-edition programme with the Avi Ref 765 1953; steel will form the bulk of production – numbering, unsurprisingly, 1,953 pieces – but there will also be 153 pieces in platinum. When Grand Seiko wanted to mark the 20th year of its Spring Drive movement in 2019, it chose to celebrate with an exquisitely textured, platinum-case limited edition. And, on the 50th anniversary of the manned moon landing on which its watches were worn, Omega announced it would be returning its celebrated Calibre 321 to production, also in platinum.
Omega is largely perceived as a steel tool-watch brand, with rugged timepieces capable of performing equally well on the surface of the moon or the seabed in the Challenger Deep off Guam nearly 11km beneath the waves. But since taking over the company four years ago, CEO Raynald Aeschlimann has been on a mission to introduce more platinum watches; there are now 15 models with platinum in the regular collection. “It is a metal for connoisseurs,” he says. “It has the discretion of white metal, but when you wear it you immediately feel the weight and the substance.” And that weight can become quite substantial, especially when used for a large 44.25mm watch such as the Omega Speedmaster Co‑axial Master Chronometer Moonphase Chronograph, as yet available only on strap – a full-bracelet prototype was made but weighs 380g.
But, if you feel you need the heft of a full case and bracelet platinum chronograph, Rolex offers its famous Daytona in platinum. At a glance it could pass for steel, but aficionados can tell it at a distance because of the ice-blue dial that Rolex describes as “the unmistakable mark of a platinum model”… that, and the well-developed musculature of the wearer’s watch arm.