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The dial of a watch is oftentimes referred to as the face of a watch, hiding the complicated movement, in many ways so similar to infinitely complicated nerve endings overloaded with electronic signals that form our brain, behind a so simple yet beautiful visage. And just as a persons countenance, it resides as our strongest expression for how we feel and how we want to be perceived. And like our physiognomy, it is marked by imperfections, details that deviate from the symmetry, like a playful childish mind residing among the fixed and stiff seperation based on societal standards as well as the demands and expectations of those around us. The latter beng so similar to the so symmetrical watch cases which seem to want to enclose any creativity.


In many ways, the uniqueness and apparent imperfection acts like a long deferred outbreak from a streamlined world, a world that just like the watch market seemed to have forgotten what made it so thrilling, what made it art. The designs of today seem like they follow in lockstep, not like they rush ahead, fading into the background as new materials and complications that can only be perceived as an improvement in daily life with the highest intellectual effort are presented as the next breakthrough in horology. The centerpiece of art is missing, the subjective objectivity of a crafted good not being able to be seen as distinctivily beautiful or ugly, but undeniably unique.


A wake-up call from the past seems like the only solution, as cheesy as it is, as the world of watchmaking is threatend to be swallowed an irreversible spiral of being forced to to match the industry leader in a fight for the median customer where every deviation from the norm can be considered financial suicide. This remembrance of the past manifests in the form of Patina dials, most notably the "Tropical dials", as those pieces of art only unfolded their beauty decades later. Following the japanese concept of "wabi-sabi", or the acceptance of imperfection, patina dials boast a beauty centered on this philosophy in which beauty is both impermanent and imperfect.


The term of a "honest" watch has therefore also enjoyed a wide range of use among vintage watch enthusiasts, as a watch with character isn't ashamed for its rich history and simultaneously guarantees for its own authenticity to a certain extent. Those are watches that have retainted their original parts and lived a real life on someone's wrist and didn't just gather dust in some box. More and more watches with heavy patina are breaking records at auctions, most famously Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona with the reference number 6239. The latter wasn't exactly minty, it had been used and showed commensurate wear, making it understandable to imagine why this was valuable to people. Anyone who was a fan of Paul Newman could see this were and therefore more easily imagine it on his actual wrist. When there is patina, we can project and be Paul Newman a little, raising this complicated teeny machine above just being a piece of jewellery.


This lead to the idea of correctness and originality attaining a higher status now than ever, with people not wanting replaced parts, even if those would improve the functionality of the watch. Countless stories of big watch manufacturers updating parts to modern standards on watches that they receive back for service haunt around in the watch community, resulting in unsuspecting vintage watch lovers receiving their beloved collectors item outfitted with for example a super luminova dial in place of the original tritium one, thereby destroying much of the value and history of the watch.


To reward its loyal customers, the brand wants to offer its customers what appears to be a better product, which in some way it definitly is. If we stay with the previous example, super luminova is a "superior" product in that it's not radioactive, and although it needs to be charged with light first in order to glow, the light emanating from it will remain constant for longer. The manufacturers want to keep their product up to date, making this course of action the only way to deliver a watch back to their customer that is upheld by the brand's warranty. But they thereby forget what vintage watch enthusiasts love about their piece of art and what history gets lost in the process, because if modern, superior technology is all we were after we could just look at our smartphone to check the time. There should be room for growth and irrationality, otherwise someone would leave no room for error, destroying every kind of individuality in the process.


Recently, so called "Tropical dials" have gained traction in the watch world, describing vintage watch dials that have turned some shade of brown over time. These dials weren't manufactured in this colour, as they were originally black, and oxidation of the paint mixture used in the 1950s till the 1970s to manufacture the dials caused them to turn brown, revealing their unique beauty as the paint reacted to UV rays and changed coloured from the black to a variety of brown hues. These defects took a long time to discover, because it could take years of exposure to the sun to make a dial turn brown. This discolouration appeared mostly on so called "tool" watches, with timepieces like Rolex Submariners or Daytonas and Omega Speedmasters having spent 1'000 of hours outside in the sun.


So-called "Radium burn" falls into a similar category as up until 1968 watchmakers used radium, a wildly radioactive material, to coat watch hands and dials as it glowed in the dark. The radiation from the hands paint would then sometimes burn the dial, discoloring the paint beneath it like a permanent shadow and resulting in interesting patterns vaguely shaped like the watch’s hands. The watches markers can be affected in a similar way, with materials like tritium acting as a safer alternative to radium as it stores energy from the sun and glows as a result, acting as a much less radioactive and therefore safer alternative that was used until the 1990s. The indices, originally boasting a white or cream colour, would thereafter turn into various shades of yellow as the radioactive material degrades over time. Additionaly, radioactive lume can also be affected by moisture and sunlight in the same way that dials can become tropical.


Bezels can also change their appearence over the years, with the story of Bakelite being one of the most famous as well as beautiful examples. The first synthetic plastic was used to make the bezel of the Rolex GMT Master with the reference number 6542, resulting in bezels that faded in the sun. But the aforementioned was prone to cracking and breakage, making them very rare today, leading to aluminium replacements that faded just as much.


The interesting thing is that no two faded alike, so even if you compare two bezels produced for the GMT Master with the reference number 1675, which shipped, in its most famous iteration, with a half-red, half-blue bezel, they won’t match. Sometimes you’ll get one on which the red half has faded to a beautiful magenta color, and the deep blue to a sky blue, turning every iteration of the timeless classic into a one of a kind work of art.

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