Bronze might not seem an obvious material from which to make a high quality replica watch case, but it has been used surprisingly often over the decades – and seems to be catching on again. Panerai kicked-off the current trend (if it can be called one) around three years ago, with the launch of its 1950 Three-Days ‘Bronzo’ that was said to have been inspired by some of the bronze fittings to be found on its gorgeous vintage ketch, ‘Eilean’.
Panerai previously experimented with the alloy in 1985 for the case of a prototype replica watch which was eventually produced in titanium, but three years later another maker, Gerald Genta, created a bronze piece called the Gefica, which was marketed as a hunting replica watch because, among other things, it wouldn’t reflect sunlight.
The original Gefica was – befitting of the era – a puny 33mm diameter (with women’s version’s measuring just 23mm). But at Baselworld in 2007 the Gerald Genta brand unveiled a 21st-century Gefica. With a 46.5mm case made from bronze, it featured titanium rings at the top and bottom, bead-pattern decoration inspired by tribal body painting and a domed winding crown.
The dished dial – protected by a domed crystal – was intended to resemble a volcanic crater and galvanised with bronze and silver or bronze and black finishes, while the display was of the ‘Biretro’ variety. I loved the replica watch and still wish I had bought one – especially since they’re now expensive and extremely hard to find.
The Black Bay Bronze
The bronze offerings shown at Baselworld this year – notably the Oris Carl Brashear limited edition dive replica watch, U-Boat’s new Chiamera and the latest ‘Militare’ from Anonimo (which has used bronze since its founding in 1997) – were all appealing in their own right. But there’s little doubt that the gold medal for the best bronze replica watch of the year to date goes to Tudor for what has already become known as the ‘BBB’ for Black Bay Bronze.
The Heritage Black Bay series has been largely responsible for Tudor’s success since its international re-launch a couple of years ago, so who can blame the brand for continuing to offer variations on the theme? This year sees new models such as the pvd-coated Black Bay Dark and the new ‘entry level’ 36mm model which starts at just £1,730 – but the Bronze is the most impressive.
The Black Bay Dark
And not simply because its 43mm case (2mm larger than the standard BB) is made from a novel(ish) material, but because the replica watch comes with an in-house, COSC-certified movement, is replete with references to historic Tudor dive replica watches, is all-round beautifully finished and is supplied with both an aged, brown leather strap and a canvas one. Yet it retails for an absolute bargain at £2,730.
Add to that the fact that the bronze content in the case should allow each replica watch to take on a unique patina with the passing of time, and it seems highly likely that Tudor is set to turn an idea that might once have seemed a gimmick into a genuine alternative to a conventional, steel replica watch which many buyers are likely to lust after.
Or should that be ‘lustre’ after?
See our top 30 picks from Baselworld 2016 here.