There are a few things that watch people often argue over. Who made the first professional dive watch? Which ones were the best of the Dirty Dozens? Are applied markers better than painted ones? While the answer to two of these questions should be based on facts, they usually aren’t. It seems to be a matter of perception and of personal preference. In this article, I would like to discuss the question of painted versus applied markers, what purpose each type serves, where they might be coming from, and the benefits and shortcomings each comes with. Ah, and also I’m going to debunk a myth.
Painted markers have been around ever since the first clocks appeared. There was no other way, at the time, to indicate hour and minute markers on a dial than painting them. And yes, they used to be painted by hand by skilled and patient artisans before now being printed by machines. So when we think that they used to be painted by hand, we can imagine that they were not regularly applied. (Vintage watches show inconsistencies that are praised by some collectors.) And I would argue that even watches that had machine printed dials in the 1960s came with inconsistencies. Nowadays, printed dials are synonymous with two ideas: vintage and affordable.
Vintage because, as we just saw, historically watch dials had printed markers. So whenever a brand wants to make a vintage looking watch, they choose printed markers. This has the advantage of making a cleaner dial where light doesn’t have many surfaces to reflect from. That’s why many brands still use printed markers on tool watches to aid with legibility. Furthermore, dials with printed markers are cheaper to make, therefore keeping the cost of a watch down. They also have the advantage of being longer lasting: it does happen that applied markers get dislodged from the dial.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have applied markers. As their name indicates, these markers are applied by hand or by a machine on the dial and are raised from its surface. (A machine makes tiny holes where the markers go and they are inserted into these holes.) I assume brands started doing this because it looks more elegant and more elaborate because, honestly, I don’t believe that applied markers serve any crucial purpose. Applied markers do reflect light making reading time harder at times (pun intended.) However, there are many people (I count myself as being one of them) that prefer applied markers because they look more fancy.
Having applied markers on a dial is one of these things that people look for in a watch. And if a watch doesn’t come with applied markers, some would turn their nose down at it. That’s because, as mentioned above, applied markers reflect light making the dial sparkle and shine—which is something that some of us do appreciate. Applied markers also create dimension on the dial and, generally speaking, make it easier to lume the markers. The latter is perhaps the only true purpose of having applied markers since the lume compound is contained inside the marker making it possible to have more of it.
Debunking a Myth…or a Fact
Well, perhaps it’s more about the fact that brands do not properly describe a process rather than being a myth. But it seems that people often mistake applied markers for stamped markers (and the way they are named differs greatly.) By this I mean markers that are raised from the dial because they are pushed from the back. Imagine hammering a piece of soft metal and seeing the bumps created by the hammer on the other side of the metal. The same process—although explained very rudimentarily here—can be seen on certain dials and how the hour markers appear.
Seiko is known for making these types of markers on cheaper watches. From all appearances, the markers look applied but they aren’t. And if you care more about style than technique, then you would be happy with them. I know I am, especially seeing how little these watches cost. Seiko was a master at making cheaply made watches look expensive and the Japanese brand has preserved this tradition. Such dials can be found on watches that cost between $50 and $200. (Anything more and one should expect applied markers.]
While watches that have applied markers do tend to be more expensive—and I’m highly generalizing here—I believe that they do offer one advantage (of having more lume) but that their purpose is mostly aesthetic. But whether or not one prefers applied markers or painted ones, the quality of the dials can vary on the spectrum from great to poor for both types. Meaning that a watch can have poorly finished applied or painted markers. And to me, beautifully painted markers are as astonishing to look at as well-executed applied ones. At the end of the day, as always, it’s a matter of personal preferences.
Featured image: www.monochrome-watches.com