The WOW Conversation: Green Dials

Are green dials really trending? This is the question that the editors of WOW Singapore and Thailand grapple with, in the aftermath of
Watches & Wonders 2021.

Oct 08, 2021 | By Ruckdee Chotjinda
The distinctive olive green palm motif dial of the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust 36 being put together at the Rolex manufacture.

While watching the Breitling Summit webcast, the world was treated to the spectacle of Breitling CEO Georges Kern asking Brad Pitt what he thought about the green dial trend. He did this with just the hint of a smirk, and got a laconic reply from Pitt, who said he does not know anything about trends.

This was a masterstroke from Kern, a man who knows a thing or two about messaging. Depending on where you stand, you might think this exchange was meant to poke fun at the idea of trends in watchmaking. However, it might also be a way of saying Breitling is definitely feeling the zeitgeist, because it does have a couple of new offerings with green dials. Way to have your cake and eat it too!

Before moving on, we must acknowledge the colossal presence of a shadow hanging over the impact of green in watchmaking. If you guessed that the shadow is cast by the jolly green Geneva giant called Rolex, well, congratulations. Without even referencing the so-called Hulk Submariner, we draw your attention to the oft-neglected Oyster Perpetual Milgauss. It features the outstanding Z Blue dial, which is given an unearthly hue by the green-tinged sapphire crystal – a Rolex exclusive. Green is actually the corporate colour of Rolex, and figures strongly in the collection.

rolex green watch
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust 36 with olive green palm motif dial

There is an especially interesting variant this year, as seen here. The fact that Rolex discontinued the Hulk is interesting, because the unqualified success of this watch may well have given virtually every other brand the confidence to mount a green assault. But no green anything from Rolex has much to do with trends; green is trending at Rolex just as it is in plant life.

Moving right along, the conversation around green dials makes it seem like this is some sort of phenomenon sweeping Swiss watchmaking. Green dials are a must-have, in other words, and some non-Swiss brands, such as Seiko most notably, agree. Ask a specialist or lifestyle writer for 2021 watch trends and green dials are bound to come up, as they did in a public discussion panel during Watches & Wonders recently.

It is enough to make skeptics like the WOW Singapore editor turn his nose up, albeit ever so slightly. The magazine first reported on green dials trending back in 2019, and we were far from the first to do so. WatchTime noted that green began making its presence felt in 2017, for example. WOW Thailand followed up with a story about military-themed timepieces that showed that green was hardly new in the broader world of watches.

The editors of both editions come together to compare notes on this topic. As usual, they find that they have a lot to say…

Ruckdee Chotjinda: Did you get some well-deserved rest after Watches and Wonders Geneva 2021?

Ashok Soman: No rest for the wicked! More like no rest for the poor watch writer, confronted by so many wonderful watches, yet unable to touch any of them. My real frustration has another source this year. I have to say, I take issue with all the proclamations about trending green dials. I mean, even the new Patek Philippe 5711A builds on what the 5168G started in 2019…in fact, if I recall correctly, that was a reference to an earlier green dial 5167A from around 2010. A quick check with my friend Google tells me that Hodinkee agrees!

RC: You know, in my market, watch buyers did not accept green as a valid colour until it was used rather conspicuously by Rolex. And even so, it was not until a year ago that green was embraced here if a watch was made by another brand. What do you say? Is it the same in Singapore?

AS: It is true that green is not traditional in watchmaking, although I would argue that the strong association of this colour with Rolex discourages most other brands. On the other hand, to rubbish my own point there, green is an important colour for markets in the Middle East, and quite likely Malaysia and Indonesia. From my experience in both countries, I can confirm that actually. Plenty of watch brands have used the colour in special editions related to those markets – in Indonesia though it is related to the flag colours, just as it is in Singapore. I think green is just another colourway for Singapore, overall. Nothing especially special, in other words.

RC: So how do we explain the sudden increase in offerings now? It was just an uptick two years ago. Is the market saturated with blue watches? Or is it that the watch industry just wants to create fresher variations for people to look forward to or talk about during this otherwise gloomy time of pandemic?

AS: To me, I feel like there is no meaningful way to assess basic colours as offered by watchmaking brands – in terms of what is trending. You could do something on the real worth of rainbow watches and probably salmon dials, both of which are ongoing. I’m reminded of the brown dial trend 15 years ago or so. That was not the real trend. Instead, those dials accompanied an influx of rose gold models so rose gold was the real story.

RC: Well, we did see bronze watches with a green dial recently, right? But, of course, the phenomenon is hardly restricted to bronze.

Breitling Premier B09 Chronograph 40
Image: Breitling

AS: I will say that you and other observers are right to say that there are now many more brands including something in green in their assortments. And yes, going beyond bronze of course! There is some talk about green not working well with the shine of steel, mostly from those who do not like the new Patek Philippe 5711A.

RC: I haven’t heard anything along that line yet. But I think it should come down to which hue of green and the finishing of the dial itself. I am not going to limit possibilities despite the fact that I am not in the market for a green dial watch myself.

