Rolex: In Black And White
Theoretically, a watch dial can be any color you want, and over the years Rolex has used most of them.
The tone chosen goes far beyond just having a nice face to look at and speaks volumes about the wearer’s own sensibilities and tastes. It is, in many ways, the most important aspect of a watch’s desirability. A piece can be faultless in every other regard—size, complications, general styling—but if the color of the dial leaves you cold, you are going to shop elsewhere.
That is why all brands, and Rolex especially, go to such exhaustive lengths to get it right. The manufacture utilizes three different processes to create their hues, some archaic, others the height of 21st century technology. Electroplating is used for the range of metallic and sunray dials based on real metal colors, while Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) with plasma torches or electron beams can create an even wider array of shades—both the very latest watchmaking techniques.
Most often though, simple lacquering produces the huge selection of opaque colors on the majority of Rolex watches, and particularly the white and black dials.
Best of Black and White Dial Rolex
Probably the two ‘safest’ colors used in watchmaking, the appeal of black and white dials is obvious. There is nothing to court controversy, and both offer the chance for the greatest contrast with hour markers and hands of the opposite color, and hence, excellent legibility.
More than that though, they are just endlessly sophisticated. It is the reason why plain white t-shirts or little black dresses are so ubiquitous in wardrobes.
Rolex has used the colors on most of their output over the years, and especially their sports models. They make the ideal accompaniment to the brand’s overall design ethos of form following function, and are a perfect match for watches at once both luxurious and tool-like.
Below, we have picked out some of our favorite black and white dial Rolex watches, past and present.
The White Dials
It is one of those things which only occurs to you if you dedicate any time to thinking about it, but Rolex doesn’t actually produce that many white dial watches. So, the ones it does make tend to stand out.
They are more customary in the dressier end of the portfolio, with the likes of the Datejust and Day-Date. But the Professional Collection has a handful, and among them is possibly the most famous of them all.
The Rolex Explorer II ref. 216570
The ‘Polar’ Explorer II is likely the first watch you think of when the subject of white dial Rolex’s comes up.
A fixture since the model’s second generation, the ref. 16550 released in 1985, it offers a completely different experience to the black dial version.
The white face seems to lift the watch as a whole, giving it all a sense of real brightness, only accentuated by the colorful GMT hand.
With the latest generation increasing in size to 42mm, reinstating the vivid orange ‘Freccione’ and including the ‘Explorer II’ dial script in the same color, it makes the once-perpetually overshadowed spelunker’s companion among the most noticeable of the current crop. With 2021 marking its 50th anniversary, we will have to wait and see what Rolex does to celebrate.
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual ref. 114300
Similarly to the Explorer II, the millennium’s third decade seems to be giving the humble Oyster Perpetual license to enjoy at least some of the spotlight for a change.
Just last year we saw a fresh wave of the OP coming through, including a new top end size of 41mm, superseding the short lived 39mm.
While that was a move welcomed from most quarters, one downside has been the lack of a replacement (so far) for the outgoing model’s striking white dialed option.
From top to toe, the ref. 114300 has to be one of the most austerely beautiful models Rolex has ever released. Its dimensions are spot on, not just for a modern watch but as a unisex wear too. Its detailing is simplicity itself, with plain baton indexes, stick hands and not even a date function to unbalance it. But most of all, the shade of white Rolex has found, with a glossy, slightly warm finish redefines the word subtle. In all, it is hard to think of any way in which it could be improved.
The Oyster Perpetual has long represented the entryway into Rolex ownership, bought in many instances by those looking for that one good watch to last them a lifetime and match with any occasion. The ref. 114300, as minimalist and unpretentious as any watch can be, carries that on that tradition with exquisite class.
The Rolex Yacht-Master II ref. 116688
From the most understated to the least, the solid yellow gold Yacht-Master II is Rolex at its outlandish best.
In truth, a watch with the abilities and talents of the YMII, with its one-of-a-kind chronograph countdown with mechanical memory, deserves a grandstanding costume, and that is exactly what the ref. 116688 has.
The brand’s proprietary 18k alloy makes up the case, bracelet, crown and twin pushers. The color also carries over onto the huge numerals on the bezel and the watch’s own name emblazoned across its lower half, as well as the indexes and running seconds sub counter on the white dial.
