Vintage Bracelets — Part #1: Bonklip-style Will steel become your new leather? by Tomas Rosputinsky April 22, 2020 MIN READVintage Bracelets — Part #1: Bonklip-style
We kick-off our selection of the most interesting factory fit and aftermarket vintage bracelets with the legendary Bonklip-style bracelets.
I was never a bracelet guy. My Omega Speedmaster 60th LE was never fitted on the original bracelet it came with. I didn’t even bother to look at it properly. The first thing I did with my Breitling Chrono-Matic, Flyback Seiko 7016-8000 was to switch the original bracelet for some fine leather. It’s a habit that’s hard to kick.
My interest in steel was only sparked last year when I went to pick up my Mido Rainbow diver’s watch. It came on the often-hated Bonklip-style bracelet, sometimes referred to as “unwearable”. As I forgot to take a replacement strap when I picked the Mido up, I put the watch on with little enthusiasm. But as I traveled with the Bonklip on my wrist for the rest of the day, spending some quality time with it, I fell in love with it. Since then, the love has only grown. Consequently, I haven’t replaced it. My bracelet resistance felt disrupted, my interest in them catapulted.
The best vintage bracelets
There is one guy I follow on Instagram whose watches I’ve always liked. Honestly, I only paid attention to his watches. Since my Mido love affair began, I started to get more excited about the bracelets his watches came paired with. It was only then that I realized I’d never actually seen any of his watches fitted on a leather strap. We eventually became watch friends.
When I found out he has around 400 bracelets in his collection, I knew there could hardly be a better field guide.
When I found out he has around 400 bracelets in his collection, I knew there could hardly be a better field guide. I asked him if he would be willing to share the experience and knowledge that he gathered over the years with our Fratello readers. Excited that he said yes, we immediately embarked upon vivid discussions and started selecting the best vintage bracelets with a summary overview for shortlisted pieces.
Know your mentor
Heuer_Loon is a lawyer by day and collector by night. As a shining contrast to me, he doesn’t like leather straps. As he also doesn’t like Tropic straps. Unless he wears a dress watch (which he doesn’t often), a bracelet it is. While many of us spend hours searching for watches, Heuer_Loon spends his nights digging around for bracelets. “Bracelet or nothing,” to quote Heuer_Loon on how many leather straps he has. His passion started when he was hunting down original bracelets to watches he owns. Until he was able to land the desired original, he always bought some generic non-branded vintage bracelet that looked good enough. This is how Heuer_Loon amassed a stunning collection of bracelets of all types.
As Heuer_Loon says, “a bracelet doesn’t have to be expensive, it just needs to be of good quality and look great.” With that in mind, I put myself on a quest to hang out with Heuer_Loon on a series of video calls, digging through his collection and selecting bracelets that might please or surprise your eyes. Each presented contender will be introduced and ranked on multiple parameters. As Heuer_Loon can compare the wrist feeling in a way that only a few collectors can, he will spice up the reviews with his personal thoughts and insights.
My personal bracelet-fatale came to me on one of the most precious watches in my collection, a skin diver Mido ref. 5907 also called the Rainbow Diver. The Mido 5907 was part of the Ocean Star Series and was produced from 1959 until 1965. If you’ve ever seen the amazing set of concentric rings with decompression intervals, you’ve never questioned its Rainbow nickname. As weird as it may seem, the Bonklip-style bracelet was a factory fit for this watch. See the instruction manual.
Image Source: Norm Harris, www.alphahands.com
If I will ever have to explain to my now only babbling daughter what the words wonky and wobbly mean, the best thing I can do is to reach for the Rainbow Diver and show her the Bonklip bracelet. While you typically expect that a bracelet would evoke a feeling of strength and firmness, the Bonklip does the opposite. When removed from the watch head that makes sense of its existence, it looks more like a necklace than a watch bracelet.
A work of genius
Considering the Bonklip structure, the wobbly feeling comes as no surprise. It consists of two separate parts with a closed end-link. The bracelet doesn’t tapper and is 17.5 mm wide all the way along. Both parts are constructed of flat thin loops, connected via tubular links. One of the equally long parts slides into the other through a slightly bigger loop at the end. The smart T-shaped clasp that looks just like another link at first glance can be positioned along the entire wrist length. It can be tucked in between any of the two links along the entire, almost 13cm length. To give you an example, I usually tuck it to the very last link connection, just before the end-link. Pretty smart.