AS: As for why brands have embarked on this green journey together, seemingly, I have nothing on the record from any executives, other than smirks and shrugs. Feedback from retailers I suppose? I mean most brands do pay some heed to what the market wants. OK, I am sure that some brands are going green for their own reasons.

RC: Do you own a watch with a green dial? I don’t, but I did look seriously at a few of them in the past. Luminox and Glashütte Original come to mind now. Yes, they are very different, I know. In fact, I think it was Luminox that first got me looking at a green dial — it was kind of olive green, military green, you know.

AS: Actually, no, but then again I do not own a watch with a blue dial either so you can lump me in with the extreme traditionalists!

RC: How do you do not own a watch with a blue dial?

AS: Seriously though, I feel one needs depth in one’s collection before moving into niche colours, which is what I think green is. I do have an odd watch with an orange dial, and though I love that one, I cannot help but feel it is out of place with my black and white tickers. Well, I am excluding Swatches and other little novelties for this, so I suppose I do think that a serious watch needs a sober colour – which is another way green is different to blue, and more like salmon. Blue can be perfectly sober, and has a place in traditional watchmaking (screws and hands) but not so much with green. If anyone dares to call me a stodgy cynic, I will just wave my orange dial watch at them. It also has a matching orange leather strap you know!

RC: [laughs] That’s a good one. And I can join you right away as I own two red dial watches although they are on the affordable side where prices are concerned. Yes, I agree with you that our choice of dial colour to wear represents a stylistic statement, a personal preference. But on the point you made about sobriety, wouldn’t you classify the darker shade of green like the 2021 Reverso Tribute Small Seconds as sober? It is certainly more sober than the limited editions for London and Kuwait in the past.

AS: Even the traditional racing green, used year I think for the Breitling for Bentley Chronomat is relatively classical, which is the better word to describe that Reverso dial too.

RC: That new TAG Heuer Monaco for Grand Prix de Monaco Historique should also be thrown into this bunch. I am very glad it was given black subdials and not white ones which would have been a mistake if you ask me.

AS: I suppose that when it comes to colour schemes, it is a bit iffy to include black and white since these are not colours. Maybe I can call them standard shades then. In this case, blue is among the classic colours, again because of the blued hands of many fine pocket watches. If dark enough, blue is like a fun version of black! I recall Revolution writing in 2020 about the Piaget Polo S that green is trending and blue is the new black. WatchTime said the same of blue dials in 2019. This may be so, and is a matter of opinion and preference, as you say. What I am trying to say is that green can be classy, but not quite classic, if that makes sense. I mean, Mr Stern must agree with that or how could green show up in both the Nautilus and the Aquanaut!

RC: Ok. So, what about the use of a green dial in different styles of watches? I, for one, do not associate green with the sky so I would find it a more natural fit with the TAG Heuer Monaco I cited or the Seiko Alpinist than the IWC Pilot’s Watch Chronograph 41, which is a very sharp-looking watch if I don’t think about its sky-bound heritage.

AS: Green skies! No one thinks of that! But I suppose the reference there is to military colours, perhaps? I do think you are correct about different styles. When I think of the fumé dials from H. Moser & Cie, and the gradient dials from Glashütte Original, I do agree that green goes well there. And I suppose the various green dials from Montblanc also fit in with the military theme. Somewhat unexpectedly, so too does the Rado True Thinline, which the brand helpfully showcased with military-inspired casualwear. Anyway, your story on military-themed watches recently was an excellent showcase of the fun and casual aspects of military styles.

RC: Thank you, sir.

AS: As a counterpoint, or just to add on, the military association or connotation that some shades of green have also add to my feeling that green dials are niche in a way that blue dials are not. And then there is the matter of the straps, because blue dials really took off and showed their quality when paired with matching straps. If you do this with green, it might be a bit much, so perhaps it will be limited to stitching and such, as brands already do for other niche colours such as red or yellow.

RC: Your touching upon the straps and pairing reminds me to bring up another topic: clothing! I think one of the reasons I did not buy the Glashütte Original Sixties or Seventies with a green dial was because I wasn’t sure how and when to wear it. My wardrobe is more calibrated for watches with a blue or red or brown dial at the farthest extent but probably not green or yellow. I would think that green dials would be more suited to the weekends, unless it is a very sober or dark green?

AS: Well, a watch is quite small — even the behemoths from Richard Mille and Franck Muller — so I think it will not matter too much. But yes, the strap will make the difference as it will provide your watch with the opportunity to be disagreeable with your shirt cuff, or perhaps even your jacket. I like the example here of another Breitling, the Premier Heritage B09, which in pictures looks astonishingly striking. In reality though, the colours are muted, for both strap and dial. The brand went with the great pairing of red and green, but that is also a look that is hard to pull off, for a conservative man, let us say. The watch in its real-life tones works, although it may not be so interesting to fashion-forward men as the pictures make it out to be.