Coupled with the rich blue of the surround’s Cerachrom insert and the little pops of red here and there, it all adds up to a veritable riot of color and a mammoth watch sure never to go unnoticed.
Yet aside from all the fireworks, the Yacht-Master II is an astonishingly accomplished and highly complicated model. Designed to help coordinate the starting procedure of professional regattas, it is hard to imagine something as grandiose as the ref. 116688 aboard a racing boat. But for lounging around a swanky yacht club, you couldn’t ask for more.
The Black Dials
Black dial Rolexes are far more prevalent than white. It remains the classic color for watches from all manufacturers; an extremely versatile canvas, immune to any changes in fashion.
As a result, black models enjoy a better resale value on the preowned market than white, but not by much.
There are no shortage of options to look at in the current catalog, and here are three of the most impressive.
The Rolex Submariner ref. 126610LN
We could only really start in one place. While the world’s favorite dive watch has been given a variety of different color faces down the years, it is the black dial which will forever be the archetype.
It has always been a staple in the model’s range, and so there are references with gloss, matte and gilt finishes as you work backwards through its history.
The latest version is simply the continuation of this legacy. It retains the so-called Maxi dial, featuring oversized hands and hour markers, although the opinion-splitting Super Case (found on the previous ref. 1166XX series, with extra thick lugs and crown guards) has been shaved down considerably for an altogether more vintage tone.
But regardless of all the tweaking and fine-tuning, the Submariner, and especially in its black dial guise, is and will likely always remain the first stop for anyone looking for the definitive go-anywhere-do-anything sports watch.
The Rolex Yacht-Master 42 ref. 226659
The Yacht-Master series, stemming initially from 1992, may have started out as a Submariner clone in a fancy dress, but it has transformed in more recent times into one of the most diverse ranges in the Professional Collection.
Now available in three sizes and four metal combinations, the latest addition is the largest, the 42mm white gold and ceramic, ref. 226659.
Not to be confused with the Yacht-Master II from above, the original Yacht-Master doesn’t possess anything of note to help a skipper in their seaborne duties save the standard Oyster case 100m. But as an example of discreet stealth wealth, there are few models in the lineup to beat it.
The jet black bidirectional Cerachrom bezel lends a classy satin smoothness, echoed on the Oysterflex band, the first rubber strap Rolex has ever made. Together with the black gloss dial with its white indexes and the tastefully neutral polished precious metal case, the whole thing becomes a high contrast monochrome masterpiece.
Not the cheapest Rolex by any means, the Yacht-Master ref. 226659 is, nevertheless, an outstanding watch.
The Rolex Explorer ref. 1016
Everyone loves an underdog story. The Explorer, really a model defined by its dial, has a reputation as the perpetual also-ran in the Rolex annals.
Yet, just as with anything else if you wait long enough, its time has now come.
The contemporary references are enjoying renewed interest due to their minimalist styling and their adherence to the brand’s fundamental roots. It is a model which has never succumbed to the allure of gold cases or, heaven forbid, gemstone enhancements—something you can’t say for many other of Rolex’s supposed ‘tool’ watches.
But the granddaddy of the Explorer family will always be the ref. 1016. Released in 1963, then more or less forgotten about for a quarter of a century, this was the third reference and the one that tied everything together. So it got the 36mm tonneau-shaped case, the no-nonsense Oyster bracelet, the domed acrylic crystal and the Cal. 1560 movement, from the first series of calibers Rolex built in-house.
Most importantly though, it got that dial. Only ever issued in black, the signature 3/6/9 hour markers became so associated with the watch that it is now known simply as the ‘Explorer dial’, regardless of the model to which it is fitted.
And that was all it needed. This was Bond author, Ian Fleming’s personal watch; an effortlessly stylish, perfectly balanced, gentleman’s timepiece. Its increasing value on today’s preowned market is down to its relaxed, completely unfussy nature. It is a watch that just gets on with its job, and one which keeps ticking on forever.
Once underappreciated, the Rolex Explorer ref. 1016 is now stepping out as one of the all-time greats.
Featured Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive.