3 of the best beads-of-rice bracelets on the market and the differences between themThor Svaboe
The beads-of-rice bracelet, a bracelet design only a few years ago lost to the winds of time — a memory of stretched-out and rattly bracelets on a well-worn 35mm vintage gents watch. Or the mythical Gay Frères kind, one of the most sought-after. I’m embarrassed to admit that I once threw one in the trash, short of knowledge. As with many details of horological nature, the BOR bracelet has again come full circle, but tighter of tolerance, with a solid feel and on the cusp of becoming ubiquitous. If your memory is of the charmingly loose and jangly feeling of your granddad’s 1965 watch, you will not be ready for the solidity of BOR, version 2020. But what are the best beads-of-rice bracelets? We rate three of the best, from popular to quirky, with the most hi-tech version not on the watch you’d expect, proving that there are beads-of-rice for every taste.
The bold beads – DOXA SUB 200
DOXA, for many is The Dive Watch, forever associated with the books of Clive Cussler, the iconic Jacques-Yves Cousteau and the huge popularity of scuba diving in the ’60s and ’70s. DOXA have a strong following in the watch community with their pitch-perfect reissues, including a solid gold SUB 300T with a solid gold beads-of-rice bracelet, which we’ll save for another time. But here is their colourful bestseller DOXA SUB 200, a sharp move by DOXA with all the right period cues, well priced, without being a reissue.
Its 42mm diameter seems almost large in 2020, but is made to wear two sizes down thanks to what is just as important as the diameter: the short lug-to-lug length of 45mm. This is the first spot where we see the benefits of the pliant nature of the bracelet. The SUB 200 has the particular detail of the shortest end link I’ve seen on a BOR, and thus being the starting point for comfort. From some angles, the stubby end link looks too short, but it makes up for it in function.
Many short-lugged watches have their comfortable size negated by the fixed end link sticking out further than the actual lug, but in this case the pivot point for the first middle link is exactly where it should be, inside the tip of the lug.
The end link itself has a one-piece design, echoing the classic bracelet, which has delicate brushing on the two outer links, and the typical five staggered small polished links in the middle, well rounded, hence the “beads-of-rice” moniker. This means that the famously soft drape of a BOR bracelet starts from inside the lug tip, shaping itself to the wrist and giving the DOXA a one-size-fits-all comfort.
From here, the design of the bracelet is classic: carefully brushed and rounded-off outer links in steel with a polished outer edge, and the 3 + 2 rows of beads in the centre creating a strong visual impact, dressing up a diver’s tool. All the links are solid, and if you turn the bracelet around, you see the solidity of the design. The rear is uniform, like a normal steel bracelet, with the beads having a concave brushed underside like the outer links. The dual finishing of the central beads is a more complex design, but increasing the solid feeling and comfort from the uniform surface touching the skin. You will find a very similar design on the Captain Cook 42mm by Rado, and the popular microbrand Baltic with their Aquascaphe. The DOXA sits at a superb value point between the two.
It may seem like cheating the consumer with just a polished front to the beads, but the more complex shape also creates a tighter tolerance for the bracelet base, making it more solid. You only have to try on a random example of the ’60s inspiration to see why the standards of today have necessitated the top/base finishing difference. On one of the legendary comfy BOR bracelets of the ’60s and ’70s, the centre beads would have been hollow, rounded 360 degrees and with a considerable feeling of play, making it rather rattly if you, like me, enjoy your bracelet fit loose, and keeping it quiet meant resorting to wrist-strangling tightness. Yes, we are spoiled, and the modern beads-of-rice bracelet is a way of having your proverbial vintage cake and eating it, as with domed sapphire crystals and COSC movements with weekend-long power reserves.
The quirky beads – Grand Seiko SBGW235
The Grand Seiko SBGW235 represents a perfect mix of dressy and quirky — in a distinctly Japanese way — with one of the best beads-of-rice bracelets on the market and a perfect 37mm size. I could just end there. This is a watch that has beguiled me ever since it caught me off guard on Instagram, with that oh-so-perfect cream dial. Today the bracelet is where our focus lies, though the magical dial is trying to distract me. This is an exceedingly rare BOR bracelet from Grand Seiko, and is infused with a different spirit, a distinctly Japanese twist. As all beads-of-rice bracelets, it starts with a stylised end link mimicking the shapes of the bracelet, inspired by European beads-of-rice bracelets, but somehow more delicate. The pivot point and soft embrace of the wrist is just as brilliant as the others, but the devil is in the detail. The outer links are quite broad and, as usual, polished on the outer edge.
Interestingly, they are also endowed with an inner polished lip, acting as a frame on either side of the bead rows. The brushing of the steel is silky in its texture and uniform, as though each tiny striation has been made separately with a microscopic ruler. GS craftsmanship never disappoints. You wouldn’t expect otherwise, but the central beads are polished to perfection, are slightly elongated and kept to only three rows, instead of the normal five, with some flexibility. This is in keeping with what is one of Grand Seiko’s purest and more circular case shapes – and they know very well when three beads are enough, yet deserve to be framed beautifully. The links are solid throughout, with the bracelet having a a slim tapered form suited to the slim 37mm case of the SBGW235. I am sure you have been beaten around the head with the term Zaratsu, but it never gets tiring or old – not when you have the watch in your hand and get lost in a single 2mm bevelled edge. There is a calm simplicity in the language it speaks. A serenity of line and form that outshines most things this side of the Queen’s Crown Jewels, but in an understated way.
Beads-of-rice meets contemporary metallurgy – Montblanc 1858 Geosphere Blue
This is the wonderfully and slightly whimsical ’40s style design of the Montblanc Geosphere, with an intriguing dial that is filled with detail and function – busy and fascinating. This is probably the watch here with the most traditional and nostalgic looks, yet it is made from the hi-tech tool watch mix of steel and titanium. The bracelet is not what it seems at first sight, which is nicely brushed outer links and five rows of beads … so far, so same. Unless you notice the stronger colour difference in the bracelet – beads vs outer links. The difference will always be there, but here it’s more pronounced, and the brushed outer links seem darker in hue. Montblanc has made this exploration companion of a watch in titanium, and the bracelet is a hi-tech marriage of steel and titanium, for strength and lightness. Easily the most technical iteration of this bracelet style in production today, so light and comfortable — I seriously recommend you try it on, as it will confound you.
The quality is everything we would expect from Montblanc, with delicate rounded edges of each brushed titanium link, and a comfortable and dressy polished roundness to the staggered rows of five rice beads, here being even more noticeable with the darker side links. Then we have the weight: this is a 42mm watch with a 12.8mm thickness, so it’s the largest in this compilation, yet very light. The traditional style case is also grade 5 titanium, strong yet light and expected in a watch of cutting-edge modern lines, yet here it is framing a nostalgic view of world exploration. So, we have an intriguing mix of tradition and hi-tech metallurgy, with the Montblanc manufacture movement MB 29.25 having a world time complication and decent 42 hours of power reserve. The Geosphere wants you to go forth and explore, and even climb the Seven Summits, the world’s most famous peaks.
The two hemispheres rotate and have 24-hour indications, though you won’t be able to check that at a glance. A 12-hour register at 9 o’clock marks a second time zone, and the entire dial comes unexpectedly to life in the dark. With the vintage world explorer theme, you are caught completely off guard by the fact that almost all functional aspects of the dial are lumed, including the two hemispheres and compass bezel. So far, so surprised … an unexpected luminescent midnight party, confusing the brain with pure tradition lumed up to the max, and hi-tech beads-of-rice soft on the wrist.