With Bonklip’s overall effective length up to 23cm, you can put on two of your favorite bomber jackets and wear any watch over-the-cuff Gianni Angelli style. I like to keep it close to my skin. The thin loops perfectly copy my wrist shape and it feels surprisingly light in comparison to other bracelets. It is also as comfortable as the finest leather straps. I keep it tucked in the last link connection with both parts running over each other. This definitely isn’t a heavy hair trimmer and visually it looks very decent with its low-lying profile. Even though I tuck the T-shaped clasp right under my nose, with no redundant metal sticking out, it seems seamless. When I turn my wrist around, with no “clasp-disturbing”, it almost looks as if I’m wearing an expandable bracelet.
US versus Britain
Bonklip style bracelets were first seen in the United States in the late 1920s. The bracelet was invented and advertised by a jewelry specialist from New Jersey, Walter M. Krementz. Unfortunately, the Krementz self-adjustable watchband was not so popular and turned out to be a commercial flop, also probably due to its higher price that was equivalent to a two-day salary back then. As history has shown time again, you don’t need to be the first to be successful. Bonklip achieved its cult status thanks to a British lighter manufacturer named Dudley Russel Howitt, who filed a patent on behalf of BH Britton and Sons, slightly later than Krementz. They out-sold Krementz big time, with the higher number of preserved Bonklips also indicative of the production ratio.
Bonklip becoming a legend
B.H. Britton and Sons produced Bonklip bracelets for over forty years and succeeded in making them popular. We can definitely consider it an innovative product, as it was one of the first relatively cheap watch bracelets to use stainless steel. They were in different widths and lengths and a vast majority of them were produced in steel. But you can also bump into solid 9 ct. gold or rarely into gold-filled versions. Even Rolex sold some watches with Bonklip bracelets during the 1930s and 1940s. The British Ministry of Defense issued Bonklip bracelets to the RAF aircrew in the 1950s and 1960s. You can find it fitted on some sought after IWC MK XI watches.
If you look at the clasp macro shot, there is no official stamp besides the Mido logo and production year
Obviously, after the B.H. Britton and Son’s patent expired in 1950, the Bonklip quickly became an object for copycats due to its success, even by producers such as Gay Freres. Coming back to the Bonklip-style bracelet fitted on my Mido Rainbow, if you look at the clasp macro shot, there is no official stamp besides Mido logo and production year. Norm Harris from Alphahands.com suggests that the missing G&F or Bonklip branding probably means that the Mido Bonklip-styled bracelet was made by a smaller, lesser-known manufacturer.
The Bonklip-styled Mido changed my opinion on bracelets. I have no urge to “de-bracelet” it from my watch anymore. Actually, I cannot imagine the Mido Rainbow on anything else besides the Bonklip bracelet. If it ever put it down and change it for a leather strap, I will only do so because even when tucking it to the max, it is still too loose for my wife. But as I am already hooked, I’m afraid I will just change it for another, shorter Bonklip instead so that she can enjoy the true Mido Rainbow wear.
“Like you, I also had my first-hand experience when I landed a Mido 5907 Diver myself. The watch came head-only so the first bracelet I sourced for it was a Bonlkip. When the bracelet arrived, I was impressed with its quality and construction. My only nag with the bracelet is the closing mechanism. It’s too fiddly!”
Image: Norm Harris, www.alphahands.com Source: https://www.mwrforum.net/forums/showthread.php?44595-Bonklip-Bracelet-%96-A-Few-Questions%85 Source: birthyearwatches.com
Manufacturers: B.H. Britton and Son's, G&F, Clewco, ZRCProduction years: 1930 – 1960Materials: Steel, Gold, Gold-platedFinish: Polished and satin (dependant on bracelet)End-links width: varies with bracelet Other markings: Bonklip or brand specific markingsPrice range: $150 upwardsFunfacts: For 18mm lugs use a 17mm version that actually measures 17.5mm due to the English measuring system Watch of the Week
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About the author
During the day time, Tomas is an entrepreneur in the advertising, automotive and IT software industries. At night he turns into a watch enthusiast searching for quirky movements or vintage pieces with strong stories behind. Tomas was born and bred… read more
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