The sun is shining, the weather is nice, the BBQ is warming up… It’s summer! While I already covered the tropical dial, there was one other dial that came up to me when I was thinking of my favourite season:
The smoked dial is actually quite functional from a design perspective. With the radial gradient from dark to light, it leads the eye to the center. Visually, it attracts attention to the center of the watch head. From there the viewer has an optimal starting point for reading the time. With a little imagination, the smoked dial is like a stage set up with a spotlight.
Since the dramatic effect of the smoked dial is best with a minimum of elements on top of it, we often see that watches with a smoked dial have very little indicators. The more elements you put on top of the smoked dial, the less visible and strong the underlying gradient will be. As always, it’s important to maintain readability. While most watches with a smoked dial are (semi) dress watches, a watch should always be fulfilling the main purpose to a certain level: display time. But, there is some kind of trick to bypass this problem. Instead of leaving out (mandatory) elements, you can also design the elements in a way that they don’t take up a lot of space. For example, very thin and elegant raised hour markers instead of giant dots filled with luminous material.
Smoked dials, sometimes also called ‘fumé’ dials, were very popular in the sixties and seventies. Around the same time that electric guitars became really popular. Some electric guitar bodies were painted in what’s called ‘sunburst’. It’s the same visual effect as on the smoked dial. An interesting question could be: Which one was first? Which one was inspired by the other? While we see quite some smoked dial variations, guitar producers Fender and Gibson have produced more than 100+ sunburst variations.
As I mentioned earlier, the most famous watches with a smoked dial are dress watches. But, there are some exceptions. Squale has released a special edition with a smoked dial and Tudor recently released their Black Bay with a slate grey fumé dial. Panerai also released some in the past (e.g. the PAM687 with a brown smoked dial).
As I look back to watch releases of the last half year it seems that there is a comeback of the smoked dial. As with all extravagant looking things, a watch with a smoked dial is not for everyone. While it isn’t the craziest watch thing in the world, it certainly has special characteristics. Of course, it highly depends on the base color of the dial (e.g. poisonous green vs dark blue). It will probably not the first watch you buy, but in my opinion, it’s a nice niche and can make your collection more diverse. I see you in the next episode. A special one, because it will be the 50th episode!
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Teun van Heerebeek is contributor and visual artist to Fratello Watches. With his Watches & Pencils illustrations and other articles he likes to explore the vast watch-lands in all its diversity. His love for watches mainly originates from his eye... read more