Rolex: In Color!
Although easily, and by some distance, the world’s most recognizable luxury watchmaker, Rolex has long had a reputation for being conservative.
Their watches have an overall traditionalism to their design, with none of the outlandish eccentricities of the likes of, say, Richard Mille or Urwerk.
Even other mainstream manufacturers, Omega or Breitling for example, tend to stray down a more experimental path.
Rolex has its core collection, one that gets a new model perhaps once or twice in a generation, and the most significant changes which take place within it are generally confined to a refreshed color scheme or a slight size increase, if you’re lucky.
This is, of course, no bad thing. There is a cohesion to the Rolex catalog unlike almost any other brand. While Omega also has mainstays in its portfolio, the effect is somewhat diluted by the constant adding of watches with the same model name but which bear little resemblance to each other, as well as the endless special editions.
But even though the change of pace at Rolex is defiantly glacial in general terms, there is still a need for a certain amount of variation in order to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. And one of the most effective ways of achieving it is on the dial.
Rolex Dial Colors
Getting exactly the right shade on a dial is undoubtedly an art form. Although the basic colors are centered around standard Pantone charts, Rolex simply wouldn’t be Rolex if they didn’t introduce modifications to each one to make it their own.
Every custom-made hue takes at least three months to get right and can literally, in rare cases, take years. Any possible discrepancy has to be accounted for, including the minute variation to the tint caused by the sapphire crystal.
On top of that, popular colors can warrant altering as fashions change. A champagne dial from the latest collection, for instance, will have a subtler, warmer quality than one from the 1980s.
It is a fascinating subject, marrying the latest scientific methods with archaic processes which have been in use for centuries.
But even though Rolex has never been the biggest risk-taker in the industry, they can still come up with some stunningly colorful faces for their world beating timepieces.
Below, we have highlighted some of the standouts from past and present.
The Rolex Day-Date Stella Dials
For a watch so beloved of sober bureaucrats, the Rolex Day-Date has had more than its fair share of outlandish face paint.
During its long production run, starting in 1956, it has been fitted with everything from the most restrained monochrome, through to vivid semiprecious stones like onyx, lapis lazuli, coral and jasper.
But the 1970s saw the emergence (albeit briefly) of the so-called Stella models. These blindingly intense, lacquered enamel dials came in a range of shocking colors, including oxblood, green, turquoise, blue, orange, red and purple, and could be had on the ref. 180X and ref. 1803X series of Rolex’s President.
The name was taken, depending on which version you believe, from the Latin word for ‘star’, or else as a tribute to American artist Frank Stella, known for his intense palette. Originally created for the Middle Eastern and Asian market, they were actually a hard sell on their release. The Day-Date’s traditional clientele viewed them with the same consternation as they had John Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls Royce in the ‘60s. Two undeniable pillars of the establishment, overtaken by the absurd.
As a result, the Stella Day-Dates are relatively scarce, and those in good condition even more so. The enamel used for the dials was particularly brittle, and finding an example these days free of hairline cracks or chips is a serious undertaking.
If you do find one, be prepared to pay significant premiums. You can pick up a standard ref. 18038 for around $17,000. The same piece with a Stella dial will set you back roughly twice as much as a starting point.
The Rolex Milgauss Z-Blue ref. 116400GV
Forever underappreciated, Rolex’s scientists’ watch had an initial run from its introduction in 1954, up to its retirement in 1988.
However, with the opening of the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva in 2007, Rolex decided to reinstate the model in honor of the accomplishment.
The first three versions of the ref. 116400 family included models with a black and a white dial, along with a further black dialed piece covered with a revolutionary green tinted sapphire—or Glace Verte, leading to the GV designation on its reference.
Seven years after that, the white faced watch was superseded by the Z-Blue. Again protected by the green crystal, this addition came with an exquisite electric blue dial, with a radiant metallic sunburst finish.
For a watch used to living in the deep shadows cast by iconic names in the Professional Collection, it was a revelation. All of a sudden, the Milgauss was among the most eye-catching models across the Rolex’s entire portfolio. The dial itself became a dynamic element, offering constantly changing reflections in different lighting conditions. On top of that, the lightning bolt seconds hand, the outer minute track and the Milgauss script above the central pinion were all picked out in a zesty orange color.
It has all transformed the once also-ran model into something of a must-have amongst connoisseurs. It will probably always be the a cult hero in the catalog, alongside the likes of the Explorer II or the Air-King, but it stands as an almost lighthearted breath of fresh air among the brand’s more conventional offerings.
The Rolex Sea-Dweller Deepsea D-Blue
It may not be the most colorful of all Rolex dials, but the Deepsea D-Blue edition is a first for the manufacturer and so deserves its place nonetheless.
In truth, a watch measuring 44mm across and nearly 18mm thick, and one which can survive a plunge to nearly two-and-a-half miles underwater, doesn’t really need much else to draw attention to itself.
The original was released in 2008 with a standard black dial, a controversial replacement for the much-loved Sea-Dweller. (Why Rolex decided to do away with one of their most popular pieces is unknown, but fortunately it was brought back six years later. The two dive models have run concurrently ever since, together with the Submariner).
Then, in 2014, Rolex launched a second version of the Deepsea, with what they called the D-Blue dial. It, like the Milgauss above, was created in recognition of a massive achievement.
Two years previously, legendary movie director, James Cameron became the first man to travel solo to the lowest point of the world’s oceans—the Challenger Deep, a cavernous valley in the Pacific’s Mariana Trench, bottoming out at nearly 36,000ft. The only other time it has been reached was in 1960 by Lt. Don Walsh of the U.S. Navy and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Picard aboard their bathyscaphe Trieste. On that occasion, strapped to the outside of the vessel was a Rolex prototype called the Deepsea Special. Despite enduring pressures of some eight tons per square inch, the watch came up perfectly intact.
Fast forward 50-years, and Cameron became just the third person ever to experience the literal bottom of the world, in his own submersible, the Deepsea Challenger. Once again, Rolex furnished the mission with a custom-made model called, not surprisingly, the Rolex Deepsea Challenge. A sheer behemoth of a watch, 51mm in diameter and 28.5mm thick, with a 14.3mm crystal, it too shrugged off the mindboggling stresses.
To coincide with the premiere of Cameron’s movie about the voyage, the brand created their first ever two-tone dial for the commercially available Deepsea. A seamless ombré effect sees it fuse a rich blue at the top to a deep black at the bottom, a visual representation of the dive into the abyssal depths. A further nod to the expedition has the ‘Deepsea’ text moved from its usual position at the six o’clock up to the 12, and picked out in the same lurid green as Cameron’s rig.
The blend in color is about the only subtle thing on the Deepsea as a whole, and it remains a tasteful accolade to a truly astonishing act of bravery and exploration, on one of Rolex’s real statement watches.
— Featured Photo: Kevin Sweeney, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons