The Best Dials of 2020 – Part 1

The Best Dials of 2020 – Part 1

Thor Svaboe

Me, I’m a dial man. Don’t get me wrong, I love a sharp bevelled case and intricate movements, but what gets me first is the face of the watch. Here we’ll look at 10 examples – over two stories, the second of which to follow in the coming days – of dial faces that could launch a thousand watch enthusiasts. Into bliss.

From minimalist craftsmanship in precious metals to microbrand vitreous enamel, these are the best of the best. There’s no need to underline the fact that 2020 has been a dramatic year, with a sharp downturn for the Swiss watch industry as a whole, not to mention the dreaded C-word. In spite of this, we have had a plethora of brilliant, and wholly unexpected, releases from brands both large and small.

The best thing of all? Not all of the brands that make the list are the usual suspects. It has taken a crisis for several of the lesser knows to truly shine and show their stripes. And fumé and sunray, and vertical brushwork, and…

Chopard Alpine Eagle two-tone

best dials 2020
The Chopard Alpine Eagle in two-tone. For images this good, see @kristianhaagen

I was lucky enough last year to have the Chopard Alpine Eagle as a weekend guest, and I’ll happily admit to becoming lost in the intricate structure of the dial, inspired by the iris of the namesake alpine eagle. So I will happily include it in this year’s best dials, based on their strong new two-tone offering, adding complexity to a watch already not meant for the shy of wrist amongst us. The 41mm of the Alpine Eagle on the broadest part of the case makes the wrist presence delightfully compact, and the polished centrepieces on the bracelet seem like little ingots of rose gold. The dial structure is made by a galvanic process on a solid brass dial, creating the deeply cut pattern.

The iris inspiration is clear on the blue dial, whereas on this grey version it reminds me of the eye of a hurricane; the rough lines seems to move as they’re radiating out from the centre, pulling you closer. The grey colour of the dial in this two-tone model complements the rose gold perfectly, and so does the exact applied indices – traditional by their Roman nature, intricate of line. The brushed grey colour of the minute track rehaut adds some depth to the dial in what is a delicate and compact chunk of a watch, more so than the pictures suggest. Compared to other two-tone watches, the steel creates a stronger contrast to the rose gold, as it seems somehow brighter. There is a reason: this is Chopard’s own alloy Lucent Steel — eco-friendly, whiter and tougher than the usual 316 or 904L, and this difference just underlines the craftsmanship invested by Chopard in this seminal model in 41mm. With a COSC-certified manufacture movement and a very slim 9.7mm case, this is the enviable combination of sporty, dressy and svelte. RRP: $22,800 AUD at 36mm and $28,800 AUD at 41mm. 

Czapek & Cie Antarctique

Can an apparently simple vertically brushed dial make it worthy of a top spot? The small manufacture of Czapek launched with the Antarctique, their first foray into the hotly contested arena of Integrated Bracelets, a sharp 3-hand piece without any likeness to the gladiators already in the bracelet arena. I am fascinated with the hand-decorated Lamé dial on the grey Terre Adélie version. That brushed dial, with deep vertical striations that bring a perfect contrast to the bevelled polished arrowhead indices and strong sword hands. The monochrome metal on metal contrasts against the dial, which is icy cool and a lot stronger than you’d imagine.

The case is discrete, with a 40.5 x 10.6mm profile, and a polished bezel accentuating the sharp dial details. The appearance is one of balanced proportions with the brushed, bevelled case and slim bracelet. This has C-shaped centre links unlike any OGs in the sporty bracelet game, though at first glance it might remind you of the Royal Oak. At $18,900 USD you expect something special under the caseback, and the Antarctique doesn’t disappoint with its new manufacture movement SXH5, running at 28,800 vph with 28 jewels and a reserve of 56 hours on a single barrel. I could carry on for a good number of paragraphs on the exquisite micro-rotor movement, but will leave you with an image of the SXH5 calibre that will make you pinch to zoom in … RRP: $18,900 USD

Glashütte Original Sixties Glacier Blue

Best dials 2020
For images this good, see @kristianhaagen

Glashütte Original are the uncrowned German masters of degradè dial lacquerwork, with a non-German penchant for amazingly bright blues, greens and even orange. Is it a revolution in the small town of Glashütte, in reaction to the traditional monochrome exactness of their neighbours? We’ll never know, but they continue to impress. This year, what caught our collective eyes were these purple/blue-tinged versions of their Sixties Chronograph and three-hand models. Glacier Blue – a perfect description of what is an ice-cold ’60s-style convex dial, like staring into a deep crevasse in an arctic glacier.

