The Rosy Appeal of Salmon-Dial Watches

The Rosy Appeal of Salmon-Dial Watches

Everything you need to know about the rose-gold dial, the fresh yet timeless twist on classic wristwatch design.
Everything you need to know about the rose-gold dial, the fresh yet timeless twist on classic wristwatch design.

T he color pink is a magnet for opinions: everyone has feelings about it. Depending on the shade, the color can bring up feelings of frivolity, rebellion, seduction or even emotional sensitivity (e.g., blushing is defined as “becoming pink in the face from embarrassment”). Suffice it to say, pink has many connotations in our culture. Yet when this hue appears on a watch dial, it is immediately recognized by those in the know for its unconventional charm and elusive status.

Pink dials are rose gold in tone, ranging from rust-colored to dusty rose pink, commonly referred to as “salmon” in the world of horology. This palette has been considered gender neutral and sophisticated since the 19th century. An alloy of pure 24-karat yellow gold, copper and silver in jewelry creates this pinkish hue, once called Russian gold because of its popularity in the region. Rose gold’s jewel tone pervaded art and jewelry during the Art Deco movement, influencing notable watch manufacturers including Rolex, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Patek Philippe, to produce their blush-colored dials in the 1930s and ’40s. These distinctive movements may appeal to a select few, but they’ve graced the wrists of some of the most discerning customers ever since. Perhaps because of their unique and pleasing color scheme — evoking elements of the past while remaining decidedly modern — this once niche category of watches is finding favor with many enthusiasts today.

Designers have historically used the dial as a canvas to differentiate themselves from the competition. Salmon dials add another dimension of appeal for today’s buyers since it’s unlikely anyone else will have quite the same timepiece. While these watches may not be as common as their silver- or black-dial counterparts, Leigh Zagoory, Vice President, Head of Sale and Specialist in Sotheby’s Watches Department, doesn’t anticipate this color trend going away soon. “Based on what we’re seeing in the market, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they always achieve an incredible price,” she says. “They’re rare but still very neutral.” Since World War I, the wristwatch, a technological feat accompanied by the craftsmanship and materials of fine jewelry, has been generally perceived as a masculine accessory. Zagoory believes the aesthetics and collectibility of these watches make them popular with men and a small but growing number of women collectors.

Unusual shades in the watch world are nothing new, but the first tone-on-tone examples of rose-gold dials and rose-gold bezels are some of the most sought-after watches today. For example, a salmon-faced Patek Philippe ref. 1518A chronograph watch from 1948, once belonging to the Prince of Egypt, sold at Sotheby’s for $9,570,900 in 2021, making it the highest-priced watch sold in the auction house’s history or anywhere else on the market that year. Patek Philippe’s production has always been famously scarce: this esteemed creme-de-la-creme watchmaker produces just 62,000 watches annually.

Patek Philippe, Reference 1518, A pink gold perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon phases , Made in 1948. Lot sold: 9,570,900 USD

Today many collectors are interested in salmon dials with contrasting white metal cases, especially stainless steel, first introduced in Rolex’s Bubbleback and Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso during the 1930s. Some contemporary iterations of these classics are also designed with salmon dials, elevating conventional pieces with their atypical coloration — the Patek Philippe ref. 5970G-019, a white-gold calendar perpetual calendar chronograph with a salmon dial, recently presented as part of Sotheby's “The International Connoisseur: Jewels and Watches” sale, is a notable example of this juxtaposition between the old and new. Made circa 2014, this 5970 model refreshes the older silhouette seen in the 1518, while the addition of the salmon dial further enhances its elegance. According to Zagoory, the commissioned watch paved the way for Patek Philippe to create five editions of the 5970G with salmon dials. The beauty and desirability of this rare variant were reflected in the energetic bidding that greeted it on the auction block, where it sold for $1,320,500. The winning offer was a remarkable 650% of the initial high estimate, proving that the excitement around salmon dials cannot be overestimated.

While salmon-faced watches are still considered rare, they’re no longer gate-kept. Diverse watch collectors of all ages are discovering the appeal of this unexpected hue in both vintage and contemporary styles. Iconic brands such as A. Lange & Söhn, Montblanc and Audemars Piguet, to name just a few, have taken notice and released limited quantities of pink watches. Moreover, the color is complementary to various skin tones, and is said to have a calming effect on people. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how a beautifully crafted salmon dial works like a balm for the spirit.

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