Luxury watches in steel and gold are nothing new. In fact, they have been around for decades and actually define watchmaking today, with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Rolex, paving the way for the segment. Trends come and go, and indeed, two-tone watches are making a comeback. This raises the question, what is the best two tone luxury watch on the market today?
Our top brands are Rolex, Omega and Patek Philippe – three of the most respected and recognized Swiss watchmaking companies in the world, producing timepieces of the highest quality and built to last. Which brings us to the next question, why is the two-tone watch so popular? Besides being a timeless statement piece that you will be proud to own, steel and gold watches offer versatility that will appeal to many collectors seeking a gold watch but not willing to spend a fortune on an all gold watch. If you’ve been considering a timeless watch with a mix of steel and gold, we hope this list will guide you in making the best choice for your wrist and wallet.
The evolution of the two-color Rolex watch
Watches made of mixed metals have long been divisive and tonal. The mixed look of gold and steel is more often popular and dated than those watches that use only one of them. The earliest two-tone watches date back to the 1930s, when Rolex patented its Rolesor process. These original examples came with a steel case and outer bracelet, while the bezel, crown and center link were forged in gold. Initially hesitant to venture into new color schemes, the makers experimented with various models a few years after the introduction of the Rolex Datejust and created what is probably the most typical visual effect of all Rolex watches.
However, the heyday of the two-tone watch was indeed the 1980s – a decade of reckless excess and questionable taste. A favorite of fledgling yuppies, represented by Patrick Bateman in American Psycho and his Rolesor Datejust, the two-tone watch suddenly rose to fame long after it had disappeared. But as with all things, the trend is in full swing and the two-tone watch is starting to gain attention from a younger audience. While its aesthetic is still crucial in today’s Rolex lineup, it has inspired tributes from virtually every brand across the industry.
Below, we’ll take a look at three of our favorites.
Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 126711CHNR
ROOT BEER GMT-MASTER II 126711 Main features：
- Case diameter: 40 mm
- Material: stainless steel and eternal rose gold
- Functions: Time with running seconds, date display, GMT-function
- Movement: Rolex Calibre 3285
- Approximate price: $20,000 – $25,000 (pre-owned)
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It seems only fair to start with the founder, Rolex’s contemporary roster offers a number of two-tone watches. The richness of gold and the practicality of steel make it a perfect fit for some of the more luxurious tool watch collections like the Daytona and Submariner, and it recently added a welcome element to the latest release, the Sky-Dweller. Splashing all the precious metals with stainless steel puts Rolex’s flagship travel watch into a wider price range for fans and collectors. However, this is a different model that has a long history and we have chosen a mix of colors for our list.
Since its introduction more than 60 years ago, the GMT-Master (and subsequently the GMT-Master II) has become a true legend. The modern ceramic bezel collection contains two different two-tone examples, both with a vintage vibe. This modern 6-digit version entered the Rolex catalog in the mid-2000s. However, even this piece lost its nostalgic bet in 2018 when the ref. 126711CHNR appeared – a wonderful return to the Rutgers beer models of the 60s and 70s – and even managed to steal some of the headlines dominated by Pepsi in 2018.
This latest variant of the two-tone theme replaces the original yellow gold elements with Rolex’s proprietary Eternal Rose Gold, creating a softer, more versatile look known as the “Eternal Rose Gold Steel”. If you liked the look of the original GMT Master in steel and yellow gold, you’re out of luck now, as this option has been discontinued entirely and replaced with the current Root Beer GMT-Master II in steel and rose gold.
Internally, reference 126711CHNR has received the new generation of Cal. 3285, while the discontinued Yellow Rolesor GMT-Master II (gold) was equipped with the older Cal. 3285. 3186. The new movement has undergone a series of modernizations, including an increase in power of 70 hours (instead of the previous Cal. 3186 ), in addition to Rolex’s Chronergy escapement – said to be a modification of the traditional Swiss lever mechanism, resulting in a 15% increase in efficiency.
While many areas of watchmaking continue to move forward through retrospect, this latest creation inspired by the Rolex archives manages to provide just the right amount of historical aesthetics. In a portfolio that has no shortage of heavyweights, it is definitely the standout.
Patek Philippe Nautilus 5980/1AR-001
Patek Philippe Nautilus 5980/1AR-001 Main features：
- Case diameter: 40.5 mm
- Material: stainless steel and rose gold
- Functions: Time, date, 12-hour chronograph
- Movement: Patek Philippe Calibre CH 28-520 C
- Approximate price: $130,000 – $160,000 (pre-owned)
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Like the Root Beer GMT-Master II above, the Patek Philippe Nautilus ref uses a more modern 18-carat pink gold rather than the traditional yellow gold. 5980.1AR-001 forms a softly rounded octagonal bezel with its “ear” hinge and large chronograph pushers on either side of the winding crown. The large chronograph pushers located on either side of the winding crown. Again, precious metal forms the centerpiece of the one-piece bracelet, easily one of the most iconic design elements of the Nautilus.
The rest is a mixture of satin-brushed and mirror-polished stainless steel, and the overall look is faithful to Gerald Genta’s original vision in 1976, which was clearly based on the ship’s porthole design. However, the delicate dial may be the reason for many of the Patekaholics. Reportedly inspired by the first Nautilus (reference number 3700), its deep gradient blue color changes hue in different light and is decorated with horizontal stripes reminiscent of the teak decks of luxury yachts.
The hour-markers and hands are coated with luminescence and have a rose gold rim, as do the subtle 60-minute and 12-hour single-counter chronograph subdials. The three contrasting colors work so well that the entire watch is full of class and affluence without having to make a big deal about it.
