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5 Watches That Prove Black Dials Are Anything But Basic, From IWC to Audemars Piguet

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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