Oh My God, The Two-Tone Watch Is Coming Back

Walk around any major city and you’ll see an entirely new and utterly baffling phenomenon: the person, usually male but occasionally on the distaff side, wearing a FitBit or other heart-rate tracker on one arm and a watch on the other. Why would anybody bother to do this? After all, virtually every fitness tracker you can buy has a perfectly accurate, maintenance-free digital watch built in — and don’t forget that the average Westerner in 2017 spends half their life looking at their phone, which has a satellite-synchronized clock built right into it. Why are people carrying around three watches when surely they only need one?

The answer is simple even if it’s a bit embarrassing. If you grew up in the WASP tradition or any social circle remotely affiliated with it, you know that there are only two acceptable items of jewelry that a man can wear. The first is his wedding ring. The second is a wristwatch. That’s it, period, point blank. The H1-B crowd at my job all wear a gold necklace with some kind of gold charm on it, my old mentor used to wear gold rings and ropes to match his velour tracksuits, and the Eurotrash-Brit types I just did a couple of features with over in Europe all wear multiple precious-metal and corded bracelets like high school girls who got a $500 gift certificate to the local Pandora at their sweet sixteen party, but the people who have the United States Of America don’t get to wear that stuff. They get a ring and a watch. Period.

Once Hans Wilsdorf created the marketing miracle known as Rolex, the eighteen-karat yellow-gold Datejust or Day-Date became a universally-recognized symbol of success. In no time at all, the world learned a new kind of value language. A stainless-steel Rolex was the equivalent of driving a Buick; it meant that you had enough money to spend on luxuries. The gold Rolex was a Cadillac-like statement of fiscal exuberance. After the excess of the Eighties died down, many people put their gold watches away because they didn’t like the way other people interpreted that particular social signal. It didn’t help that the stainless-steel Daytona became an absolute icon both of motorsport and of sporting watches after Paul Newman was spotted wearing one. For many years, the gold Rolex was more of a punchline or a stereotype than anything else, associated with oil money, crime money, and new money.

Our modern Gilded Age hasn’t yet done much to change that. It’s still not really acceptable for a WASP to wear a gold watch. To accommodate the need of our imperial plutocracy to spend more money, Rolex now offers some of their watches in white gold and/or platinum. (The new white-gold GMT-Master II is the hottest thing out there for people who can put the cash equivalent of an Accord V6 Coupe into a watch.) Yet the company has nontrivial economic reasons to get people interested in gold watches once more. There’s about 2.5 ounces of gold in a gold Rolex, roughly $3,200 in today’s money, but the markup between a stainless steel GMT-Master and an 18k yellow gold GMT-Master is a staggering $15,200. With twelve grand here and twelve grand there in a company that can easily make, and sell, a million watches per year — well, pretty soon that’s real money.

As a consequence, there’s an odd new marketing program at Rolex which might lead to a chance for you, the average watch-wearing typa dude, to make money on your next watch instead of losing it.


Rolex has offered two-tone (steel and yellow 18k gold) variants of its core watch line since the early Fifties. The earliest watches used hollow links and relatively small bezels for maybe half an ounce total, where some of the larger modern watches supposedly contain up an ounce and a half. Still, we’re talking under $2,000 worth of gold at today’s prices. The retail price of a two-tone GMT-Master II is $13,000 against the $8,950 of a stainless steel model, so that’s well over $2k worth of additional profit.

Rolex, like Ferrari, has seen its dealers snapping up profit that it would like to keep for itself, most notably in the case of stainless-steel Daytonas which can command a five-thousand-dollar markup. There are all sorts of ways to deal with this markup problem, from increasing supply to just flat-out raising the retail price to account for it, but Rolex has chosen to dip into its history books and come up with a truly unique solution.

This year’s Daytona winners, including our AER teammate Jesse Lazare, got a two-tone Daytona. This breaks the link between the race win and the “plain” stainless-steel Daytona. If you want a watch like the one Jesse has, it will cost you $16,900 against the $12,400 of the stainless steel model. That’s no coincidence, as pre-owned stainless Daytonas are currently commanding around $17k. So Rolex has done a very tricky thing here. For the same price as a pre-owned stainless model, you can get the new race-winner model. All the retail prices stay the same. But the net effect will be to increase Rolex profit at the expense of the speculators, hoarders, and resellers.

What makes this a big deal? Well, two-tone watches have long had a lousy reputation in the Rolex resale market. They’re seen as a halfway point between the unmistakable luxury message of a solid gold Rolex and the everyday/WASPy/sporting message of a steel watch. To put it not so kindly, a gold Rolex says that you can afford a gold Rolex, and a steel Rolex says that maybe you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a gold watch, but a two-tone Rolex suggests that you really want the tacky-ass gold one but you can’t quite afford it. You’re trashy and poor.

Generally speaking, used two-tone Rolexes are cheaper than their steel equivalents. That’s a shame for a couple of reasons. The first is that the watches are nice-looking if you can get around the sociological implications. The second reason is that any gold you see on a Rolex is always real gold, not gold plate or gold fill. In fact, Rolexes have gold in places you don’t even suspect, including the hands which are always white or yellow gold even on a steel watch. So there’s nothing fake or unnecessary about a gold Rolex, even a two-tone gold Rolex.

It remains to be seen if the market will accept this push back to two-tone in core Rolex models like the Daytona, Submariner, and GMT-Master. But if the following is any indication, I think it’s going to work:

Those of you who follow my Instagram know that I bought myself a Tudor Black Bay Bronze while I was overseas. I’ve been interested in the watch for a while and trust me, Europe is a better place to buy them than here. (Amazingly, the customs inspector in New York didn’t tax me for it even though I declared it and showed it to him. Something to think about next time you’re considering not declaring an overseas purchase.) The Black Bay is the perfect “Rolex” for me; I’m a little diffident about wearing a Rolex-branded watch in public and there’s no bronze Submariner to be had anyway. If people see it and think it’s a fake Sub, I don’t care. (If there is anybody who has gotten this far in the article without knowing what relationship Tudor and Rolex have, well, it’s like Cadillac and Chevrolet.)

Anyway, Tudor now has the Black Bay S&G, for “stainless and gold”. It’s remarkably attractive and the markup is minimal — about $1,000 over the stainless Black Bay. In this case, however, the gold isn’t solid gold — it’s a capped layer on the stainless. It probably won’t matter; this is likely to be a hugely popular watch.

So what does all that mean for the casual watch collector? Only this: if you’ve ever wanted a two-tone Rolex, now is the time to buy. I suspect that if you buy right now, you’ll be able to get your money back in two or three years when two-tone is all the rage on Wall Street and everywhere else. You might even be in the enviable position currently held by “Kermit” Submariner owners, who have been able to sell their watches for above purchase price for nearly half a decade now in a fad that shows no signs of slowing down. Take it from me: two-tone is the future. Even if you don’t like it. After all, if you can only wear two pieces of jewelry, and you can really only do something interesting with one of those two pieces, why not add a little bling?

32 Replies to “Oh My God, The Two-Tone Watch Is Coming Back”

  1. Tomko

    I wear a two-tone GMT Master II and a two-tone Tudor Prince Quartz.

    Does that make me cheap or ahead of the curve?

    Reply
  2. Jeff Zekas

    Jack, great watch buying advice. Question: is the Tudor Black Bay Bronze cheaper overseas? According to online ads, they sell for $2,695 at Jomashop here in the states.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      That’s the plain Black Bay — the Bronze is $3,595 at Jomashop which is the lowest price I’ve seen on these shores. I paid 2,200 GBP/UKP.

      Reply
  3. Sightline

    I never realized 2-tones were coming back into style. It can be hard to pull off, although I admit I sported a Seiko Kinetic 2-tone back in the day (8th grade graduation present, wore it until my first job). I also admit to being one of those that finds a gold Rolex too flashy in a very old-school sort of way – but I really like the kind of thing where most people don’t know they’re looking at something nice.

    So I’m the worst kind of hipster elitist. Ask me about my air-cooled Porsche.

    I’ve been looking for something to supplement my Seamaster. Was thinking about a non-fluted Datejust with a leather or canvas strap, maybe a nice vintage one. I really want a dual time watch but I find a GMT-master or Explorer II trying too hard (I’m not scaling the Andes), the Co-axial GMT’s and Navitmier’s too big, eh…

    Reply
  4. David Walton

    Jack,

    Winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans also receive a Rolex Daytona; this year they received a stainless steel black face Daytona with ceramic bezel – the 116500LN. MSRP $12,400 as the article states.

    The rumor post-Rolex 24 at Daytona was that Rolex had awarded the two-tone watch because (1) the stainless model was in short supply, and (2) Rolex sought to promote the more expensive two-tone model.

    In the past, winners of the Grand-Am championship – of which Rolex was the title sponsor – received two-tone watches, whereas the traditional Rolex 24 at Daytona victory watch has always been the stainless, entry-level model.

