Unless you’re a committed horophile, the term ‘integrated bracelet’ probably won’t mean much – but that particular method of attaching a watch to a wrist is currently enjoying a surge in popularity, with ‘IBs’ being a feature of an estimated three quarters of all watches sold above £3,000.
For those unfamiliar with them, integrated bracelets form part of the case of a watch, enabling the two components to blend into a seamless whole in a way that the traditional spring- bar-and-lugs combination fails to achieve.
The original integrated bracelet watch was the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, designed by Gerald Genta and launched in 1972. Genta also penned the Patek Philippe Nautilus of 1976 , the same year in which he re-designed IWC’s Ingenieur giving it – of course – an integrated bracelet.
Nowadays there are numerous integrated bracelet or strap watches on the market, ranging from current versions of the aforementioned Royal Oak, Nautilus and Ingenieur models to examples from Richard Mille, Hublot, Vacheron Constantin, Zenth and Linde Werdelin to name but a few.
The benefits of the system are a clean aesthetic, a more coherent design and an improved degree of comfort – but there is a downside in that replacement options are limited to those available (usually at considerable expense) from the original manufacturer.
But that drawback doesn’t seem to put many people off, as evinced by a surge in demand for certain versions of the Nautilus that have led to waiting lists of a reported six years.
And it’s the popularity of integrated bracelets watches such as the Nautilus and the Royal Oak that surely influenced the recent introduction by Bell & Ross of its BR-05 collection, which is a far cry from the military-inspired, square-cased ‘instrument’ watches for which it is best known.
The integrated bracelet BR-05 takes the form of a 40mm ‘soft square’ and was clearly (and possibly unashamedly) inspired by the Nautilus.
It’s available as a three-hand, automatic in a choice of steelor gold with black, blue or grey solid dials or in steel only with an intricate, skeletonised dial – although the pick of the bunch is the gold version with matching gold bracelet, a black dial and a price tag of £27,000.
And arriving at the same time as the BR-05 is another new, integrated bracelet watch, this time from Chopard.
Called the Alpine Eagle, it comes with a back story as it is closely based on a model called the St Moritz designed 40 years ago by the brand’s co-president, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele when he was fledgling employee of the family firm working his way around the various departments in order to learn the ins and outs of the business.
A keen skier, hiker and driver, he spotted the lack of a steel watch in the Chopard line-up and persuaded his father to let him design one – and the St Moritz became a hit that remained in the range for more than a decade.
Recently, history repeated itself when Scheufele’s son, Karl-Fritz, spotted a vintage St Moritz in the company museum and suggested it should be re-introduced in a contemporary form. And so the Alpine Eagle took flight.
New from the ground up, it’s the first Chopard to use a lightweight, extra hard metal developed by the firm that’s called Lucent Steel A223 and is hypoallergenic, 50-per-cent tougher than normal steel and exceptionally bright.
Initially available in 41mm and 36mm diameters, the watch has a rock-like textured dial designed to evoke the iris of an eagle’s eye, while the hands are reminiscent of the bird’s feathers. The case, meanwhile, features distinctive ‘shoulders’ at three and nine’, a bezel secured by eight visible screws and a crown engraved with a compass rose – symbolic of the eagles’ remarkable navigation ability.
The Alpine Eagle is water resistant to 100metres and finished with a combination of brushed and polished surfaces and hand chamfering that’s intended to create a play of light reminiscent of sunrays glinting off mountains.
Initially available in 10 reference in Lucent steel, gold, bi-metal and diamond-set gold, the Alpine Eagle is powered by a chronometer-certified movement that, along with all the other components of the watch is produced in-house before final assembly at Chopard’s Geneva HQ. Prices start at £8,770 (36mm steel version) rising to £39,400 (36mm gold with diamond set case and bracelet). The 41mm steel watch costs £11,200.