Most likely, you opened this post out of curiosity. Types of watch faces? Are there many different types? Aren’t they all similar and the only difference is the color and / or the complications they contain? This is primarily why we wrote this post – to correct such misunderstandings and tell you more about watch faces.
If you want to read chronographs, date, calendar or moon phase functions, we won’t discuss them here. They’re actually called Watch complications you can see that on a dial.
Having clarified this first, let’s now discuss the different types of dials.
Types of watch faces
The California dial (or Cali for short) dates from the 1930s. The dial has Roman numerals at the top (usually from 10 to 2) and Arabic numerals at the bottom (usually from 4 to 8 o’clock). For some calibrations, the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions are replaced by a hyphen instead of a number and an inverted triangle instead of the 12. A modern example of this is the Basecamp Cali by Undone.
A co-signed dial is an easily recognizable type because it focuses on the inscription. While most dials only show the brand and possibly the collection of the watch, a co-signed dial shows both the name of the brand and that of the retailer. Such a type is usually seen in luxury brands. This also means that a luxury brand that works with a luxury retailer like Tiffany & Co. tends to cost more than that sold at ordinary retailers.
Next comes the crosshair. This type was popular with mid-century dress watches like that Omega Seamaster DeVille. A crosshair is identified by a horizontal and a vertical line that intersect in the middle of the housing. However, the length and thickness of the lines can vary depending on the watch model. Some extend to the edge of the dial, while others are shorter.
Enamel dials are very rare because they require a masterful skill to create them. The material enamel is actually a type of glass that is soft and consists of silica, red lead and soda. It tends to liquefy once it is heated to around 1200 degrees Celsius and can then combine with other metals. Once mixed, depending on the metal with which it was mixed, it can result in different colors such as gray, green and red. An example would be the blue enamel dial of the Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon.
There are also sub-types of the enamel dial. These are Cloisonne, Grande Feu, Champleve, Flinque and Grisaille.
Cloisonne is a form of enamelling in which the outline of the design is drawn on the dial and then extremely thin gold wires are laid along the outline. Then the up to five layers of enamel are poured into the wires and fired after each layer.
Grand Feu, which means Major fire, is the most difficult enamelling technique, but also produces the most durable dials. Grand Feu enamel dials are quite minimalistic because they have a uniform color and are mostly white and cream-colored.
The Champleve technique uses a metal dial to create channels that then serve as a sunken outline. This outline is then filled with enamel, burned and then polished.
A metal dial has already been engraved with the Flinque enamel technique, then only an enamel coating is added to create a certain texture and subtly increase the height.
The grisaille technique covers the first black enamel on the dial. This layer is then fired in an oven. Then white paint is applied to achieve the desired effect. This can be an illustration of the moon, stars, etc. in the night sky.
A gold-plated dial is derived from the gold-plated technology that means cover thinly with a gold leaf or gold paint. As such, the gold-plated dial emphasizes the features and elements of the dial with gold color. This can be seen on the markers, hands, brand names, etc. This Rolex Submariner from 1954 is an example of a watch with a gold-plated dial.
Also referred to as Engine turned or Guillochage dials, Guilloche dials are those with repeated patterns engraved on them. Originally, these patterns were made by hand using various types of engraving motors such as the hand-cranked rose motor, the straight-line motor and the brocade machine. Due to the technical innovations, most guilloche dials are no longer made by hand these days. Rather, they are carried out by a machine. The Hamilton H32515155 Jazzmaster Viewmatic is an example of a watch with a guilloche dial. Another similar example is the Tissot Le Locle Powermatic 80.
The linen dial is a textured dial with tiny vertical and horizontal hatches that create a linen-like texture. Examples of this dial type are the Rolex Datejust Ref. 1603 and the Vintage Bulova Surf King 17J 11AL.
An inlaid dial is an art form. It consists of various materials and elements such as mother of pearl and jewels, which are then carefully placed on the dial by a craftsman to form an image or pattern. The following video shows how Patek Philippe creates an inlaid dial from wood.
Meteorite dials, as the name suggests, consist of polished meteorite disks. Because there are different meteorites around the world and each piece is cut and polished individually, each meteorite dial is different from another. They were often seen in triple calendar clocks. Invicta has also made a range of meteorite watches (see here).
Unlike the decorative dials mentioned above, porcelain dials are usually white and contain some clay. Despite their seemingly minimalist appearance, porcelain dials are also quite difficult to make. The Vintage Seiko Presage Arita is a classic example of this type of dial.
Next up is the sector dial, also referred to as scientific dial. According to the term itself, sector dials consist of contrasting concentric circles with thick lines that divide the dial into different sectors. Hour dials are common. However, there are also tiny sector dials. This vintage Longines Art Deco wristwatch features an hour dial. More art deco clocks can be found here.
Skeleton dials are among the types that can still be seen to this day, which is not surprising since they are actually fairly easy to make. You only need transparent materials such as mineral glass or sapphire glass. However, what is complicated and special about skeleton dial timepieces is the movement they exhibit. Skeleton dials are typically used in mechanical watches to show the intricate mechanism that powers the watch. An example of this is the Invicta Specialty Watch 23533.
A tapestry dial resembles the previously mentioned guilloche dial. However, a tapestry is characterized by a pattern of tiny squares separated by thin channels. A pantograph is used to create such a pattern. This machine traces the pattern of a larger design and then engraves a smaller copy on the dial. This process can take about 20 to 50 minutes. An icon with a tapestry dial is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.
Last is the teak dial. It’s also fairly simple, but adds to the elegance and class of the dial. A teak dial comes with engraved vertical stripes. These stripes can vary in color, thickness and design depending on the brand. A well-known example of a teak dial is the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra.
At this point we hope that you now understand your watch faces better and take a closer look at the watch faces you want to buy. You can actually choose whether you prefer a decorative or a patterned dial. In addition, the dial itself can already indicate the price and craftsmanship of the watch.