Welcome to Watches You Should Know, a biweekly column highlighting little-known watches with interesting backstories and unexpected influence. This week: the Dalil Monte Carlo.
It’s one of the most obscure, exotic, and fascinating vintage watches you’re likely to see anytime soon, and there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it. The Dalil Monte Carlo, as it’s properly known, has a very 1970s feel with a unique design and a feature set driven by the needs and interests of its intended audience. These are aesthetic and functional features not found on almost any other watch.
The Dalil watches are so obscure that today they can be found almost exclusively on eBay, and there’s not much information available on the company that made them. Not only do they have an intriguing look and story, but they’re Swiss Made automatics, usually rather affordable, and many examples are being sold in good condition as NOS (“new-old stock,” meaning they were made decades ago but never sold, often having remained in storage).
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The Dalil Monte Carlo was produced in the 1970s for devout Muslims. The Muslim practice of praying five times per day in the direction of Mecca necessitates knowing which cardinal direction to face, and this offers an unusual opportunity for watchmakers to provide genuine utility. While some feature bold and offbeat 1970s cases and others have more classical designs, different versions of the Monte Carlo appear to offer different levels of functionality — but all include a compass mounted above the hands at the center of the dial.
The most complex examples have two rotating rings at the dial’s periphery, controlled by numbered crowns on the case side. The outer ring features different city names around the world (in Arabic, English, or French, according to the model), and the inner ring features Arabic phrases from the Koran and pips. The idea is to use the compass in combination with these features to find the direction of prayer from anywhere in the world. Inside is an A. Schild AS 2063 Swiss automatic movement, a common workhorse sourced by many well-known watch companies in its day, offering time and date with around 46 hours of power reserve.
Another useful function for Muslims would be marking prayer times throughout the day, which are based on astronomical phenomena like sunrise and sunset (which can change throughout the year) and are performed within a certain range of time, rather than an exact time. (Thus it’s useful for many Muslims to rely on a call to prayer to keep track of the appropriate prayer times.) Interestingly, Casio currently produces an Islamic Prayer Alarm watch with an Islamic Hijri calendar function as well as prayer alarms (normal Casio beeps) automatically calculated by inputting one’s coordinates.
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The word dalil means “guide” or “reference” in Arabic, and according to the brand’s advertisements, “Dalil is the guide of the traveling Muslim.” The Dalil watches are an exceedingly interesting instance of horology intersecting with culture (and in this case, with religion) in a creative way. They might seem niche, but there are more potential devout Muslim customers in the world than, say, divers, pilots, or professional race car drivers — for whom there are myriad watches made every year.