Some like their vintage watches like they like their toast: nicely browned. A black watch dial that has faded to a nice brown is often referred to as “tropical” — and while you might reasonably think this means a ruined watch, collectors often go crazy for their interesting colors, organic textures, and the charming character it can add to a watch. It’s one of the more odd and interesting phenomena within the larger vintage watch patina “scene.”
Why “tropical?” Watches have usually faded in this way due to prolonged exposure to the sun and the degradation of the paints used — sometimes after a long life in tropical, short-sleeved climates. One might imagine the original owner with a wrist color similar to that of the dial but with a perfectly watch-shaped tan line. This probably won’t happen to watches being produced now even if they are worn in the sun every day, as modern brands have worked to address the problem and dial production techniques have changed.
Tropical dials are the result of a chemical that was mistakenly used with the intention of protecting the dial from discoloration. However, you don’t have to be a hardcore collector to appreciate that that coffee- or tobacco-like hue possibly looks even better than the original black did. Tropical Rolex and Omega sport watches are particularly popular, but below are three less commonly seen examples with that faded brown dial look.
Longines Sei Tacche
What We Like: This is, admittedly, a somewhat extreme example. But it’s just captivating to stare at those blue hands over a dial that’s aged in a way that would be hard to contrive. A lot of watches going back as far as the 1940s like this one have extensively patinated dials, but many have damaged hands and other elements that go beyond charming “character” and simply look decayed. This example, measuring 32mm with a manually wound movement, appears to have most of these elements intact — and that makes for an interesting contrast. These military-style Longines watches don’t have a specific model name but collectors refer to them — in Italian — by the number of notches on the case back. This one has six, so it’s a Sei Tacche.
From the Seller: Case is in excellent condition, showing few signs of wear/age. There are a few tool marks on the caseback. Movement is in excellent working order.
Rolex Air-King Oyster Perpetual
What We Like: It’s somewhat rare to see a tropical dial from as recently as 1999 such as that on this Rolex Air-King. Further, this example has taken on a particularly interesting coloration (or discoloration, rather), as it appears that the original sunburst-textured dial has faded unevenly in a circular pattern in different shades. Otherwise, it’s a solid example of Rolex’s aviation-themed Air-King at 35mm in steel with the automatic Rolex cal. 3000 movement inside.
From the Seller: Dial and hands show original tritium and remain in very good condition. The watch case appears to have been polished once.
Gallet Multichron 12 “Jim Clark”
What We Like: Gallet is a historic brand with a lot of respect in the watch enthusiast community, and while they aren’t cheap, they do offer incredible history, refinement, and value. Particularly well-known is the Multichron chronograph made famous by F1 driver Jim Clark. The “12” in its name refers to the notable (for its time, around the 1950s) ability of its chronograph to measure up to 12 hours in its 6 o’clock subdial. This example has an even fade to its earthy, tropical brown dial with other elements still appearing crisp. It’s powered by a manually wound Excelsior Park cal. 40 column-wheel chronograph movement, and it comes on a lovely “beads-of-rice”-style bracelet and brown leather strap.
From the Seller: In overall excellent condition. The case retains the original brushed finish with no major scratches or signs of over polishing. The movement runs very well.
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