Driving it all is the in-house Calibre CH 28-520 C, which is neatly housed in a 40.5 mm case, visible through the back of the display. The column-wheel-controlled flyback chronograph with frictionless vertical disc clutch eliminates signs of hand tilt when starting and stopping and allows the scanning chronograph hand to be used as a continuously running seconds hand. The 28,800 vph movement with date display offers a power reserve of up to 55 hours and is composed of some 327 fine parts with unique functions.
All in all, this version has proven to be a favorite among true Patek Philippe enthusiasts, in addition to the usual two-tone watch aficionados. While it may retail for slightly more than $70,000, you may have to pay about twice that (or more) if you want to buy it immediately and skip the waiting list.
OMEGA Speedmaster ’57 Co-Axial
OMEGA SPEEDMASTER ’57 Key features：
- Case diameter: 41.5 mm
- Materials: stainless steel and red gold
- Functions: time with running seconds, date display, 12-hour chronograph
- Movement: OMEGA Calibre 9300
- Approximate price: $9,000 – $15,000 (pre-owned)
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The Speedmaster ’57 Co-Axial is one of the few tributes OMEGA has paid to its original chronographs in the last few years. It is another product launched in 2013 and for the first time features the brand’s outstanding in-house caliber 9300 in a case smaller than 44 mm.
Currently, there are 17 different versions of three two-tone models; a white dial watch with gold details and center links, and two black dials with red gold accents – one with a similar steel strap and the other with a leather strap. Each of the two-tone models in the collection has its own character, with the red gold model perhaps more suited to formal occasions, although both are currently very popular. The two examples with steel straps share a price point, while the leather strap version saves you a little at checkout (as one might expect).
The Omega Speedmaster ’57 Co-Axial is not a replica of the CK2915 that debuted a few years ago with the 60th anniversary edition, but rather takes some inspiration from its ancestor while adding its own stylistic flair to keep things fresh. The case is a very wearable 41.5 mm case that will certainly be familiar to anyone familiar with the brand with its long, straight lugs and lack of crown guard. Also, the “Base 1000” all-steel bezel is correct, as the distinctive black aluminum insert did not appear until the second iteration of the model.
However, it doesn’t take an eagle eye to spot the most obvious difference between the old and the new – the number of subdials. the Co-Axial 9300 allows for a rather radical redesign of the chronograph. The small seconds hand remains at nine o’clock; however, the 12-hour and 60-minute counters have been combined into a single unit and placed in three cells. The historic three-hole layout has been followed and reduced by one, thus leaving enough space – even with the addition of a date window at 6 o’clock. In addition, the subdial is much larger than before, greatly improving readability and providing near-perfect balance.
Compared to the first generation, this watch is more like the second generation Speedy with its Alpha-style main hour and minute hands. However, if you look closely, the classic Broad Arrow is still there; it now takes the form of a small chronograph hour hand.
Aesthetics aside, it’s the movement that demands the most attention; the 9300 caliber debuted in 2011 and can be seen through the domed sapphire back, which makes the Speedy ’57 a little taller than you might expect. Unlike the chronograph movement it replaces, the Cal. 3313, the Cal. 9300 is designed specifically around an in-line escapement, rather than as an add-on add-on. It is self-winding, has 54 jewels, a column-wheel control mechanism with a silicon Si14 hairspring, and a 60-hour power reserve. Made entirely in-house, this watch is a major triumph for OMEGA and is decorated with the brand’s exclusive trailing Côtes de Genève.
All in all, the Speedmaster ’57 Co-Axial is very much a two-color watch with a color scheme that is almost the best in the world. Enough of a return to the icons of the past with a modern touch in all the right places.
BONUS: Rolex Datejust Ref. 16233
TWO-TONE DATEJUST 16233 KEY FEATURES:
- Case diameter: 36 mm
- Materials: stainless steel and gold
- Functions: time with running seconds, date display
- Movement: Rolex Calibre 3135
- Approximate price: $6,000 – $8,000 (pre-owned)
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The Reference 16233 is certainly not as flashy as Patek Philippe’s two-tone Nautilus or the super popular Rolex “Root Beer” GMT-Master II; however, it offers a rock-solid internal movement and typical Rolex looks at a relatively respectable price. Rolex’s catalog is filled with watches in both colors, but the reference 16233 Datejust is probably the best option available.
Originally introduced in 1988, the 16233 Datejust is a classic 36mm gold and steel (stainless steel and 18k gold) version of Rolex’s iconic date display chronometer. Although the Calibre 3135 movement that powers the Log 16233 dates back to the late 1980s, Rolex only discontinued it last year and it can easily keep time within COSC standards.
Ref. in stainless steel and 18K gold construction with Rolex’s signature fluted bezel, the 16233 Datejust could be mistaken for a more refined formal watch; however, with its 100m water resistance, scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and the proven reliability of its in-house 3135 movement, the Datejust 16233 is a classic watch that can be worn all day long .
With a diameter of 36 mm, the Reference 16233 is a versatile package that fits most wrists, regardless of size or gender. In addition, the Ref. 16233 Datejust pre-dates Rolex’s “super case” with thicker lugs, so this version of the Datejust retains the classic proportions that have been a pillar of the Rolex catalog for decades.
Given the modern prices of many stainless steel models, the value proposition of two-tone Rolex watches is becoming increasingly attractive, and watches like the Ref. 16233 Datejust represent some of the best buys in the world of luxury watches.