It's often said that a person's eyes are the window to their soul, and in horology, the same can be said for the dial on a watch. Containing the vast majority of a timepiece's functionality, dials are inherently important to the wearer and thus need to remain utilitarian, or so you would imagine. While watchmakers certainly do their best to retain the functionality of a watch through its dial, over the decades watchmakers have also used a near-countless number of dial types and designs to bring uniqueness to their timepieces and create aesthetic-looking watches that are interesting to look at and fun to use. Today we will examine seven different watch dials and explain what makes a dial fall within a particular category.
Famed for their prevalence in vintage timepieces such as mid-century dress watches, crosshair dials are relatively simple to break down, as their name is a dead giveaway. Typically a crosshair dial will feature vertical and horizontal lines that interest in its center. These two lines form a crosshair that can be of any thickness and length. Some watches feature thick crosshairs that span the entire dial, while others can feature thin crosshairs that stop short of the dial periphery, or a mix of either, i.e., thick and short, etc.
Functional in that they break the dial into four 15-minute sections for greater legibility, crosshair dials are a family within the greater sphere of sector dials. These will typically feature segmented designs whereby different lines are used to break the dial into any number of parts – typically up to twelve, one for every hour.
Popularized by Panerai in the mid-century, California dials are one of the most unique forms of watch dials within horology due to their ambiguous history and unmistakable design. While many theories exist that detail why California dials are known as they are, their design is one thing that is set in stone, a split dial with one half featuring Arabic numerals and the other featuring Roman numerals.
Typically Roman numerals will occupy 10 to 2 o'clock on the dial, while 8 to 4 o'clock feature Arabic numerals. These numerals are also usually punctuated with some neutral indices at the 3, 6, 9, and 12 positions, but that is not always the case. With their rich history, link to diving, and famed ambassador in Panerai, California dials make up some of the most cherished watch dials in watchmaking.
Typically reserved for vintage watches, gilt watch dials are famed for their golden luster. While some modern brands create gilt dial look-a-likes, much like the black dial Tudor BB58, genuine examples are exceptionally rare and usually vintage in nature – such as on some examples of the Rolex Submariner. Made with gold leaf or paint, gilt timepieces feature gold inscriptions and hour markers that are usually set on black dials to create an aesthetic that can only be described as pure luxury. With its golden era spanning the 1960s and 1970s, genuine gilt watch dials are not often seen in the wild anymore, but with their revered position within watchmaking, they are worth knowing about.
Perhaps one of the most ubiquitous watch dials in existence is the guilloche dial. A rather wide-ranging type of dial, guilloche dials feature engraved patterns that are typically used to catch light on the dial in a certain way that a flat dial would fail to emulate. Created by a process called engine turning, some guilloche watch dials can feature incredibly intricate patterns depending on the machine used. However, with the advent of modern watchmaking, what was once only achieved by handcrafting, guilloche dials are rather common, and only high-end brands retain the use of laboriously hand-turning dials in machines to create a guilloche dial.
While Tapisserie dials are technically a form of guilloche, Tapisserie is best-known as the watch dial of choice in the legendary Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and Royal Oak Offshore. Available in various sizes from Petite Tapissere to Grande and Mega, with each size featuring larger pyramids than the last, AP's Tapisserie dials are famed for their iconic aesthetic and unrivaled beauty. Created by hand, these are available in a wide range of colors and make up some of the best-looking watch dials on the market. They definitely deserve their own segment.
Beyond the types of watch dials that can be created by a watchmaker, there are also some types of watch dials that can only be achieved by nature, and kicking things off is the stone watch dial. While there are also porcelain dials, wooden dials, mother of pearl dials, and so on, stone dials are perhaps the most wide-ranging and, therefore, the most deserving of a mention. Available across any number of semi-precious gemstones like Lapis Lazuli, rubellite, Onyx, and so on, stone dials are renowned for always being one of one, stunning, fragile, and very expensive.
Often exceedingly rare and only offered by brands on their high-end offerings like Rolex and their Day-Date, stone dials are some of the most important, interesting, and intensely beautiful watch dials you will ever see.
Technically not exactly a stone dial like what we just spoke about; meteorite dials are not of this world, as their name suggests. Made almost exclusively of metal, meteorite dials are cut from space rocks that have crash-landed on Earth and etched in acid to highlight the different metals in the composition of the dial surface. Famed for their incredible array of hues, textures, patterns, and beauty; meteorite dials are excessively stunning and should be experienced in person the very minute you have the opportunity.
Best known in modern horology for their position with some of Rolex's most exclusive models, meteorite dials are some of the most rare and spectacular dials one will ever see. A piece of metal tens of millions of years old that finally landed on Earth only to be dug up, cut, and placed within a watch dial to display time forevermore, meteorite dials are truly poetic expressions of horology and the universe we live in.