With centuries of watches under its belt, the modern watch industry boasts many terms that are used to describe various different styles of dials.
Unfortunately, if you’re just getting started in the wristwatch hobby, it can be difficult to navigate all of these common references if you’re not sure what they mean.
For this reason, we’ve put together this guide. If nothing else, it’ll help you understand what’s actually being discussed when someone says “nipple dial” or “tapisserie”, as all are presented with images. You’ll find that, in this discussion, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.
Popular Watch Dial Designs
Some of the dial styles we discuss on this page, and which are linked above, are proprietary to specific brands.
At the same time, others became so popular after introduction that they were quickly imitated and are now widely employed by different manufacturers. All are captivating, and all are good to know if you’re just starting to navigate the extensive world of mechanical wristwatches.
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Tappisserie Dial by Audemars Piguet
It can be said that the Royal Oak has been an icon in the world of luxury timepieces since its introduction in 1972. Steel sports watches were not common at the time, and this model, crafted entirely from the novel metal, made some serious waves.
Once the eyes make it past the intricate angles of the case and bracelet, they inevitably land on the dial. The Royal Oak’s dial is not the most complex at a distance, though it certainly evolves with proximity and even more with a loupe.
The first Royal Oaks possessed what is known as the Petite Tapisserie pattern, with later iterations developing the Mega Tapisserie and even later, with the Royal Oak Offshore, came the Mega Tapisserie. The difference between Petite and Grande is not very noticeable, but both are easily differentiated from the Mega variety.
The dials are created with the help of a machine similar to a pantograph, where a large ‘dye’ is used to craft the same template in smaller dimensions. With all of the modern technology being implemented by present-day watchmakers, it’s surprising that AP still creates their dials via this olden process. Yet this adds to the romantic essence of watches, where tradition is highly valued, while also boosting the old adage of “it it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
We highly recommend checking out the below video from AP where they cover their dial making process:
Guilloché by Breguet
The Guilloché is a technique by which watch dials are engraved to produce attractive decorative patterns. This is to say, guilloché refers not to the pattern but to the process by which the texture on the dial is achieved. It also represents one of the instances where a method proved so successful that it became widespread, but which was innovated in watchmaking by a single man – Abraham-Louis Breguet.
Guilloché patterns in the modern day are produced in the same way that they were made in the past – with the help of an engine-turning lathe. These are large, heavy, expensive, and generally old machines which require an experimented operator.
Nevertheless, they are incredibly effective at creating beautiful patterns and for this reason are still used today. Some of the most popular styles of guilloché include:
- Clous de Paris (AKA Hobnail)
- Pavé de Paris
- Sunburst guilloché
- Satiné circulaire
- Sauté piqué
Ocean Wave Dial by Omega Watches
The ocean wave dial has become a trademark of the beloved Omega Seamaster Diver ever since its introduction in 1993. It was, in fact, the first time this motif was used on a dive watch. So, if you do see this on anything other than an Omega, you know exactly where the inspiration came from.
Aside from imparting an obvious nautical theme, the repeating wave pattern adds visual complexity to dials that may have otherwise seemed monochromatic and uninteresting.
In its latest iteration, the Diver 300M Co-Axial Master Chronometer (example above), the waves are laser-etched onto an outstanding glossy ceramic dial. The engraving offers a contrast to the shine of the ceramic, creating what is arguably the most appealing wave dial ever.
Teak Pattern Dial by Omega
The “Teak Concept Pattern” is yet another style of dial that is attributed to Omega. It is generally the dial of choice in the brand’s Aqua Terra model lines which, as opposed to their 300M Diver sibling, are intended for more leisure wear.
Essentially, the Aqua Terra is intended to stay on top of the yacht, whereas the Diver 300M should be employed deep below it.
Therefore, the vertical and (more recently) horizontal lines of its dial are intended to recall the teak decks of luxury yachts. This may or may not come to mind instantly if you’re not familiar with them, but it certainly makes for tempting dials, particularly in lighter tones.
It’s also allowed the Aqua Terra line to stand its ground and create a unique identity next to the prominent Diver 300M, which could have easily overshadowed it if it weren’t a noteworthy enough model.
Clearly this is not the case, and is evidenced by Omega improving and innovating the AT line year after year.
Embossed Horizontal Pattern by Patek Philippe
Although Patek Philippe officially calls this style a horizontally embossed dial, it’s so essential to the very nature of the Nautilus that we prefer to call it the Nautilus dial.
It’s slightly similar to the previously discussed teak pattern dial, yet the Nautilus dial boasts equally-spaced and wider channels. These have always been oriented horizontally, and will likely remain this way in the future.
This style is encountered in every single Nautilus model, be it the modern Nautilus Perpetual Calendar 5740G, or the original Nautilus “Jumbo” 3700. It’s not always in the same color, though.
Patek has expressed this dial style in the classic deep blue, while also venturing into a brown gradient and lighter (and more “electric”) hues as seen in the 5980AR. In every example, it’s truly beautiful, and just as captivating as it was in the Nautilus models of times past.
