How to: understand watch dials

The features that propel watches into the realm of legend


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18 November 2015

A lot of watches are immediately recognisable from their dials, with design elements that suggest the brand even before seeing the logo. An example is provided by Richard Mille, whose RM 33-01 has a skeletonised dial on which the Arabic numerals are highly visible and striking for their modernistic design. The brand identity is reinforced by other elements, such as the characteristic titanium spline screws holding the bezel, caseband and caseback together. This piece also has an unusual date display, with a date ring that seems to be an abstract pattern but that magically resolves into a numeral in the white-outlined date window at 7 o'clock.

Richard Mille

RM33-01 BY Richard Mille

Tiffany & Co.'s new CT60 collection is an eloquent expression of the brand's New York origins, and even though the watches are made in Switzerland, the design of the numerals has that elemental simplicity that won Tiffany its time-keeping reputation in the Big Apple. The Tiffany CT60 Calendar 40 mm Limited Edition (60 pieces) is based on a Tiffany watch given by the brand to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and it features exactly the same numeral design as in the historic piece, and the same date indications, with a blue-tipped hand on a scale with blue numerals at the edge of the dial.


Tiffany CT60

The numerals on the IWC Big Pilot’s Watch Edition ‘Le Petit Prince’ have been part of IWC's design heritage from 1936, when its first 'Special Watch for Pilots' was launched. IWC had a close link to aviation because both sons, Hans and Rudolf, of the Manufacture's owner at the time, Ernst Jakob Homberger, were pilots. This watch, reference IW500909, is a limited edition of 250 watches, with an 18-carat red gold case and an engraving dedicated to the Little Prince on the caseback. The 7-day power reserve is shown on a subdial at 3 o’clock.

IWC Big-Pilots-Watch

IWC Big Pilot's Watch Edition

Cartier often uses Roman numerals in its watches, and in the Crash Skeleton, they are distorted almost beyond recognition. This deliciously Dada concept dates back to 1967, and originated from when a customer brought a severely damaged Cartier watch to the London branch. Though it must have been distressing for the branch manager to see the watch's ruinous condition, he was fascinated by the curves of the case, and it provided the basis for a new design that proved perfect for the atmosphere of swinging London. In the Crash Skeleton, presented in Geneva in January 2015, quirky design is accompanied by complex engineering, with a case that is arched in profile, and a manually-wound movement specially designed to fit the complex curved space. The case is in platinum: I'm sure you'll look after it more carefully than that unfortunate British owner.


Cartier Crash Skeleton

Related: Key innovation: Clé de Cartier