Tropical dials: The attraction of imperfection.

How does a dial become tropical? Were these dials always in demand? Are tropical dials only for the jet setters with Ferraris?

Since 'Tropical dials' is not a study at Harvard, Sorbonne or Oxford. We feel free to determine our own definition of a tropical dial, here we go..

A tropical dial is a watch dial that has changed due to a combination of an error in the manufacturing process of the dial. External influences such as UV light, moisture and time.

We admit immediately, this is a point of view that’s arbitrary. For the time being we assume this is the truth.. or at least very close to the truth.

Having said that, we wanted to know what the magic is around the so sought after tropical dials. We did so by answering these three questions.

How does a dial become tropical?
Roughly between 1950 and 2000, but especially around the 70s watch dial producers who for example worked for Rolex and Audemars Piguet coated their dials with a special finish. This chemical substance was supposed to protect the dials from certain influences like sunlight. Bizarrely, it had the exact opposite effect: After years of exposure to the UV light, that chemical reacted in a way that discolored the dial. Then the attractive and imperfect ‘tropical dial’ was born.

Were these dials always in demand?
No definitely not. 30-40 years ago, you normally had these raunchy dials replaced for a fresh and new dial.... A lot of rarity, money and beauty was flushed down the toilet, that's for sure. When a dial went back to the producer with this defect, they did research and took steps to prevent the issue. That’s why dial discoloration no longer appears after the year 2000. The next step is non-scratchable watch cases, at Rolex they started with the ceramic bezels. No more than about 10% of watch dials made in the past that could have become “tropical” actually did so. And from this < 10% a few have survived until today. This is organically grown exclusivity.

Are tropical dials only for the jet setters with Ferraris?
No, we deny that prejudice. Unfortunately there are not so many tropical dials. When something is aesthetically pleasing and wanted in a wealthy group of people at the same time…. Prices will tremendously go up. In 2018 a tropical Rolex Daytona from 1975 ended up selling at Sotheby’s for $950,000,— more than 50% above its estimate. To put that auction result into context: Hodinkee sold almost the same watch but without a tropical dial for $115,000…. So if you limit your search to Rolex Daytonas, Patek Nautilus or the AP Royal Oak: You have to bring a big bag of money. But if you dare to buy a Rolex Datejust with a Tropical dial, you end up in a more friendly price range. They are also hard to find with the right aesthetics, but we offer about 3-5 tropical pieces each year for far less than 10,000 euros. So a Rolex with tropical dial is also within your reach. Welcome to the Tropical Club.

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