    Reply
  5. Dave L

    Jack, I don’t believe TT is making a comeback. Things like TT watches and our hair in high school should stay in the 80’s. SS sport watches are, if possible, becoming more popular-Subs, Royal Oaks, and “Nautili” all move at retail. Glad you’re enjoying the BB Bronze! I can’t pull off a 43mm watch with those lugs, but would if I could. That movement has several improvements over the soon to be replaced Rolex 3135. The incredible relaunch of Tudor in the US should be studied in business schools!

    Reply
  6. -Nate-Nate

    Glad I got a ride back to the crash site and found my old $5 Waltham wrist watch ticking merrily away in the scrub, I had a watch store replace both band pins (one broke, t’other was bent in the crash) and lo ! it still works just fine and who’d ever steal a $5 watch ? .

    I also discovered my $4,700.00 (gasp) hearing aid in the oily sand, had them both serviced for $30 including new batteries and wait ~ you were talking about $2K + of gold in a wrist watch, why ? .

    -Nate

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Ah, but a better question is why they charge so much for a hearing aid when it doesn’t contain anything but plastic and some wiring!

      Reply
      • -Nate-Nate

        No kidding Jack ! .

        I’ve had several over the years and my favorite ones were only a couple hundred bucks but they age out after a time, I had them re cased and they still died of old age .

        BTW: the answer to your question is : greed and avarice .

        -Nate

        Reply
        • Noman

          I find the entry by in-ear monitor companies into the hearing-aid alternative market to be interesting, although I haven’t followed them closely. An IEM is half a hearing aid, anyway, sold to people who can afford to be picky. I think one IEM company sells a hearing test that plugs into your PC–the whole medical audiology system just seems ridiculously inefficient. Why do you have to pay someone several hundred dollars to write down that you pushed a button, or not, in an official, hospital hearing test? But the medical devices–unlike the IEM alternatives–are designed not to be user serviceable. You pay $5k, and you’re not allowed to touch the EQ…

          Reply
  7. niclas

    The watch reminds me of a nicely worn black paint Leica. There’s a lot of similarities with mechanical watches and Leicas, partly from a mechanical point of view but also in how they are valued; both have gone from mostly being perceived as antique relics to some kind of gods of mechanical perfection to be worshipped. No question a modern digital equivalent is objectively superior in both cases far as function goes, but Something’s missing.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that during the last decade or so there has been increased interest in things mechanical, be it watches, cameras, cars, or vinyl. It’s gone a bit too far, to be honest, just look at air-cooled 911’s or some Leica gear like the Noctilux. Though unlike an air-cooled 911 at least you can buy a new fully mechanical Leica, If you’re willing to spend 7-15k on a body + lens.

    Also you might have made a tiny oopsie in this sentence, “I’m a little diffident about wearing a Rolex-branded in public “. Just Rolex or Rolex-branded watch, I would think. Or “a” changed to “something”. Although you could change “wearing a” to “being”, which would imply that there’s some lunatic out there running around with a glowing Rolex-shaped branding iron, and you’re a little hesitant to meet the guy.

    Reply
  8. hank chinaski

    https://youtu.be/6xRAonLQxO8?t=1431
    A convergence of a Rolex and a Ferrari, and perhaps a purple velour tracksuit top.

    It’s a shame that heavy bejeweled school rings went out, having at least stood for a major accomplishment in a man’s life. They seem to now only make appearances in film to indicate a character’s military academy history.

    Reply
  9. Will

    Meh. If I’m buying a jewelry piece that happens to be a watch, I’d rather these:

    https://www.1stdibs.com/jewelry/watches/wrist-watches/buccellati-white-gold-audachron-power-reserve-automatic-wristwatch/id-j_2020993/

    http://www.cartier.com/en-us/collections/watches/mens-watches/rotonde-de-cartier/w1556240-rotonde-de-cartier-watch,-large-date,-retrograde-second-time-zone-and-day-night-indicator.html

    If a civil war breaks out and I need my life saved, then I’d wish I had a rolex, otherwise, they’re meh. And true wealth doesn’t have Rolex’s, too gaudy. 😀

    Reply
    • Disinterested-Observer

      My dad gave me his, small, stainless Rolex. I don’t know what the model is but I know it was the least expensive one you could buy in the mid-1980s. At the time the ubiquitous Taliban graduation present didn’t exist yet, so people in his line of work bought them both for their accuracy and the fact that they were actually waterproof, which was extremely difficult to find back then. Between the Timex and the $3 LED flashlights at the checkout line camping has gotten a lot easier than it was when I was young.

