For an industry with such a rich tapestry of history, it’s surprising to realise just how many mysteries remain unanswered in the world of horology: Who really wore the Explorer up Everest? Who bought Paul Newman’s Daytona? And why is the California dial called the California dial?
While Tenzing Norgay probably knows the answer to the first question, and Aurel Bacs definitely knows the answer to the second, nobody really knows the answer to that last question. Some theorise that the “California dial”, which splits half the numerals on a watch’s dial between Roman and Arabic, is so-called because that particular design was exceedingly popular in the state of California in the ’30s and ’40s. Others speculate that it’s because of a notable Californian watchmaker dial and refinisher, Kirk Rich, who was churning out this particular design in the 1970s.
The truth is, we’re probably never going to know the real answer to this question, but we do know one thing for certain — a watch with a California dial is a good-looking thing, and below are four timepieces you can still purchase with the distinctive design:
Panerai Radiomir California – 47MM
Panerai has a very long history with the distinctive dial design. In fact, the Radiomir, Panerai’s first ever timepiece, sported the California dial from as early as 1936. As such, both the Italian watchmaker and the inimitable dial layout are inextricably linked, and the only watchmaker on earth that could potentially lay claim to having a closer relationship with the X, XI, I and II aesthetic is Rolex, because the Swiss outfit has been using California dials in the production of its watches for even longer … and, of course, Rolex made the first Radiomir.
Nomos Glashütte Club
Nomos Glashütte have got a knack for doing things their own way. Whether it be their manufacture calibre movements, pared-back Bauhaus aesthetics, or indeed even the California dial on their excellent Club model … it’s just quintessentially Nomos. What the Germanic watchmaker has done with their interpretation of the traditional California dial is essentially flip it on its head — literally. Instead of the the top half of the dial being Roman numerals and the bottom half Arabic, it’s the opposite. Nomos has also done away with the VI numeral, and in its place is the Club’s classic sub-seconds display. We love this modern twist on the California dial, it just works.
Apple Watch Series 5
While it may look patently odd having a digital watch sporting a California dial, it actually makes a lot more sense than you think, because, after all, Apple was founded and its headquarters remain in the Golden State. Apple’s unique implementation of the dial additionally displays a day and date indication as well as a simple and charming moonphase indicator. It’s easily my favourite face for the Series 5, and it perfectly exhibits the California dial’s broad appeal and ability to transcend purely mechanical watches.
Nicholas Hacko Watchmaker
Nicholas Hacko is not only Australia’s premier watchmaker, it is Australia’s only watchmaker. The Sydney-based firm has been crafting timepieces for quite some time now, and the majority of their watches have a very distinct design language. We’re talking pilot-style aesthetics, polished bezels, onion crowns and, of course, California dials.