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A Taste Of The Past - Smoked Dials Make Vintage High

A Taste Of The Past Smoked Dials Make Vintage High

Smoked, gradient, two-tone, however they're called, dials with shifting colors are all the rage. Let's go back in time and retrace their steps.

Unlike the vast majority of dials, they're not monochromatic. Nor do they show several clearly identifiable colors. Smoked dials have one color for their central area which, beginning at about two thirds of the diameter, darkens and fades to black. Just as if they had spent time in a smoker which would have left them unevenly shaded. They've been showing up here and there for the past decade and they're getting bigger by the year. Yet their origin is a surprising one, which will confirm once again how potent the influence of vintage style is on the watch industry.  

Smoked Dials Make Vintage High

TAG Heuer Autavia © David Chokron/Worldtempus

As a matter of fact, the ancestors of smoked dials are tropical dials. Yes, those found in vintage timepieces that have spent too much time under a hard sun, and/or bathed in salt water at some point, and/or were of poor enough quality so as to lose their original shade. Which are overwhelmingly Rolex. These degraded dials show gradients of colors that make them all the more valuable. Defect is the vintage watch lover's biggest crush. Between two Submariner or Explorer, with the same reference, year and condition, the bog-water-colored one is worth two to ten times more than the one with a clean black dial. Vintage is so strong an influence that it keeps crossing the barrier to contemporary watches, in this instance too.

Smoked Dials Make Vintage High

Baume & Mercier Clifton Baumatic Day Date Moonphase © David Chokron/Worldtempus

So if one looks at the birth of the voluntary smoked dial, the embraced kind, Zenith is a pioneer because they used it during the 1970's. As re-editions went, they ended up on some 2010-or-something Winsor models, at about the same time another brand decided to make it their trademark. 

Smoked Dials Make Vintage High

H. Moser & Cie Venturer Small Seconds Purity © David Chokron/Worldtempus

It's H.Moser & Cie who really put the smoked dial on the map. After modest beginnings, it being a small independent brand, the quality of the craft delivered to this demanding client left a strong impression on their dial provider, Cadrans Fluckiger. As it were, this company is owned by no other than Patek Philippe, who acquired them in 2004. The latter wasn't long to recognize the feat and to end up using the technique for themselves. 

Smoked Dials Make Vintage High

Patek Philippe 5205G © David Chokron/Worldtempus

H. Moser & Cie has been releasing smoked dials one after another and have ended up being far from alone. The neo-vintage style is where it's most popular. The original brown still ranks high, next to many grays and blues with various levels of color-shifting. Montblanc, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Baume & Mercier or TAG Heuer love the technique as it enhances the retro feel of timepieces who are generally of the tool watch kind. Just like the Tropical Rolex that began it all.

Smoked Dials Make Vintage High

Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris Date © Jaeger-LeCoultre

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