Originally published by Danny Milton on 


On the long list of persnickety watch enthusiast turn-offs, two-tone metal has gotta be right up there with 4:30 date windows and copious dial text. But brands wouldn’t have made two-tone watches (and wouldn’t continue making them) if a lot of people didn’t like them very much. And I am one of those someones.

I got married in a two-tone watch a Rolex Datejust with a jubilee bracelet. It was the perfect accompaniment to my yellow-gold wedding ring, a watch left to me by my grandfather (more on that story 

here), and one I continue to wear to this day. Say what you will about two-tone. Say it’s indecisive. Say it’s dated. But don’t call it ugly.

In my mind, it’s actually quite stylish. In fact, since there’s no functional benefit to having 50 percent of your watch fashioned in gold, style is the whole point.

Now there’s a saying that goes, “this isn’t your grandfather’s [insert word here].” In the case of two-tone, in many cases, however, it is. That’s because this tantalizing mixture of stainless steel and gold saw its heyday during the 1980s when many current grandfathers were at their peak watch-purchasing power. Not everyone wanted or was ready for full gold. In fact, the proverbial gold watch was emblematic of retirement of the end of something. Two-tone? That meant you were in it, baby  that you were just getting started.

If you want to get really pedantic (which, c’mon, we all do), you can find examples of two-tone pocket watches as early as the turn of the century. Rolex began making two-tone wristwatches around the 1930s and ’40s, coining the term Rolesor in the process. The 1970s saw an acceleration of risk-taking design in the Swiss watch industry, as AP, Rolex, Patek, and Vacheron released integrated bracelet sports watches all of which came in a two-tone variant. In the 1980s, two-tone reached critical mass.

Two-tone is the physical embodiment of work-hard, play-hard which was basically the decade’s whole mantra

We’ve covered Tom Selleck and Magnum P.I. on the site this week, but it bears repeating that while Magnum was defined by the Rolex GMT-Master 16750, Selleck’s personal watch at the time was a two-tone Rolex Datejust. Don Johnson, of Miami Vice  also a two-tone guy. Richard Gere, wellyou get the idea. American Psycho had Wall Street banker and serial-murderer Patrick Bateman (as played by Christian Bale) wear a two-tone Rolex Datejust with a seldom-seen linen dial.

Even without that movie, the Datejust would be the most iconic two-tone. Unlike other watches (the Nautilus, Royal Oak, Overseas, etc.) the watch is defined by its two-tone model. The Datejust is two-tone on a matching two-tone jubilee bracelet, and though not an invention of the ’80s, it’s a watch that’s come to define the decade. Aside from being an empirically good-looking timepiece, it also represents some of the best value in vintage watches today. Dare I say, this is the most under-appreciated watch in existence? I dare say. I’m saying it.

But it’s hardly the only two-tone classic. Take, for another example, the Cartier Santos with the gold bezel and two-tone Santos bracelet. You’ve got the angular shape of the case plus the ’70s design language in the iconic bracelet, all tied together with stainless steel and gold (oh, and the blue sapphire in the crown). Nobody can convince me that watch is ugly.

Two-tone also infiltrated the likes of some iconic steel sport watches and gave them new life. Many collectors consider these watches to be the exceptions to the no-two-tone rule. I’m talking about the two-tone Submariner with its blue bezel and blue dial, and the famed Rolex GMT-Master Root Beer. While I’m not knocking a stainless steel Submariner or GMT-Master (I happen to own and love both), the two-tone examples of each are fantastic alternatives.

Look, stainless steel is a safe choice, and gold is a safe choice. But both require a commitment to one kind of material. You have to choose. Two-tone doesn’t make you choose. It’s the best of both worlds.

When you wear a two-tone watch, you’re bucking nearly every known trend of today. Gold is a trend. Steel is a trend. Metals are the watch equivalent of skinny and baggy jeans; they come and they go. Right now, in 2021, it’s hard not to get swept up in a certain level of hype and hive-mindedness when you’re constantly bombarded on social media with images of steel sport watches. But it’ll pass. And two-tone will still be here, in the margins, waiting for collectors who are independent enough to give it a shot.

A few brands know this. And their recent two-tone products make me think my favorite combo is about to make a comeback.

First, there’s Tudor which released a two-tone version of its Black Bay Chrono a couple of years ago, pairing gold and steel against a black bezel and dial. Next is the new root beer Rolex GMT-Master II, with its two-tone steel and Everose gold case and bracelet. You can already feel it becoming a collector’s item, due in no small part to its two-tone nature.

Whatever kitsch was associated with this bi-metal configuration before has slowly morphed into charm. America is, at last, ready to reclaim its rightful two-tone glory. For evidence, look no further than the new president of the United States, who (among a few other watches) has been spotted in his well-worn two-tone Seiko Chrono 7T32-6M90. We’ve got two-tone in the Oval Office as we speak.

When making the argument for why I think two-tone works so well, I often bring up contrast. A two-tone watch is simply interesting to look at. The Root Beer GMT, while a knockout in solid gold, just loses its extra pop when not in two-tone. Rolex also made its famous Datejust Oysterquartz in two-tone, which is basically retro on retro. My favorite is the blue dial variant, which has excellent contrast and handsome looks.

I will grant the haters this much: Two-tone photographs poorly. The gold sometimes looks unpleasantly yellow against the steel, and if you’re working with a matching gold (or champagne) dial, the whole package looks quite drab when captured through a lens. I suspect this accounts for its popularity lag during most of the social-media era. Two-tone wasn’t built for the gram. It reveals its pleasures the old-fashioned way: IRL.

One last point. Everybody loves a tropical watch, right? But when your vintage Sub or GMT patinas, when its markers and hands turn that desirable yellow color, what really happens? The watch effectively becomes two-tone. So, let’s not forget that the next time we’re scrolling through our social feeds and seeing those shots of aged lume. Two-tone is two-tone. It takes many forms all equally and uniquely beautiful.

Hodinkee is the preeminent resource for modern and vintage wristwatch enthusiasts. Through in-depth reviews, live reports, and dynamic videos, Hodinkee is bringing watches to a 21st-century audience.

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