Why Are Blue Dialed Watches So Popular?
Advances in manufacturing techniques are electrifying the way brands produce this cool shade.
Can we stop calling blue dialed timepieces a trend and place them alongside white and black on top of watchmaking Mount Olympus? Watchmakers have embraced the color for decades, and in the case of some brands, throwing blue shade has become a signature.
As the color of the sea and the sky, blue is calming. It signifies reliability, stability, inspiration, and wisdom. All attributes that you want in a watch.
Contemporary enthusiasts love blue in the same way that they love dive watches – both are dignified and sporty at the same time. But innovations in the way watch and dial makers produce this hue have elevated this perception even further. You could collect only blue dialed watches and still enjoy an unending array of effects and finishes.
Blue wasn’t born yesterday – adding cobalt to enamel goes back to the beginning of watchmaking. But generally, the color was used as an accent (like blued hands) rather than a field.
But eventually, innovations in dial manufacturing connected with color experimentation. Specifically, engine-turned and brushed dials.
Intricate dial engraving is also as old as timekeeping, but it’s also a time-consuming process. Originally, dial patterns were hand-crafted with different types of engraving engines such as the hand-cranked rose engine, straight-line engine, and brocading machine. Enameling is also a complicated craft because, contrary to popular belief, enamel is a type of glass, not paint. The material is a type of glass that needs to be heated to about 1,200 degrees Celsius before bonding with other metals.
In the 20th century, machines reduced the effort needed to replicate these delicate engine-turned or guillochage dials. The age of machines also ushered in new techniques like the tapisserie dial, in which a machine called a pantograph engraves a set pattern onto a watch dial. This process takes only 20 to 50 minutes. The most famous example of this technique is the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.
Arguably the most consequential innovation in the advancement of blue dialed watches is the sunray dial.
Sunray or sunburst dials are produced by using a brush, usually with metal filaments, to etch super fine lines that radiate from the dial’s center. Often layers of enamel are then added to create depth. It takes meticulous work to get it right, but when done by a master, it results in a hypnotic play of light.
Now, let’s take a quick detour back to the 1950s when stainless steel sport watches found mainstream success.
It was then that Tudor sought to showcase the technical excellence of its timepieces by adding some extra visual elegance, like its emblematic crenelated bezel and the brand’s signature royal blue.
Royal blue suited the House of Tudor well. By the 1960s, the striking blue sunray satin-finished dial became synonymous with the brand.
For the next fifty years or so, blue dials became inextricably linked with sport chic. But with the arrival of the 21st century, society began to reassess what formality and luxury meant. There was a time, for example, that wristwatches were forbidden on a red carpet, then time-only pieces laden with precious metal and gems were permitted. At the beginning of the 21st century, influential celebrities started making it permissible to wear stainless steel to formal events.
As high society becomes less stodgy and homogeneous, sporty blue dials are becoming more acceptable for almost every occasion.
Last fall, Tudor launched its Royal collection – a series of luxury sport watches with integrated five-link bracelets all sporting the brand’s distinctive sunray satin-finished dial. Despite the collection’s regal name, there is a Royal for every wrist: This series comes in four different sizes: a 41mm day-date, as well as 38mm, 34mm, and 28mm time-date versions.
Additionally, the Royal line uses self-winding movements from ETA or Sellita (a T603 Sellita for the 41mm day-date, a Sellita T601 for the 38mm and 34mm time-dates, and an ETA T201 for the 28mm time-date), so they are an excellent value proposition. Priced between $2,325 to $3,975, these Royals won’t leave your wallet feeling blue.
Fifty Shades of Blue
Ultimately, the popularity of blue dialed watches is their versatility.
Because blue is a primary color, it complements almost every other shade. You can further dress a blue watch up with a gold case or make a more avant-garde statement with a bronze bezel. And it pairs well with an indigo rubber strap, a rich brown leather band, a brushed steel bracelet, or anything in between.
A blue dialed watch can be the most versatile timepiece in your collection, but there are many different shades of blue. Seiko, for example, offers 165 variations on the hue.
When you add paint or enamel, the finish of the dial, and the surface coating, you can theoretically come up with millions of possible color combinations. Don’t even get us started on lapis lazuli or aventurine dials!
To help narrow down your choices, here is what one expert once told me: When selecting a blue dialed watch for an event, match the dial color to the time of the day. Daytime equals bright sky blue. Nighttime equals a blue India ink hue.
Another thing to consider is symbolism. As mentioned earlier, the color blue can convey many different meanings. In Japan, it symbolizes coolness and fidelity. And Japanese university students also traditionally wear ‘recruitment suits in blue’ for job interviews. In Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, it is worn for protection. And in North America, it represents trust and authority. Almost everywhere you go, however, blue has positive connotations.
And when you feel good, you look good.
(Photography by Watchonista, Images provided by the brands)