Stainless steel is a wonder material. It’s an alloy, made resistant to corrosion, staining, scratching, and pitting by the addition of iron, chromium, and nickel. It’s hypoallergenic. Surgeons use it in scalpels; engineers use it to build bridges. As a modern material for watches, it’s the designer’s dream — tough, iconic, and relatively cheap.
But then again, nobody ever made a stainless steel calf and worshiped it, did they?
For all of gold’s faults — it’s soft, scratches easily, and is very heavy — the material is still the most iconic case material for a watch, hands down. Wear a big steel Rolex and you get in the room; wear a big gold Rolex, and you own the room. If Bruce Willis’s dad in Pulp Fiction had owned a stainless steel heirloom watch, do you really think Christopher Walken’s character would’ve hid it up his ass for five years? Five months, maybe. That’s the difference gold makes.
The reasons why are simple. We talk a lot about watches as “heirloom pieces,” and a precious metal watch is the best way to pass on wealth: you are quite literally gifting a hunk of metal work lots of money in any currency. The value in a watch today doesn’t come from telling the time. Our phones do that now.
A watch is a piece of jewelry that you can also use. Wearing gold — or, if you’re really breaking the bank, platinum — jewelry, just like in the days of Canaan, is a statement of wealth. Today, it’s also a statement of fashion. And, if your gold watch is from one of the best watchmakers in the world, as these are, you’re also making a statement about your love of timekeeping. These are our favorite timepieces in yellow, pink, red, and white gold — oh, and platinum, too.
Quick Guide to Gold
Because pure gold is very soft and scratches easily, it is usually combined with other metals when made into jewelry. Yellow gold includes silver, copper and zinc. The “red” golds — pink, rose, and red — include varying amounts of copper, which add their reddish hue. And white gold has nickel, palladium and silver, often with rhodium coating to give it its pure white color.
24 karat is pure, 100 percent gold
18 karat 75% gold
14 karat, 58.3 gold
Yellow gold looks the closest of any of the alloyed golds to the pure thing, but it still includes silver, copper, and zinc. For a stretch in the early 2000s, yellow gold was on the outs — it recalled the hairy opulence of the 80s and 90s. Which, of course, is extremely “in” nowadays. And even if it isn’t as hip as pink or red gold, the “fuck you” factor of a big hunk of yellow gold on the wrist is huge.
If you’re going for the bold yellow gold look on a budget, Hamilton’s Intra-matic fits the bill. (Its gold is actually a PVD finish over steel). We’ll allow it, since the Intra-matic has classic styling and, well, we can’t all afford the real thing.
Case Material: PVD yellow gold over steel
Movement: ETA 2892-A2
Cartier Drive de Cartier Extra Flat
Cartier’s new cushion-shaped Drive watch was a huge hit at SIHH in 2017. In 2018, they released it in stainless steel, and, even better, in yellow gold. At just 6.6mm thick and 39mm wide, it wears very comfortably. The debate rages as to whether it’s better in rose gold or yellow gold, but for our dollar, the yellow gold captures vintage Cartier elegance to a T.
Case Material: 18k yellow gold
Movement: Cartier 1904 MC
Diameter: 38mm x 39mm
Rolex Day-Date 40 “President”
There’s a reason this watch been worn by world leaders from Eisenhower to Churchill. When it was first released in 1956, the Day-Date was the first watch to indicate the date fully spelt out. More importantly, its pie-pan bezel and thin, elegant bracelet (from whence its name comes) befit any giant of politics.
Case Material: 18 carat gold
Movement: Caliber 3255
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak “Jumbo” Extra Thin
Gerald Genta designed the Royal Oak’s unique octagonal shape during the height of the quartz crisis, when mechanical watches were getting shellacked by newer, more precise, less expensive quartz movements. The Royal Oak’s success proved that watch lovers would pay high-end prices for stainless steel — now, people love it in gold. The Jumbo, in particular this reference, with a yellow gold case and yellow gold “petit patisserie” dial, is an exercise in classic yellow goldness that is perhaps only matched by a yellow gold Rolex.
Case Material: 18 carat yellow gold
Movement: Self-winding Calibre 2121
Pink and Rose Gold
Pink and rose gold, like red gold, get their reddish hues from the addition of copper, but they also feature small amounts of silver. That coloration is beautiful and subtle, still showcasing AU but providing a good palate for pairing with bright colors.
The Brits at Bremont make tough pilot’s watches. (See: the watch that you can only get if you’ve ejected out of an airplane). But they’ve gone a little soft with this rose gold version of their pilot’s chronograph. Thank god. Its chunky case makes for the perfect hunk of rose gold — and it’s treated with scratch-resistant DLC.
Case Material: 18 carat rose gold
Movement: Automatic BE-50AE
A Lange & Sohne Saxonia Thin
It’s telling that A. Lange & Sohne’s entry-level watch comes in pink gold. Lange doesn’t do “affordable,” so $15k is about as entry-level as they get. The Saxonia Thin 37mm is an excellent pink gold dress watch, and a case study in Lange’s elegance — by dropping the bells and whistles of timepieces like, say, their absurdly complex, absurdly brilliant Langematik, they reveal how perfect a simple gold watch can be.
Case Material: Pink gold
NOMOS Lambda Rose Gold
NOMOS exploded onto the watchmaking scene in 1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and remains one of the hippest German watchmakers with serious chops. Their Lambda features an enormous 84-hour power reserve meter that stretches across most of the dial. In rose gold, its elegance and style are amplified.
Case Material: 18k rose gold
Movement: Manual-winding DUW 1001
Vacheron Constantin Patrimony
Vacheron is one of high horology’s “big three,” alongside Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe, and their Patrimony is a classic dress watch: two-handed, clean, and, of course, gold. The pink gold is our favorite, though it is available in yellow, white, and red, too — but that slight pink color pairs best with the new sunburst dark blue dial.
Case Material: 18k 5N pink gold
Diameter: Manual-wound caliber 1400
Bulgari Octo Finissimo
The Bulgari Octo was first released in steel; in 2016, a titanium version made it even lighter. (Later, the watch was briefly the thinnest automatic on the market, in 2017.) The rose gold version, released in 2018, added a luxury touch to the ultra-thin (5.5mm) case: Bulgari sand-blasted it and gave it an integrated bracelet, for a badass matte look that pairs perfectly with the 18k rose gold dial.
Case Material: Sandblasted 18k rose gold
Movement: BVL 138 automatic
Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1R
Every chunky, bezelled ounce of the Patek Nautilus is a gift. The 5711 put the rose gold case on a rose gold bracelet, and the finishing is on par with anything like it in the world. To see this level of beauty executed in rose gold — with a chocolate brown dial to boot! — is enough to make any Genta fan drool.
Case Material: rose gold
Movement: Self-winding 324 S C
Just like pink gold, red gold is alloyed with copper. The only difference is that it has more of it, and hence, a darker red hue. Consider it a statement maker.
IWC Portugieser Chronograph
Everything about IWC’s Portugieser Chronograph in red gold is elegant. The Arabic numerals and dot dial markers? Elegant. The feuille hands? Elegant. The sub-dials at 12 and 6? Elegant. The red gold case, perfectly slim and quiet, despite its rich hue — do we really have to say it again?
Case Material: 18k red gold
Movement: IWC 79350 automatic
Baume & Mercier Clifton Baumatic Perpetual Calendar
Baume & Mercier’s Cliftons have graced several Gear Patrol lists of solid affordable watches. This year at SIHH, the brand released an upscale version of their Clifton Baumatic, a perpetual calendar watch in 18k red gold. $24k doesn’t sound like a deal, but many perpetual calendar watches cost much more. For those into the design language of the Baumatic, it’s a great red-gold horological nugget.
Case Material: 18k red gold
Movement: Automatic BM13-1975AC-1
Yes, this is in essence the famous Moonwatch. But life-saving utilitarianism be damned! We’ll take ours red gold on a red gold bracelet. (Please don’t wear it on the brown polyester.) Somebody tell Mr. Musk it’s the right color scheme for his Mars mission.
Case Material: Red gold
Movement: Caliber Omega 9301
White gold is made using nickel, palladium, and silver. Often, a rhodium plating is added to give the gold a purer white color, since white gold on its own retains a yellowish hue. In the right watch, it adds the value of a precious metal, but its visual similarities to stainless steel mean it doesn’t distract from superb dial and bezel design.