RC: That is one very different green indeed. For that release, I was more drawn to the Premier B25 Dato 42 with the salmon dial, priced at THB 393,000 (not a good sign when I can recall price), but that is a topic for another article. For now, Khun Ashok, what do you like best about this ongoing trend or movement or whatever it is? I like the fact that it promotes open-mindedness on the part of both watch companies and customers, and that it paves way for other colours to flourish, like, commercially.

AS: Personally, I am looking forward to seeing how the market reacts — it will take a few years! You know, trends in watchmaking are quite long-lasting, unlike in fashion for example. Nobody wants to spend a small fortune on a watch that is going out of style next year. On the matter of price, briefly, I think if we see a lot of mainstream offerings in green, with mainstream prices, then we will know if green has been accepted. By mainstream, I mean we should exclude most complications, country-specific limited editions, novelty pieces, and fashion watches. Similarly, I think we will see experiments in different shades of green, as you noted. So that means collectors can have fun to see what shade of green makes it into the full range, and what was perhaps a misstep from the relevant brand. To paraphrase from Mr Kern again, collectors love to find mistakes!

RC: Maybe, just maybe, malachite dials will benefit from this development also. I have been fascinated by malachite since that exhibition by Van Cleef & Arpels in Singapore back in 2016. And I remember from my last visit to Omega in the pre-Covid world how a particular Seamaster 300 watch was given a malachite dial. It was a very surprising combination, which was very well executed. I mean, I would not have thought of a dive watch with a malachite dial. That stone dial looks great with both yellow gold and platinum case options.

AS: I can report that over here, opinions were so divided over that Seamaster that we initially heard that not even one would make it to our shores. Everyone in the press corps loved it though, and Omega changed their minds eventually and brought it in. I cannot speak to what drove the change, but I think that initially no one wanted to take a chance on such a surprising piece. It turned out that collectors here were ready, but not in large numbers or anything. That watch is the very definition of a niche timepiece! On the other hand, Blancpain had the lovely Bathyscaphe Mokarran edition in a green that everyone loved, but it was a US-only special edition. Hopefully the brand can deliver something like that for more markets because it does have some interesting options in green (in the advertising visual last issue, for example).

RC: What about the Tudor Black Bay Fifty- Eight 18K? What do your peers or readers think about it?

AS: People definitely love the look, but my feeling is that Tudor could do the Black Bay Fifty-Eight in pink with a paladium case and faux mink fur vegan strap and it would be just fine! It will probably sell well, but this one also feels like a true-blue novelty. Just like the malachite dial Seamaster.

RC: For that Tudor, I like the look but I am not eager to pay the price for a gold Tudor. Well, I am not eager to pay the price for a gold anything. With my limited means, I would rather have two stainless steel watches. I bought my one and only gold watch only because they did not and do not make it in stainless steel on a regular basis. Anyway, back on the subject of green dial watches.

longines hydroquest
Longines HydroConquest Boutique edition

AS: Price sensitivity is important, of course! Some dial options do command a premium, in the after-market scene, as in the example of the watch in the introduction. I noted that no one wants to buy a watch that is going out of style soon, but there are some who see dollar signs here; an opportunity that has nothing to do with whether a watch is good or not. In a nutshell, that is my issue with trends. We are sending the the wrong signals to people just getting into the spirit of collecting timepieces. By implying that green, or whatever colour, is du jour, as they say, then it might be quite out of favour in the years to come. I draw your attention back to those brown dials, for example, but also the vivid hues that marked watches in the 1970s, and the odd shapes that defined the wristwatch in the early 20th century. If Patek Philippe only has this shade of green for the 5711A in this final run of that model, it will for sure be valued at an insane level. And those vivid hues from the 1970s? They have already made their mark at Rolex with the Oyster Perpetuals last year.

RC: I like that sense of responsibility. Perhaps, this is also why I never wrote anything along the line of watch investment. I only encourage people to buy what they like, not what their friends like, and that is also why all of my watches can be resold for only half of the retail price. I wish we had a smiling face with tearful eyes emoticon in this print magazine. It will be perfect here.

AS: We can have the designers crack their heads for suitable emojis/emoticons for this story, to which we will receive facepalm emoticons, no doubt. On that point, do you think this discussion is merely academic? I mean, whether green is in or not, the main thing to note is that now one can get a nice watch with a green dial, and there will probably be more colours coming.

RC: This discussion is half academic, half commercial, I think. If this discussion had taken place on an online discussion platform, there would have been a range of comments from people around the world. But even if this is a discussion between two men in the same region of the world, I would say the back and forth above would have already benefited the readers somehow as they navigate the current marketing offerings while balancing their indulgence or purchases. Parting question … Do you think that, 10 years from now, we will look back at this article and laugh at the opinions we hold today?

AS: Quite possibly! Well, maybe we will regret going to such lengths about green dials, but I think a number of related points that came up are as relevant today as they were in the past, and so will likely still be relevant in the near future.

RC: It was a great hour and 55 minutes chat! Thank you for your time. Stay safe, stay healthy, and we go have that palak paneer again next time I am able to visit you and Singapore.

AS: Stay safe and healthy indeed! Let’s add some Thai green curry to that menu!

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