Not since the quartz fashion-watch era, with its dearth of mechanical movements to scrutinize, have discussions about dial colors so preoccupied the collector community. Dial color was the essence of the fashion watch, and luxury brands, in order to differentiate their more serious, elegant mechanical creations, reintroduced mechanical watchmaking to the world with mostly buttoned-down white or off-white dials. It took some time to return to the color wheel, but watchmakers are now confidently applying color to the dial, making it once again a topic worthy of discussion. The trends have come in waves. Blue dials were on top about five years ago, and few brands missed the bandwagon. Then came green, peaking with the headline-grabbing, olive-dialed Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1A-014. And as dressier vintage styles have gained strength, the explosion of salmon dials is a fresh phenomenon.
But it was really black that kicked off the departure from white and cream dials on mechanical watches. As designs got more daring in the aughts and 2010s, models with blackened cases and dials represented the more experimental, risqué side of mechanical watchmaking. The look was sporty, edgy, and kind of badass. A black dial made a chronograph look sportier, and it infused an openworked dial with a high-end steampunk look.
While it will never be a dainty color, black has evolved from rakish and edgy to refined and elegant—which takes it closer to its origins as a popular classic dial color in the 1950s and ’60s. Like salmon, it is now often applied to special editions that are likely to become collectible, with auction catalog descriptions that include phrases like “rare black dial version..” Combined with gold hands and markers, a black dial can look downright stately. Here are five watches with daring, yet elegant, darkened dials.
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Chopard Mille Miglia GTS Power Control Bamford Edition Desert Racer
This 50-piece edition is Chopard’s second collaboration with Bamford, distinguished from other, more conventional Mille Miglia editions by its bead-blasted titanium case and black dial with orange highlights—including a fuel-gauge-style power reserve indicator. Even the Super-LumiNova is black. The model is road tested, having been worn by George Bamford in the recent National Off-Road Racing Association race in northern Mexico. $10,400
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Music
The high-tech black ceramic case of this updated urban classic is matched by a black tapisserie dial tinged with colors in a pattern that resembles an equalizer. The music motif extends to knurled-textured studs reminiscent of jack plugs and crown guards inspired by the fader on mixing consoles. The mosaic motif on the black rubber strap matches the tapisserie pattern on the dial. It can be swapped out for turquoise, yellow, or green versions. $42,200
Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Chronograph Calendar
The black and red color scheme here adds a dramatic twist to this classic dial architecture, from this most traditional of watchmakers. It is particularly dramatic contrasted with the pink gold case, hands, and markers. It was inspired by the brand’s emblematic round watches of the 1950s and ’60s, including the Memovox and Futurematic. It comes on a black alligator strap. $32,500
IWC Big Pilot Lake Tahoe Perpetual Calendar
The Lake Tahoe Top Gun is part of a series inspired by military colors. Lake Tahoe is a training area near Lake Tahoe where the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program (known as Top Gun) conducts winter training in the snowy mountains around the lake. The black dial and white ceramic case make for a dramatic combo. This is surely one of the very few, if not the only perpetual calendar on the market with a tiny fighter plane motif on the dial. $40,900
Omega Moonswatch Mission To The Moon Strawberry Moon
This wild combination of concepts pairs Omega’s proprietary moonshine gold (applied to the seconds hand) with a quartz movement and bioceramic case more akin to its more affordable sister brand Swatch. It is an ode to the so-called strawberry moon, which seems red shining against a dark blue sky and coincides with strawberry season. (The seconds hands are produced only during full moon dates). This watch is not priced in the luxury range, but as a hard-to-get rarity and a sure collector’s piece it’s a must-have. $300