      Reply
        • Will

          Rolex’s, typically, are gaudy, which is why the more expensive the watch, the more likely it has a leather strap and not a bracelet. The leather strap makes it look less expensive, when in reality, the watch can be $250K. Yes they are built like tanks, but they are not complicated as watches, especially what you can get in place of them. They are built for mass luxury and typically worn by “new money”; while “old money” has them, they rarely wear them. The perception of Rolex far outpaces the actual value as a watch and its usefulness; you can find better watches for less money than a Rolex.

          Their longterm value is exceptional and should be something you buy as an investment or currency before all is lost. I used to be a buyer for luxury goods store and knew of one customer that always bought one when he went on trips to Africa or Asia (he was in the CIA at the time) because they have always saved his life countless times. More valuable then cash.

          I guess I’m rambling too, but watches are certainly jewelry and for the price of a Rolex, there are far better options.

          Reply
  10. Nostrathomas

    The problem with trying to catch trends with watches, is that even if you time it right, that trend will eventually die out as all trends do. And you’re left with an expensive embarrassment that you either hide or sell.

    Maybe because I just don’t have enough disposable income to think otherwise, but I think for most people buying something like a Rolex should be looked at as a 20+ year purchase. A nice stainless Datejust, Sub or Explorer 1 may never be the hottest shit in watch circles or Wall Street (where let’s face it, if you want to stand out you’re looking beyond Rolex anyway), but it will also never be a punch line, and it will aways get respect.

    It’s partly why my main watch is a basic stainless Speedmaster, instead of a special edition with Snoopy on the face.

    Maybe I’m an old soul in a 30-something body, but there is still something to be said for understated taste. Despite also being two-tone, that Tudor has much more of it than that Daytona ever will.

    Reply
  11. sabotenfighter

    I don’t wear watches (stupid borderline “millennial” here, but mostly its my wimpy wrists), but that Black Bay Bronze is really something.

    Reply
  12. Tony LaHood

    Rolex watches never did a thing for me. My daily driver is a 1961 Accutron 214 Spaceview, which I love because most people assume it’s a Swatch.

    Reply
    • Nick D

      I’ve got a 1963 Accutron space view that’s in for restoration right now (h/t to Ronnie for the lead). It’s a ‘real’ space view to boot.

      I love it and get tons of questions about how it works.

      Reply
          • tresmonos

            Even if they’re fake, they’re still beautiful.

            I’d rock a fake Spaceview no shame. I just don’t want to pay full price for it. I believe some of the movements are made in the states, as well (correct me if I’m wrong).

  13. fvfvsix

    “If there is anybody who has gotten this far in the article without knowing what relationship Tudor and Rolex have, well, it’s like Cadillac and Chevrolet.”

    Well, to paraphrase Snoop Pearson, ..he mean Lexus (and Toyota), but he don’t know it…

    Love the Black Bay though, but I don’t think I have the wrist for it. If they had just shortened the lug-to-lug by a millimeter or so, it would have been fantastic for me.

    Reply
  14. tresmonos

    I wear a watch because digging my phone out of my pocket with my greasy mitts during a plant breakdown will result in a phone douching later. That and it’s not always convenient to grab it.

    Keep track of how long I’m down when every minute of my line equates to $300 in pure profit is important. I won’t trust that to some Chinese or Swiss made piece of garbage, even if my accuracy is off by 3-4% and I have to manually wind the God damned thing.

    Your Tudor is nice, but your Weiss is what God intended to be on every American man’s wrist. I hope that Cameron is still cranking out USA made time pieces by the time I can financially recover from my Made in America House renovation that is absolutely making my bank account dry up.

    Reply
  15. Wulfgar

    I hope not. Was seriously digging on a stainless Daytona a few years ago but the markup and impending job changes changed my mind. My 1972 Heuer Monaco does it for me when I feel the need to wear something special. She ain’t much but she’s paid for.

    Reply
  16. stuntmonkey

    Coming from the larger Cantonese/HK Chinese community, the unfortunate trend of the two-tone Datejust never really died out. Big house, Mercedes and a TT Jublee bracelet Datejust are pretty much the stereotypical uniforms of the plebian-rich. Very rarely, sometimes you’ll see a younger professional guy from a westernized family who rejects all that and goes for understated (and more masculine-looking) steel with oyster bracelet, but that’s almost always a deliberate choice it seems.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *