Some people love having date apertures on their watches and others hate them. The one argument that I keep hearing against having a date window is that it creates visual unbalance. True, a date aperture takes space on the dial, however there are good ways to go about it and not so good ways. The goal, it seems, is either to tuck away the date aperture so that it doesn’t disrupt the balance of the dial or to find different ways to integrate it in the design. It turns out, there are about four ways to display a date on a watch which we’ll discuss in this article. Each way comes with its own pluses and minuses, and some are classic (read: they appeared many decades ago) while others are rather recent.
The Classic Date Aperture
The first and most common way to display a date on a watch is by cutting out a piece of the dial to create a “window” or “aperture.” Whether the window is framed or not and positioned at the 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, or at the 4:30 position, cutting out a piece of the dial is the most classic way of displaying a date. That is how Rolex got started in the 1950s with the all-gold Datejust. There are many variations, as noted above, as to where to place the date aperture on a dial. Some prefer it on the right side of the dial, others at the bottom, and yet another group of people prefer it away from the cardinal hour markers and tucked away at the 4:30 position.
By experience, I find that putting a date at 6 or 4:30 looks best as long as the date aperture doesn’t take away the spot of an hour marker. If the date is at 6, then it looks best if the hour marker is indicated even by a tiny sliver of paint or by a smaller applied index. I also have a general preference for framed date windows, whether the frame is painted (to match painted markers) or applied (to match applied markers.) This way, the date window looks deliberate. It is when the date aperture looks like a simple cut-out that it seems to be an after-thought.
The Perforated Date Aperture
In the world of micro and independent brands, there exists a new trend in which brands indicate the date by way of perforating holes on the dial. There are versions of this technique with 31 holes and some with more and less, depending whether each hole indicates one day or if two holes are used to frame the current date. (The latter is better exemplified on Nomos watches as seen below.) Going about displaying the date in this way serves two purposes: first, it creates visual harmony since the perforated holes are organized in a circle which matches the shape of the dial; second, it is less obtrusive than a classic date aperture depending on how well integrated it is with the design.
Personally, I find it difficult to read the date in this way because, in general, the holes are small and the dot that indicates the date is even smaller. This only works on contrasting dials and on watches that have large dial openings. The way Nomos goes about it, for example, is more legible since they contrast bright orange or red dots with white dials. Regardless of which version suits you best, this trend is rather recent as far as I know. (Of course, this doesn’t mean it didn’t exist before.)
The Oversized Date Aperture
On the opposite side of the spectrum, in some watches the date aperture becomes an integral part of the dial design. In this case, it is large, as in very, very large as it can be seen on some A. Lange & Söhne timepieces and other classic looking Swiss luxury timepieces. Instead of making the date aperture small and figuring out a way to make it disappear on the dial, oversized date apertures occupy a massive visual real estate on the dial. This is not to make the date more legible but to make it one with the design. Making such oversized date apertures requires changing the way date discs operate. Instead of having one disc showing all numerals, two discs are mounted side by side and both rotate at midnight to show the next date.
The Fourth Hand Date Indicator
Another classic way of showing the date—although not as common as cutting out a piece of the dial—is to indicate it by way of a fourth hand that points to a numeral printed small on the outside of the dial. Oris is one of the few watchmakers to integrate the date in that fashion on its vintage-looking pilot watches (as seen below.) This is clever in my opinion since watches already come with hands, why not add a fourth one instead of cutting out a piece of the dial? This seems more natural to me and this is best done by making the date hand thinner compared to the hour and minute hands, and by ending the hand with a semi-circular or arrow-shaped element.
If you care to have a date on your dial, which way do you like best? I’m sure there are other ways to indicate the date, however in this article I wanted to show the four most common ways of doing so. It is possible, actually, to look at variations of each method to add a fifth or sixth technique. For example, I’ve seen brands put the date disc in the middle of the dial instead of tucking it underneath it. Or I’ve seen brands put the date aperture on the case-back not to disrupt the design.
Please let me know your thoughts on how best to indicate the date on the dial and if you’ve come across a new way of going about it.
Featured image: www.revolutionwatch.com