A Selection of Mesmerizing “Salmon” Dial Timepieces

Salmon dials are all the rage, but they're nothing new. Kevin Cureau, digital editor of Revolution Magazine in Hong Kong, chronicles the color's presence in watchmaking through the 20th and 21st century, using watches from the Hong Kong Watch Auction: X catalogue.

Salmon dials are all the rage, but they're nothing new. Kevin Cureau, digital editor of Revolution Magazine in Hong Kong, chronicles the color's presence in watchmaking through the 20th and 21st century, using watches from the Hong Kong Watch Auction: X catalogue.


- Kevin Cureau

Often reserved for limited editions or special orders, salmon dial watches have enjoyed an increase in popularity in recent years, but the unusual pink hue has been seen on timepieces going as far back as the 1930s. The upcoming Hong Kong Watch Auction: X offers collectors the chance to get up close and personal with examples ranging from the early twentieth century to current production models.

A dial, often referred to as the “face” of a watch, is the first point of contact a person will have with a timepiece, due of course to the fact that it occupies the largest amount of space on the front of a watch. It is the first impression given to a collector or potential buyer, and some might say the most important part of a timepiece.

Over the centuries that the watch industry has existed, the dial has always been the canvas used by designers to express their ideas, whether that’d be through the experimentation of materials, layout of apertures, use of fonts and graphics, and in other cases: color.

The color of a dial can either make or break the beauty of a watch while in some other instances it might create and add interest via a color combination not often seen. Blue, black and white have historically been the more popular and safe colors used by brands on watch faces. The occasional use of green, yellow, red or orange can make a watch pop and allow a wearer to have a bit of fun with its timepiece. Brown is often used as a way to recreate the look and feel of an aged dial, while a champagne colored dial can add a sense of elegance and refinement. Dial colors are also impacted by fashion trends, but when these fade away so do the colors associated with them.

One color that seems to have transcended the years and eras is the use of pink, which can either be designated as rose or even salmon. Pink dial variations in vintage timepieces are among the rarest and most collectible examples of a reference, which contributes to the strong appeal of this color. A clear illustration of that is the pink-on-pink Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 offered in our Geneva Watch Auction: XI sale, but rose dials can be found in almost every decade of the 20th century, and they've successfully made the jump into the 21st. 

In recent years, “salmon” dials have received a surge in popularity, maybe due to the fact that the 2019 “Color of The Year” selected by the Pantone Color Institute was “Living Coral,” and that the 2016 one was “Rose Quartz.” Pink/Rose is very much present in the mind of society, and brands have noticed. Manufactures such as A. Lange & Söhne, Montblanc, Grönefeld, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe, to cite a few, have all released small productions of watches carrying a tint of pink.

In the upcoming Phillips Hong Kong Watch Auction: X, a section of the sale is dedicated to seven timepieces featuring this mesmerizing dial color which offers collectors a bird’s eye view of the evolution of this timeless and supremely attractive dial color.

Lot 1041 - Patek Philippe Ref. 5270P - link

The highlight piece of this selection is a 2019 Patek Philippe Ref. 5270P. The reference 5270 was released in 2011 as the replacement for the iconic Lemania-based reference 5970, and was introduced with Patek Philippe’s first in-house perpetual calendar chronograph movement, allowing the manufacture to have better production control over its timepieces. Until the ref. 5270P, this model was only available in gold.

Platinum is a metal sparingly used by the maison so the release of the ref. 5270P in 2018 created immense interest from collectors. The use of a “salmon” dial for this iteration of the 5270 is a smart move as well on Patek Philippe’s part as it evokes the various times this combination of a “salmon” dial with a platinum case has been used throughout the brand’s history (for example on the ref. 5101P or the ref. 5450P). Admired by many, “salmon” colored dials elevate timepieces to another level but aren’t for everyone. This is part of the puzzle that makes “salmon” dials all the more fascinating for collectors and watch enthusiasts.

Lot 1035 - Rolex Bubbleback - link

Going all the way to the other end of the spectrum, we see that pink dials were also present in the 1930’s as this example of a Rolex Bubbleback clearly demonstrates. Research shows also that known examples of Bubblebacks featuring a rose colored dial were often reserved for the South American market. With the many dial variations and materials used throughout the Bubbleback’s lifetime until the mid-1950’s, the “salmon” colored dial provides here an elegant visual element to an otherwise everyday steel sports watch.

Introduced at the start of the 1930’s, the Rolex Bubbleback is known for being one of the first timepieces to feature a self-winding mechanism with a full rotor. The thick auto-rotor required for the watch to have a protruding caseback, a solution opted by the brand instead of making a larger case, thus giving the nickname of “Bubbleback” to this model. As the original Oyster Perpetual, the Bubbleback was the first Rolex to have all three words “Oyster”, “Perpetual”, and “Chronometer” written on the dial; three words that are still proudly displayed on Rolex watches today.

