The world of haute horology is intrinsically linked to precious metals, such as platinum or rose gold. For some brands, so uncommon is the use of garden-variety materials such as steel that its occasional use becomes exotic in its own right. Just take a look at the premium commanded by a steel Patek Philippe 1518 or a steel A. Lange & Söhne Datograph.
During the early 2000s, brands such as Audemars Piguet, Hublot, and Richard Mille challenged the norm by delivering complicated mechanical movements within unusual case materials like carbon and rubber. The handover was briefly disruptive but relatively easy to accept when you consider the aesthetic that these watches are conveying, or when you understand how equally—if not more—complicated their execution is in comparison to precious metal.
Indeed, the more cynical collector might have already proclaimed precious-metal cases to be the “restaurant wine-pricing scam of the watch world.” After all, the premium paid for a white-gold watch over its steel sibling will often pay for the weight of raw material several times over.
Perhaps in recognition of this shift in awareness and expectation, more high-end brands are producing steel watches at their entry-level point, and more steel watches sit amongst their precious-metal siblings at the higher end of the portfolio. Subsequently, the steel watch is no longer confined to the “tool watch” segment of a major brand, with a robust steel bracelet to differentiate it from the “dress watch” segment—though it is available in full-dress form with a leather or rubber strap to suit those with a more contemporary aesthetic.
Today may well be the perfect time to buy into steel—be it to unlock the value ratio, obtain a future rarity, or simply to enjoy this everyday metal doing what it does best. The following are some of the best steel-cased, leather- and rubber-strapped wristwatches available today.