HONG KONG - This might not look like anything you would expect to find from the usually sombre Geneva-based watch manufacturers, but back in the 1960’s, albeit for a brief period, coloured dials were all the rage. The Rolex with brightly coloured lacquer dials, only released in the prized gold or platinum Day-Date models from the late 60’s through the 1980’s, is very reminiscent of the psychedelic fascination of the 60’s. Perhaps ahead of their time, the variations weren’t always popular among those that could afford them, preferring instead the classic gold or silver options. A lot has changed.

A Rare Yellow Gold Automatic Centre Second Wristwatch With Day, Date And Bracelet Ref 1803 Case 1894385  "Day-Date Orange Stelle Dial," circa 1968. Estimate HK$120,000–170,000.

Today bright coloured dials are in high demand and those original examples by Rolex lead the charge with demand driven by both men and women wanting to wear such a wrist-statement. The recent fashion for such daringly coloured watches was started, as usual in the watch industry, but those ever-trendy Italians, who gave the watches the affectionate moniker ‘Stelle’ dials, as the bright coloured dials were said to ‘si brillare come le stelle’ (Shine like the Stars).’ Dial colors can be found in a multitude of variations including blue, red, orange, green, oxblood, pink and yellow, and look best worn on a bracelet or matching colored strap, think St. Tropez fashion. White pants and sun hat are optional.

An Exceptionally Rare Laboratory Prototype Bronze Automatic Centre Seconds Wristwatch 1000m Bronze, circa 1985. Estimate HK$850,000–1,000,000.

One of the most famous watch brands in recent years, Panerai, is fast winning over some of the most devoted and passionate collectors, though as recently as the 1980’s, they were still virtually unknown. Based in Florence, Italy the company were suppliers of dive equipment to the Italian Navy in the 1930s and as such, they were requested to provide a watch that could be worn underwater. With no watchmaking experience at the time they turned to the most famous makers of waterproof watchcases, Rolex. Rolex provided Panerai with cases and movements and Panerai made the dials. This relationship continued with Panerai supplying watches to the Italian and Egyptian Navy until the 1960’s. Around 1985, a small group of Florentines sought to re-launch the brand and again manufacturer watches for use by the Italian Navy. Under the guidance of Alessandro Bettarini, the company apparently produced four prototype’s in brass cases and four in titanium, with a final being presented to the Navy for testing in 1988. Although the test model passed all the requirements no order was placed, however the idea for re-launching the Panerai brand for commercial distribution was established. Offered in the October 8 Hong Kong auction is not only one of the original 1954 Rolex Panerai watches made for the Egyptian Navy, but also one of only four prototypes built by Alessandro Bettarini around 1985 within a brass case, along with a letter of authenticity.