Champagne Dial by Rolex
The term Champagne Dial is used by watch collectors to refer to a dial that is gold in color and generally possesses what is know as a sunburst texture. This texture is similar to that of brushed steel, except the ‘rays’ (or the “grain”) emanate from the center of the dial to the outer perimeter, as opposed to being parallel to each other.
The champagne dial is famous for being used on Rolex watches, most specifically the Day-Date, though it is widely implemented on the Datejust as well. Naturally, many other brands use similar techniques to achieve the look of the champagne dial, yet the term is most proper to Rolex watches.
Unfortunately, the style has seemingly fallen out of favor and it’s not encountered on many modern timepieces. As a result, it’s remained one of the best kept secrets of vintage watch collectors.
As far as looks, the linen dial is absolutely unique. It is also equally hard to describe in words, so we’ll let the pictures do the talking. You’ll promptly understand why it’s called a linen dial.
Nipple Dial by Rolex
The Nipple Dial is a very popular dial design, and one which was produced exclusively by one brand – Rolex. More specifically, the nipple dial moniker speaks to the design of the individual hour indices on sparse vintage GMT-Master and Submariner models.
Only full-gold or two-tone varieties of older GMT and Sub models featured these applied indices with this very particular look.
On a nipple dial, the gold component of each individual hour index is much more pronounced, and the amount of luminous has been diminished. This creates a unique look, slightly similar to the anatomical structure from which the nickname was derived.
The Meteorite Dial is one of the most striking dial styles that one can encounter in a timepiece, and one that is wonderfully executed by many different brands. For example, Rolex, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Omega are just a few of the largest watch manufacturers that regularly employ meteorite in their watches.
Ironically enough, it is likely that all of these brands are using fragments from the same meteorite – the Gibeon meteorite. What is a bit more unique is the treatment that the fragments undergo before they are used as dials.
Different (and proprietary) treatments give the surface of the meteorite dial a different texture, with unique patterns and hues. You can note the differences yourself between the newly-released meteorite GMT-Master and the Speedmaster “Grey Side Of The Moon” moonwatch.
Dégradé Dial by Glashutte Original
The Dégradé Dial is a breathtaking, though not widely known, dial style crafted solely by German watchmaker Glashütte Original.
GO, considered one of the biggest value propositions out of the Glashütte region in Germany, has been able to create a texture unlike anything encountered previously on a watch dial. They do this at their own dial manufacture in Pzorheim, and while the brand indeed provides dials for other brands, this dégradé texture is something they keep to themselves.
Offered in the brand’s vintage-inspired Sixties collection, the dégradé dial can currently be had in gradient green or orange colors. Both colors are electric, to say the least, and pair with the dynamic textures beautifully.
The Sector Dial term is one that is used rather loosely by brands in the luxury watch industry, while remaining a style that is innately attractive to watch collectors the world over.
This sector motif is characterized by a sterile dial center that is surrounded by a ‘track’ with a contrasting texture. The hour indices, be they numerals or batons (or both), are found on this track.
In turn, surrounding the hour track are calibrated minute gradations often referred to as a “railroad” minute markings due to their similarity to railroad tracks.
The sector dial has been used at one point or another by just about every large manufacturer, including the likes of Patek Philippe, Omega, Rolex, and IWC.
A modern version of the sector dial can be seen in the above picture of a 2017 Jaeger-Lecoultre Master Control Date ref. Q1548530.
The term Salmon dial is used for watches which possess a dial in a particular tone of pink. Indeed, the color could be labeled as a light pink by those unfamiliar with the style, but it is widely known as the salmon dial style within the watch community.
Salmon dials seem to have fallen out of favor in recent times and are mostly encountered in vintage watches. Notable examples of salmon dials are made by Rolex and perhaps most famously by Patek Philippe.
Montblanc, a relatively young watch manufacturer, recently took a swing at a salmon dial model and, quite honestly, knocked it out of the park. They currently offer this refined dial style in their Heritage GMT and Heritage Automatic, both of which retail for less than $3,000.
A high-end model was also released with a salmon dial; it is the Montblanc Heritage Pulsograph Limited Edition (119914). This 100-piece limited edition is cased in steel, features a monopusher chrono complication, and retails for $30,000.
More Watch Guides
With how quickly watch industry trends are evolving in the modern day, it’s impossible to claim that this page will remain all-encompassing, so keep checking back regularly to catch up on the latest dial styles.
And if you’ve enjoyed our overview of these well-known dials, make sure to check out some of our other popular watch guides below.
- Which Brand Makes The Best Dive Watch?
- The Origins Of The Pilot Watch & The Best Modern Examples
- The Best Traveler’s Timepieces
- These Rolex Watches May Turn Into The Investment Of A Lifetime
- Bespoke Unit Watch Homepage
"An incredible resource for those just starting out in the watch hobby. Many of these terms are constantly thrown around and rarely explained, which makes this page quite a helpful tool."Rating: 5.0★★★★★