The degradè finishing means that the light centre of the dial becomes progressively darker towards a mysterious navy on the crystal-distorted edge of the dial. The indices are cut into the dial then metal filled, and the seconds hand curved to follow the arc of the dial. The 42mm chronograph is a study in balanced design, but for the maximum impact of colour, the time-only version creates a calmer canvas for this deep study in blue. The cases of both models are minimalist, pitch-perfect renditions of dress watch finery from the ’60s, and the finishing is superb, underlining Glashütte Original as an important player in German Horology. Both versions have a slim shape that sits low on the wrist, ready to slide out from under your shirt cuff when your business meeting goes awry and you need a distracting factor while you collect your thoughts. RRP: Sixties time-only is $10,100 AUD Sixties Chronograph is $12,400 AUD

LM101 MB&F x H. Moser & Cie – Dial of the year?

Best Dials of 2020

Let me underline here that the list is curated, but in no particular order. But for every rule there must be an exception, and LM101 MB&F x Moser is first for a good reason — it’s a collaboration that horological daydreams are made of. Whoever played matchmaker here has set up the perfect marriage, and the first lovechild has one of the most spectacular dials of the year. Behold the cutting edge of MB&F with their 21st century take on mechanical Haute Horlogerie, paired with the minimalist perfection of H. Moser and their hypnotising dials. This model represents H. Moser reinterpreting the Legacy Time Machine 101, and manufactured by MB&F.

At first confusing, we recognise the language of the innovative Geneva maison MB&F with a twist, in the H. Moser touch of minimalist deep colour from their Concept series. The arc of the MB&F balance bridge entertains us as a thought-inducing mechanical marvel, reimagined here, hovering above the abyss-like fumé wonder of a Moser dial lending it an extra dimension. The saturated colour of the fumé dial has the sharp detail of Moser dauphine hour and minute hands at 1 and a power reserve at 6, seemingly floating freely in the coloured void. This is minimalism as beauty in its purest form, not simplicity, and for me a timely reminder of the impermanence of time itself. One look and my words will be forgotten, so this is kept short. RRP: CHF53,000

Greubel Forsey Hand Made 1

Best Dials of 2020
Hand Made 1

Craftsmanship is the new Luxury, something clearly visible in this beautiful piece by Greubel Forsey – somehow different and more clean-cut mechanical than their usual complex visions of time. The Hand Made 1 has been a long-term project to emphasise and underline the need to keep alive artisanal craftsmanship, and the ability to make even the smallest component by hand. The Hand Made 1 is at the same time assembled to Greubel Forsey’s rigorous standards, with the prototype you see here being the result of 6000 hours of labour. The quest has been to revive skills in danger of extinction, while reinforcing the standards to rival modern production equipment and CNC machines. Completed at the end of 2019, but with its unique characteristics, its inclusion here is a fair accommodation.

The atelier of Greubel Forsey has taken to the task with their unrivalled, obsessive attention to detail, something that is apparent in their typical many-layered open dial. The handmade blued hands point to an outer chapter ring in delicate Grand Feu enamel on a slim polished gold base. This rests on the exposed gold front plates of the movement, finished with a beautiful hand-grained Grattè texture and polished anglage. All major components are visible, and takes on the daunting task of outshining previous models from Greubel Forsey by the pure force of knowledge. The knowledge that all components have not only been finished by hand, but machined on hand-wound machinery, including the hairspring and exquisite tourbillon. Nothing has been touched by the exact science of CNC machining, and is all the more beautiful for it. RRP not available, for now a thought-inducing prototype.

Check out Part 2 right here