If there’s a sticking point with modern watch design, it’s that watchmakers play it annoyingly safe when it comes to the dial. Maybe you’ll be given the option for blue or slate gray, and, just maybe, you’ll be given some brushing or texturing. But that’s usually it. Too often it’s rather ho-hum, usually a plain field of white or black.
There are, however, some watchmakers out there that are eschewing that rhetoric to brilliant effect. While they aren’t particularly common, they seem to defy standard industry convention by offering unique textures, patterns and colors — proof that experimentation can yield utterly jaw-dropping results. Here are five examples.
Seiko Presage SRPC01J1
Since bringing its cult favorite Cocktail Time to the U.S., Seiko has expanded on the model with new, breathtaking dial variants. This SRPC01J1 “Starlight” takes the original watch’s movement, case and box crystal and pairs them with a new, midnight blue sunburst dial. Of course, blue dials are nothing extraordinary on their own, but Seiko finished it with scores of tiny, imperfect etchings that give it the surface a textural effect not dissimilar to washi paper — an almost nebulous, spacey appearance.
Rado True Face Automatic
Though overlooked, Rado makes some distinctive timepieces that often utilize norm-challenging materials and designs. This True Face is a great example. For starters, it has a ceramic case and braceletl ,which is mostly unheard of for a mechanical watch in this price range. But more interesting is its dial — the work of Polish architect Oskar Zieta — a concave piece of stainless steel, polished to a near-mirror finish. The reflective surface not only plays with light in a trippy way, it reveals the rose gold undersides of the matte gray hour and minute hands, adding an unexpected dimension to this seemingly minimal watch.
Nomos Metro Neomatik 39 Silvercut
While Nomos’ core lineup of watches hasn’t changed dramatically since, well, ever, the brand has found a lot of success by gently tweaking and adding new dial designs and configurations to its timepieces. Being careful not to stray too far from the Bauhaus-inspired minimalism that made Nomos such an instant hit, those additions are carefully considered though ultimately eye-popping — such is the case with “Silvercut” version of the brand’s Metro. The dial is rhodium-plated with a pronounced, horizontally brushed finish that gives it an industrial look that’s equal parts raw and refined. Naturally, as with many of its watches, Nomos finished the watch off with subtle colorful accents in the form of a red seconds hand and red hour markers at three, nine and 12 o’clock.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Date
While many watch companies look to past designs for modern inspiration, Jaeger-LeCoultre brought back a once-common dial design: the sector dial. Named for its concentric circles separated into segments by elongated hour markers, the sector dial is nowadays terribly obscure. Bringing it back a vintage design scheme is one thing, but JLC put extra effort into making sure this design would fully pop. That’s achieved mainly through the central ring on the dial, finished in a brushed silver hue that’s accented perfectly by its cream-colored surroundings. As a final, super subtle touch, the otherwise black minute track has light blue markers at every hour.
Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda 1950 “Blue Abyss”
Parmigiani isn’t the only brand to do a dial made from a meteorite (other high-end marques like Omega and Jaeger-LeCoultre have used it, too), but this might be the most impressive. The dial on this Tonda started life as a small piece of meteorite and after being treated with several acid baths, the rock shows its unique crystalline structure (caused by the extreme temperature change from entering Earth’s atmosphere). The then receives a blue coating that seems to shift from blue to black to purple depending on the light.