The history behind the watch collector’s favorite dial details – the gilt.
The gold accented black dials that grace the most desirable vintage watches known to man are just that desirable for a reason. “Gilt” – as a word – refers to the usage of gold leafs in jewellery. For watchmaking it has been translated to gold colored indices – particularly used on black dials starting from the late 1930’s. It’s about time we dug into the story behind these marvels.
In fact, if we are to go deep into the actual “correct” usage of gilt, we are discussing something very particular. In essence, it is about the use of a bare metal dial, which has the dial printed on it with a color covering everything that is not going to appear as gold or a contrasting color. The result is indices that appear as slightly recessed due to the galvanic process. You could see it as a kind of reversed printing.
Thus, contrary to common belief, we are not directly speaking about printed gold accents on a gold dial. The gold color is actually the exposed brass dial (that might have been gold plated as well).
The watch terminology usage of the word “gilt” has also been used for gold accent printed over a glossy black dial. If that is correct or not is another discussion. In fact, gilt could in theory also cover silver plated base dials – it’s more about the process of making that given dial. When we are talking about these dials today, we are most likely referring to a highly desirable early vintage Rolex Submariner or GMT-Master, which might have gold colored accents for such as the logo and minute tracks. For reference, earlier Subs did indeed use the method described earlier with their black lacquered dials. Somewhere around the mid-to-late 60s, they changed to a white printing instead.
Read more about vintage watch collecting here. – Story continues underneath.
Cut to the chase, please!
Now that we have the formalities covered, let’s talk about the crazy fascination many collectors have for these dials. Firstly, they are quite rare – and we all know that this automatically alone gives some points for coolness. However, there must be pointed out that gilt dials were not exclusive to Rolex. This you can find in everything from Omega and Eterna to Patek Philippe. Secondly, gilt dials have a certain aesthetic that is quite attractive and inherently vintage looking. As we also in recent times have seen an explosion in the interest of tropical dials, the worm brown and golden colors of the gilt dials most certainly play on these same attractions. That’s why we have seen then pop back into fashion with modern watches as well. Just look at the Tudor Black Bay 58.
Shoutout to Phillips Watch Department for letting us use their pictures in this post.
PS: all watches are sold.