Ever since the release of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual models in September 2020, colorful dials have been the talk of the industry. More and more brands are jumping on the bandwagon and outfitting their watches with bold, eye-catching dials. But are bright dials really something new? Were they ever popular in the past? How are different manufacturers adding color to their collections? And are these dials here to stay? Or will they prove to be another passing fad?
Watches With Colorful Dials: A Historical Perspective
Even prior to 2020, Rolex didn’t shy away from color. If you think back to the Rolex Submariner “Hulk,” Rolex Day-Date, or the famous green and gold “John Mayer” Daytona, one thing becomes immediately clear: The Swiss giant has long had a penchant for green dials. But does this trend even predate the 2010s? When you first saw the current Rolex Oyster Perpetual models, you may have noted that they are strikingly similar to the brand’s “Stella dials” from the late 1960s that were primarily used in Day-Date models. While these eye-catching watches weren’t very common, they remained popular among collectors until the 1980s, especially those who liked their watches on the flashier side.
A number of other brands have also reached toward the paint palette over the years. While researching this article, I kept coming across older references of well-known Breitling models with yellow dials such as the Breitling Superocean, Breitling Avenger, and Breitling Chronomat. The Breitling Emergency, on the other hand, is available with an orange dial. When it comes to Omega, I couldn’t help but think of the Speedmaster Reduced “Michael Schumacher.” This particular model comes in several tones: The ref. 3810.61 has a red dial, the ref. 3510.12 stands out with its yellow dial, and the ref. 3510.81 – the rarest, most popular, and most expensive of the three – has a blue dial. The hue of the latter makes it slightly more versatile and suitable to everyday use.
Frenzy of Color: Is everyone copying the Rolex Oyster Perpetual?
Since the release of the new Rolex Oyster Perpetual in 2020, however, the industry has gone into what feels like a color frenzy. Nearly every manufacturer has at least one bright, colorful dial in their collection. Swatch, together with Omega, took things to the extreme with the MoonSwatch, a series of brightly colored quartz watches with the iconic Speedmaster design. Sinn’s 556 series offers watches with a green, red, orange, or turquoise dial, each of which is limited to a run of 400 pieces. If you are interested in adding a watch with a pastel dial to your collection, the Sinn 556 is a great, more affordable option at just over $1,000. If you want to call a colorful Rolex Oyster Perpetual your own, you’ll have to dig a little deeper into your pockets. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any listings under $15,000.
I personally think the most interesting new releases are the dials of the Omega Aqua Terra 38. I was anything but enthusiastic about Omega’s introductions prior to Watches and Wonders; a gold Speedmaster with a green dial or one with black subdials on a rubber strap just struck me as too similar to the Rolex Daytona “John Mayer.” Plus, the Omega Planet Ocean Ultra Deep almost seems like an homage to the Rolex Deepsea. That being said, Omega hit the nail on the head with their new dial colors for the Aqua Terra 34 and 38. While they may have been inspired by the Rolex Oyster Perpetual dials, the Omega versions definitely have their own unique character. Omega’s sunburst dials have a warmer, more modern, and more appealing overall look than their Rolex counterparts. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise, considering Rolex pretty much copied their “Stella dials” 1:1 from the 1960s. While it was likely intended to be a nod to the older models, it’s a little careless, objectively speaking. I personally prefer Omega’s response – they just look a lot better.
Are colorful dials here to stay?
I think the color palette that Rolex used for their Oyster Perpetual (and has since partially discontinued) will indeed prove to be a short-lived trend. Even if the colorful dials remain in high demand among collectors going forward, Rolex really hasn’t offered us much more than their old “Stella dials” transported to the modern era. Nevertheless, the tactic worked brilliantly and Rolex managed to once again set an industry trend. There’s no denying that more and more manufacturers are expanding their color offerings in response – they all want a piece of the colorful cake. I do wonder whether pastel tones will really stay relevant in the long term, though. I’m not talking about your standard blue or green sunburst dial here, I mean the much brighter options.
I think Omega is giving us a glimpse of the future with their new Aqua Terra 34 and 38. The Biel-based luxury watchmaker may have been inspired by its main competitor when it came to releasing bright dials, but Omega managed to make their offerings much more modern than those from Rolex. I prefer Omega’s warmer tones to Rolex’s bright colors taken straight from the 1960s. Omega fans who like pastel colors can also check out the more affordable MoonSwatch. While not everyone can or wants to wear a watch with a colorful dial every day, these bright dials are definitely a staple in the watch world. There is no doubt that they’ll remain less common than their black, white, or dark blue counterparts, but I’d wager we’ll be seeing even more bright, colorful dials in the future.