The dial of a watch serves as the display platform for the various information it conveys. It attaches to one side of the movement and appears directly beneath the case crystal. The dial has one or more openings that allow the passage of pivots and axes carrying the various hands. In some cases, broader openings emerge on the dial: the apertures, which open onto an indicator (usually a disc). The indicator’s surface is imprinted with values (alphanumeric) that appear successively in the aperture.
The dial does not necessarily occupy the entire surface of the movement, and therefore, it is not uncommon to find multiple dials on a single watch. In such cases, each dial is typically dedicated to a specific indication.
As the most visible and scrutinized element of a watch, the dial provides a natural canvas for aesthetic and artistic expression. While its base is generally made from metal, the dial can be made or adorned with an infinite variety of materials.
The creation of dials is usually the work of artisans or specialized companies. Depending on its production, the materials used, and its complexity, a dial may require the skills of numerous professions (micro-mechanics, decorators, dial makers, lacquerers, engravers, enamellers, miniature painters, etc.).
The appearance of the dial in the history of time measurement predates mechanical horology. For example, the gnomon casts its shadow on a dial, similar to the style of a sundial. The first dials dividing the day into regular periods appeared as early as the 4th century B.C.
The first mechanical clocks were built in the 13th century. Until the late 14th century, they lacked dials and hands, indicating the hours solely through a bell’s chime. The first dials rotated on their axis, indicating the time as they passed a fixed index. Quickly, the dial became fixed, and time was indicated by one, then two hands moving around the circular graduation of the dial. Over the centuries, clocks, and later watches, became more complex, providing additional indications. Hands could multiply coaxially or appear at different locations on the dial. Additionally, the display by disc and window combined with hands from the early days of mechanical horology.
While the dial is not an essential component, as seen in skeleton watches, for instance, its absence is compensated by peripheral indices on the movement or simply by the position of the hands alone. However, the dial remains the preferred mode of display in horology, even though digital displays on electronic watches have posed some competition since the 1970s and the advent of quartz technology.
- Miniature painting dials
- Enamel dials
- Metal dials
- Galvanic dials (PVD)
- Meteorite dials
- Mother of pearl dials
- Stone dials/from aventurine glass
- Sapphire dials (synthetic corundums)
- Stamped/pressed dials
- Engraved dials (hand or machine)
- Engine turned dials
- Lacquered dials
- Painted dials
- Snap-on dials
- Dials from composite materials
- Other artistic dials