Serious watch collectors are sometimes more interested in what goes on underneath the case rather than on the dial, but a well-designed dial complements and enhances what’s underneath the hood. Different dial styles are a way of distinguishing a watch from other contenders, and dial preferences can be as unique and specific as collectors themselves. The type of person who buys an Explorer, for example, probably isn’t the same person buying Yacht-Master II. Of course, it’s definitely possible to appreciate both dials, but you probably lean either towards minimalism or maximalism, rather than both.
Part of what sets a dial apart is the font and numeral choices on a dial. Since fine timepieces are tiny mechanical marvels, it’s important that dial design is just as meticulous. Like everything else Swiss watchmakers do, careful attention is paid to font and numeral styles.
A different typeface can completely transform the look of a dial. Grab a loupe, settle in, and take a closer look at how even the smallest choices can make a big impact.
When a Font Defines a Brand
Occasionally, a memorable font can become indelibly associated with a specific watch or watch brand. One of the best examples of this is the Omega Speedmaster. Originally introduced in 1957, the Omega Speedmaster has the name of the watch written on the dial using a connected script style that was very popular in the 1960s. As each subsequent watch kept the scripted font, the font itself became a shorthand for the Moonwatch.
You can see a similar effect on the Rolex Air-King. With the Air-King, the reference name is still rendered in the same mid-century modern font immediately evokes an entirely different era of watchmaking. Seeing the Air-King font establishes its history, tradition, and provenance as a Rolex reference.
It’s All About the Numbers
The type of numerals a watchmaker chooses can also have a dramatic effect on the final design. For instance, take a gander at the beloved Rolex Explorer. The Explored feels markedly different from many Rolex references, and much of that has to do with the dial. The large, elongated numerals at the 3, 6, and 9 are a hallmark of the Explorer, and collectors are drawn to these big, bold, numerals. The numbers are similar to those in the Eurostile font family. The Eurostile font was developed in the early 1960s, and it retains a slightly retro feel even on a thoroughly modern watch.
The Great Serif vs. Sans Serif Debate
First, a quick primer: Serif typefaces include small, often horizontal lines on the main stems that make up a letter, while sans serif fonts don’t include these small lines. Serif fonts are often used to convey history, tradition, elegance, and stability. For these reasons, it’s not a surprise that the logos for Rolex, Omega, and IWC are all rendered in serif fonts.
Sans serif fonts, on the other hand, project modernity, minimalism, and simplicity. Newer watchmakers such as Nomos and Christopher Ward use a sans serif font to communicate their recent arrival on the scene. On a dial, a sans serif or serif font can subtly convey a brand’s approach and overall aesthetic.
Let Your Watch Band Highlight Your Dial
Don’t be afraid to swap your stainless steel bracelet for a luxury rubber strap in an unexpected color. Highlight the dial design by trying an orange band to match the seconds hand on the Milgauss or opt for a matte black strap to go with the black subdials on the Daytona. Customize your Rolex with a cult-favorite, five-star rated Everest Bands strap for a look that’s all your own.
Written by Meghan Clark