Capable of withstanding perspiration, water and wear, a metal bracelet is a key feature in the design of a watch. It is so complex and so inseparably bound up with the identity of a brand that quite a few of them simply don't have their own bracelet… Many are indeed put off from making their own attempt by the daunting number of technical demands: it must not be so heavy as to be uncomfortable, nor so light that it seems tacky, while also being anti-allergenic and pleasingly supple.
A bracelet literally owes everything to its links. The most widespread version is the three-row bracelet, as often used by the major brands and many others. There are countless variations on this theme, to the point where it becomes hard to tell them apart. Yet being “generic” or conventional is a mistake for watch companies which, when all is said and done, are strongly product design-focused. Originality is therefore a must, while the quality of execution is an added bonus that sometimes makes the difference. The five rounded and patiently polished links of the Patek Philippe 5960-1A are a perfect example in the category of shiny versions, while those of the Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet are equally impressive in the matt-finish category.
Bulgari trends to favour generous widths. The Octo Steel features a single tapering link with a smaller central link serving as an articulation. Despite its somewhat strict appearance, it both looks and feels impeccable on the wrist. The metal bracelet is indeed so important that it even inspired the name of the TAG Heuer Link – which in English naturally means both the fundamental watch-bracelet component and a sense of connection. Its inverted double S shape is unique and offers extreme comfort.
The latter principle is indeed the crux of the matter, since metal is by nature rather rigid and must be worked in such a way as make it more supple so it can hug the wrist without squeezing or pinching. The closely knit intermeshing of the links is in fact a serious matter for men’s wrist hairs – the most dangerous style in terms of the latter being the so-called Milanese mesh. This finely woven articulated metal style of bracelet, which bears a marked resemblance with fabrics in terms of its appearance and its suppleness, can be a big problem if it is not strictly controlled, as IWC has succeeded with its Portofino model.
Ladies’ watches provide scope for a more free-spirited quest for original motifs. In its gold models for women, Piaget uses a technique that it has become virtually the only watchmaking house to master. Tiny gold bars are soldered width-wise and articulated before undergoing various surface treatments. In the Extremely Piaget creations, this link is engraved by hand. Dior uses strict squares in one of its D de Dior models, forming a motif similar to its iconic quilted pattern. Meanwhile, Chaumet adopts three small delicately polished and raised domes for its Liens models.
Any who might doubt that the bracelet link is a brand-specific field of expression would do well to bear in mind the Overseas by Vacheron Constantin: its links are shaped after the Maltese cross that is the very emblem of the Geneva-based firm.
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