Lot 1036 - Rolex Day-Date ref. 1802 - link

Introduced in 1956, the Rolex Day-Date is arguably one of the most iconic watches made by Rolex and the first automatic chronometer watch with instantaneously changing date and fully spelled out day in an aperture at 12 o’clock. Always in a precious metal such as platinum, yellow, pink and white gold, the Day-Date is the watch worn by Presidents, celebrities, industry leaders, and even athletes (remember Jack Nicklaus’ Rolex Day-Date sold during the Game Changer New York auction?).

Although the watch most often features a fluted bezel, versions like the present Rolex Day-Date ref. 1802 with a smooth polished bezel, are the ones more sought after as they are rarer in the market. The present example in 18K white gold features additionally a much desired and attractive “salmon” dial which contrasts beautifully against the white gold case.

Lot 1037 - Vacheron Constantin ref. 47101/4 in Platinum - link

The Vacheron Constantin Les Historiques Chronograph ref. 47101 is a watch which is interesting on many levels. It was introduced in 1989 as a tribute to the famed Vacheron Constantin chronograph ref. 4178 from the 1940’s and 1950’s, which had teardrop lugs and stepped case. These features found their way in ref. 47101 and marked the link between the old and the new while the case size was upgraded to a contemporary 37mm.

As part of the category of watches that collectors would define as dress chronographs, the Vacheron Constantin ref. 47101 pairs the everyday-life time-keeping application of the chronograph function with the elegance of precious metal and fine craftsmanship appreciation of the case construction and finish. The manual wound movement powering the Vacheron Constantin ref. 47101 is based on none other than the legendary Lemania 2310 caliber, which is highly finished by Vacheron Constantin, and the visual intrigue of the platinum case puts the timepiece on the same level as a Patek Philippe ref. 5070P.

Yet, it is a reference that is still undervalued to this day which can make for a really interesting purchase. If you’ve ever wanted a dress chronograph from one of the “Holy Trinity” of watchmaking, this is a watch that should not be overlooked.
The example showcased here fitted with a “salmon” dial might be the best looking version of this reference, and the surface of the dial features an engine-turned finish with applied Arabic and baton numerals.

Lot 1038 - Daniel Roth Skeleton Chronograph - link

With a career spanning more than 50 years, watchmaker Daniel Roth has seen all that the watchmaking industry has to offer. After spending some of his formative years at Audemars Piguet, Daniel Roth was an important figure at Breguet during the 1970’s when the maison was owned by Parisian jeweller Chaumet. While the Quartz Crisis was wreaking havoc on the watch industry, Roth was making complicated and finely decorated timepieces which struck a chord with faithful Breguet clients.

1989 is the year Daniel Roth ventured on his own, becoming one of a handful of independent watchmakers practicing their craft in the early 1990’s. Daniel Roth watches were characterized by a distinctive tonneau-shaped case and carefully finished complicated models.

After a change in ownership, the brand was ultimately sold to Bvlgari in 2000. The present skeletonized chronograph wristwatch signed Daniel Roth might be one of the last timepieces produced by Roth before the brand was acquired by Bvlgari. As a skeletonized chronograph, the movement is proudly displayed on the dial side with a date aperture located at 6 o’clock, and the combination of a white gold case with a “salmon” dial only adds to the desirability of an already rare timepiece.

Lot 1039 - Patek Philippe Ref. 5080 “Neptune” - link

The Patek Philippe ref. 5080 “Neptune” was introduced in 1996 as the new line of luxury sports watches from Patek Philippe in stainless steel; 20 years after the Nautilus made its mark on the watchmaking industry.

Visually different from the Nautilus, the “Neptune” features intricate metal work on the case and bracelet – almost like a sculpture – and an art deco style for the dial, which participate in creating the distinct appeal of this short lived Patek Philippe reference (discontinued in 2002). At 36.5mm in size, the watch seems larger due to its oversized crown guards.

The present watch was made in 1996 and is one of the very first examples of this reference with a copper colored “salmon” dial. Furthermore, it is accompanied by the full set of accessories as well as a Patek Philippe Extract from the Archives confirming its dial and its production in 1996. As with any watch reference produced for a few years only, the Patek Philippe ref. 5080 “Neptune” has room to become a highly collectable sports watch from the famous maison.

Lot 1040 - Patek Philippe Gondolo ref. 5024 - link

The last lot of this amazing selection of “salmon” colored dials is the Patek Philippe Gondolo ref. 5024. Clearly inspired by the great Art Deco period, the reference features a stepped rectangular-shaped case and a perfectly symmetrical dial layout reflecting the Art Deco style of the 1930’s. The overall attraction of the present reference is further enhanced by the very desirable “salmon” colored dial.