Steel Bezels Are Back! — Five Of Our Favorites From Omega, Grand Seiko, Tudor, Breitling, And Rolex
Steel bezels can toughen any sports watch up a notch, making for monochrome cool. Me, I’m not averse to a touch of bling, but the full-steel look signals a strong sense of purpose. While ceramic inserts are scratch-resistant, they can still crack, and that well-used look of a scratched-up bezel gives a sports watch plenty more street cred than a safe-queen Sub. This year, steel bezels are back!
The idea behind this story came about when Omega released the new Speedmaster ’57. While I enjoy the look of the Moonwatch, the deep dial colors and the sweet size of the hand-wound ’57 make it one of the best Speedies today. This got my mind going, and wouldn’t you know, there seems to be a resurgence of steel-bezel utilitarian chic. The selection these days is better than ever, so let’s have a look at some of our top steel-bezeled picks.
Omega Speedmaster ‘57
I’m afraid to admit this as a Fratello editor, so I’ll whisper it: this might be my favorite Speedmaster today. It might be because my wrists are slender or due to that silly bone that sticks out (the ulna), but I have an odd wrist. Because of this, the 42mm Moonwatch doesn’t feel at home, no matter how storied it is — believe me, I’ve tried. The new ’57, however, is perfect for me, while also inhabiting my favored sphere of watches that are tool watches by trade but remain rather elegant. The deep blue sunray dial is simply divine and is a complementary color to the brushed steel. Add the wonderful size of 40.5mm and my favorite chrono layout with two registers, and for me, that means Speedy love. This version on leather is €9,300. With a steel bracelet, the retail price is €9,700.
Grand Seiko SBGE285 “Mist Flake”
I realize that this is a bit of a cheat since this one is titanium, not steel. I also can’t remember the plethora of acronyms and lettering codes of Grand Seiko, so make a note of the reference SBGE285. But no matter the material or alphabet soup, to me, this evolved GMT is dangerously tempting. At 41mm, with Grand Seiko’s magical way with ergonomics and titanium weight-saving, it’s a comfortable wrist buddy. This case design is perhaps the best blend of the brand’s softer cases and the hard-edged 44GS. It has dramatically downturned lugs with broad Zaratsu bevels and an all-brushed bracelet. The brushed 24-hour bezel also has a glamorous soft polish to the edge, giving you that familiar Zaratsu wink when you flick your wrist. But the frosty, ice-like dial is the star of the show, with the still unreal sweep of the Spring Drive seconds hand to entrance us. Even at €8,500, the intrinsic value of a Grand Seiko GMT is as strong as it ever was.
Tudor Black Bay Pro
Let the arguments commence! Is the Pro too close to the OG Explorer II ref. 1655? With its big orange hand, the 40mm “Freccione” (“big arrow” in Italian) is now unaffordable. The Tudor Black Bay Pro does a riff on the same notes as the tool-legend but is also for many the best Fifty-Eight. It may be slightly chubbier than the first Fifty-Eight and full of distractive snowflake hand shapes, but it is still a sub-40mm sweetheart. The original Black Bay Fifty-Eight was too polished, too perfect, and too gilt-y. In fact, I had mine for 10 months and just could never fall in love with it. This one, however, sits in that perfect space of “close but not too close” to the original cave-exploring ref. 1655. By family proxy, they are allowed to do just that. I have yet to try it on, but unlike many naysayers, I think it’s the best Black Bay except for that glimmering bronze version. At €3,770 and quite available, it constitutes significant value compared to the Explorer II in the same Rolex family.
Breitling AVI Ref. 765 1953 Re-Edition
Here’s something more vintage and, dare I say it, more glitzy from Breitling to spice things up. Yes, that’s right; this polished number is a more glossy proposition than the other pieces on this list, but it is rich in heritage. Just as we see on the classic Breguet Type XX and its brothers, there is no rule that steel bezels need matte brushwork. Sure, it saves the odd scratch, but there is also a long tradition for aviation chronographs with a dressier look. The AVI Ref. 765 1953 Re-Edition is a rebirth of a vintage-cool flyboy chronograph in the best possible sense. Yes, I like my fauxtina, and the warm beige coloring of the Arabic numerals is the perfect counterpoint to a matte black dial. The 12-hour bezel allows for a second timezone, and the finishing is sublime. So if you want a strong monochrome vintage vibe with heritage to boot, you can pick this up for €8,050.
Rolex Explorer II ref. 226570
This is (fanfare, please!) an actual quasi-available model in the Rolex sports lineup. Yes, you can still find occasionally find the Explorer II at your local AD, especially the black-dial version. The pure-as-driven-snow white dial is a great backdrop to the pop of color in the GMT hand, but is it too big for 2022? I won’t lie, I feel that way, and I would love the 42mm case to shrink to less than 40, but I still enjoy the design. For those with more time for the gym, 42mm is a perfect size, and if you’re coming down from, say, a 46mm Breitling, it’s positively dressy. Last year’s changes brought us slimmer lugs, the in-house caliber 3285 with a 70-hour reserve, and a tweaked bracelet and clasp. After all, this is Rolex, and the word is “evolution.” The Explorer II still looks as crisp as ever with black details crystal clear against the arctic-white backdrop. With a smidgen of luck, you can find it for €9,450 at retail.
Ceramic, aluminum, polished, or with a brushed tool vibe — what’s your favorite kind of bezel? Let us know in the comments below, and have your say on these five picks.
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