H. Moser Venturer Small Seconds in Purity Funky Blue
H. Moser & Cie. was re-established in 2002 after a hundred or so years of dormancy as a watchmaker. Today, the company is known for its spare dials and slightly funky takes on traditional watch styles. The Venturer Small Seconds is a combination of different styles that most watchmakers wouldn’t dare touch: it’s modern-meets-Bauhaus, with a dial that revisits the “convex forms of the 1960s.” That dial is in “Purity Funky Blue,” and threatens to steal the show from the 18k white gold case.
Case Material: 18k white gold
Movement: Hand-wound HMC 327
Rolex Pepsi GMT
The “Pepsi” bezel on the Rolex GMT is one of the most iconic looks in watches, which is why Rolex fans were so pumped when the brand brought the blue and red back in 2014. That time around, it was on white gold, rather than stainless steel. The downside: a price tag close to $40k. The upside: being a baller. In 2018, Rolex re-released the Pepsi GMT in stainless steel, to much joy. But the white gold version still holds a special place in our hearts.
Case Material: 18 carat white gold
Movement: Rolex caliber 3186
A. Lange & Sohne Datograph Reserve Perpetual Tourbillon
If the Saxonia Thin (see: the rose gold section) is Lange pared to perfection, the Datograph Reserve Perpetual Tourbillon is the German brand showing off. Lange released a version of this flyback chrono/perpetual calendar/moonphase/tourbillon beast in 2016 with a platinum case and black dial, but this one, with a white gold case and solid pink gold dial, gets our nod. If you’re going to spend a quarter million on a watch, doubling down on gold just seems the right thing to do.
Case Material: White gold
As Will Smith once asked, “Would you like to bounce with the brother that’s Platinum?” The answer, obviously, is yes. Why, Will? Because platinum combines the weight and value of a precious metal with the corrosion resistance of stainless steel. A commonly used platinum blend is “950,” which is 95% platinum and 5% alloy. It won’t tarnish or wear — but it will look awesome on the wrist.
AP Royal Oak Jumbo Ultra Thin
Yes, it was already on the list as a yellow gold option. Yes, it’s good enough in platinum to be on the list twice. The case and bracelet are actually made of titanium, with a platinum bezel and links. It’s the perfect combination of an ultralight material and a heavy one, both of which are tough and incredibly badass looking.
Case Material: Titanium (950 platinum bezel)
Movement: Self-winding calibre 2121
F.P. Journe Chronometre Souverain
Francoise-Paul Journe is part of an exclusive club of the best watchmakers in the world. He is a watchmaker’s watchmaker, and his company doesn’t concern itself much with clever marketing — he just makes incredible watches, and his Chronometre Souverain line is the crème de la crème. In platinum, with a white gold dial, it’s just about perfect. And since we’re gold-digging anyway, we should note: the movement is set in 18k rose gold, too.
Case Material: Platinum
Movement: Calibre 1304
Grand Seiko Eichi II
Grand Seiko is the revered high-end arm of Seiko. Since 1960, they’ve been making beautiful timepieces, each one touched only by a master watchmaker. The Eichi II, released in 2014, is unique among Grand Seikos, and not just because its case is pure platinum. Its milky dial is made of porcelain; its movement is the lauded Spring Drive; its dial markers are hand-painted and its hands are perfectly blued. Together, it’s so simplistic and beautiful that if you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might miss it.
Case Material: 950 platinum
Movement: Spring Drive Caliber 7R14
Urwerk UR-210 “Royal Hawk”
Two Swiss watchmaking industry veterans, Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei, started URWERK in 1997, and have been making avant garde haute horlogerie creations since. The UR-210 “Royal Hawk” features one of the duo’s innovative “satellite” displays, a three-pronged central assembly that rotates around the dial. Its case is made from a combination of platinum and titanium, with black DLC coating, which seems to negate the whole precious metal thing — but take one look and you’ll see this is all about defying expectations, anyway.
Case Material: Titanium and platinum
Movement: UR 7.10 self-winding
Diameter: 43.8mm x 53.6mm x 17.8mm