Rolex Tropical Dials: What & Why

Rolex Tropical Dials: What & Why

I am not a “watch collector” per se; I. don't know loads about old, rare, and sought-after Rolex references. However, I know generally that, the rarer something is, the more collectible it becomes. In the world of Rolex, this also means that it becomes more expensive. The idea of limiting watch quantities is not new, and now brands big and small purposely make limited editions so that they are guaranteed to be sold out and talked about. As we might see it, Rolex does not like to make mistakes. We discussed this when looking at the rare albino dial Explorer 1 which was the result of either a manufacturing default or of prototyping. Tropical dial Rolexes are the same. Here, we’ll briefly discuss what they are and look at some examples of sought-after Rolexes with such dials. 

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What Is a Tropical Dial?

A tropical dial is a dial that turned a different color over time – generally brown, orange, or something in between. Most often, this is due to extended exposure to UV rays, humidity, and heat. Any man made object changes appearance after a while, from the metals of our cars to the plastic found everywhere. Watch dials are no different. For a very long time, watchmakers have looked for ways to make watches more durable so that they could look pristine for eternity and beyond. This is why, for example, “blued hands” are chemically or heat-treated to prevent tarnishing, or that the stainless steel of cases and bracelets can be coated by  transparent compounds, sandblasted, or coated with a fine diamond-like powder (DLC) to prevent tarnishing and scratching.

Everest Journal Rolex Tropical Dials: What & WhySource:

Makers of fine horology such as Rolex, for a very long time, have looked for ways to make their dials resistant to time and exposure to natural elements. Rolex, amongst a few other brands, would coat the dials using different compounds that protect the metal and paint from tarnishing due to the repeated exposure to light, heat, and humidity. Because it takes years for a metal dial to show such signs of wear, Rolex didn’t realize until decades later that, at some point, their technicians had used a faulty coating on some of their dials. This means that tropical dials are partially the result of an error in manufacturing which Rolex is not usually known for.

Everest Journal Rolex Tropical Dials: What & WhySource:

Samples of Rolex Tropical Dials 

So what is the result of such an error, and something that has become highly sought-after by collectors? One can find tropical dials in most Rolex collections that were made starting and around the 1950s. The way each Tropical dial looks depends on how much exposure it had to natural elements, in other words, where the wearer lived and what he/she did with the watch. The effect also has to do with the compound the dial was coated with and how it was applied. Because tropical dials are not just about color, you'll notice that sometimes their character stems from blemishes and spots that appear due to the way the protective coatings were applied by hand. 

Below are two great examples of tropical Rolex dials: a Rolex Explorer 1016 and a GMT-Master 1675. I’ll refer you to this article from Bob’s Watches to see more examples. 

Rolex Tropical Dials: What & WhySource:

Everest Journal Rolex Tropical Dials: What & WhySource:

Final Thoughts 

While it is true, in general, that whatever is rare is highly sought-after, I was surprised to learn that collectors spend thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, to buy a watch that was technically faulty. This goes to show that beauty—and value— are clearly in the eyes of the beholder. Personally, I find Tropical dials quite handsome. There is a certain charm about them which I could easily romanticize on the basis that time passes, and the fact that they show that high-end luxury watches were worn as intended: out and about for decades. Tropical dials are so popular that brands are beginning to. create faux-tropical dials, in that they chemically alter the appearance of dials using specific acids so that the dials look as if they were made 40 years ago. Is this the natural progression from the now-widespread faux lume patina? Let us know what you think below.

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