Fumé Dials Are Here to Stay

Let’s face it, fumé dials have been around far too long to brush off as a fad. Watch dials have always been a canvas for watchmakers to show what they’re all about, whether that’s hand-painted nature scenes or a bank vault’s worth of diamonds. For a dial with plenty of character that’s still wearable everyday, however, fumé dials strike just the right balance — delivering a gradient colour that fades to black at its outer edge. These dials come in varying degrees of vibrancy depending on the chosen colour, evoking the smoke of a cigar, the fading of light beneath the ocean surface, or the spectrum of a tree’s leaves. They also add visual richness to a watch dial without going overboard. These are a few of the freshest examples.

Panerai Radiomir California

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Fumé dials are chosen for an assortment of reasons, but in the case of the Panerai Radiomir California, the intent is to leverage a more weathered and worn vintage aesthetic. Modelled after historical references from the ’30s and ’40s — specifically for military issue to Italian Navy frogmen — this 47mm steel-cased Radiomir has prominent indices in a California Dial configuration, which is a style recognized by its split of Roman and Arabic numerals. Its dial has a matte finish, giving the impression of a decades old black dial that has been faded by years of hash sunlight. ($11,100)

Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight Bronze

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The original Black Bay Bronze reference has been in the market since 2016, and since its inception, every reference in this case material has come with a fumé dial. Fast forward to 2021, and we were presented with the first in the model line to be offered in a more compact 39mm case size. Considering past references were a more substantial 43mm across, this change is a godsend to many collectors and enthusiasts around the globe. In addition, the Fifty-Eight bronze is the first model from Tudor to be fitted with a bronze bracelet — a very rare sight in the watch world. ($5,190)

Rado Golden Horse Automatic

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If you’ve paid much attention to Rado of late, you’re likely to have noticed their (relatively) recent turn towards recreating classic references from their archives in modern form. First came the immensely popular Captain Cook reissue, and most recently the self-winding Golden Horse seen here sporting a green fumé dial. The 37mm model is true to the original in aesthetics, but updated in all the areas one would expect. A domed sapphire crystal replaces what would have been an acrylic one, and its ETA C07 movement is fairly high spec as well, delivering a significant 80-hour power reserve. Completing the package is a supple beads-of-rice style bracelet, making it especially comfortable on the wrist. ($2,400)

TAG Heuer Autaia

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When the current Autavia line first launched, some vintage Heuer purists found themselves a bit bothered by the fact that this reference does not come with a chronograph complication — as was the way several decades ago. That said, the Autavia’s roots were tied to being a very livable, legible, wearable wristwatch above all else, and even without the chronograph function the new model still ticks all of these boxes with ease. The dark fumé dial — one that dances between grey and brown depending on the lighting at hand — is also a subtle nod to a bit of Heuer history, as its colour is taken from the fumé dial that was fitted in the Heuer Silverstone chronograph from the mid ’70s. ($3,900)

Hamilton Intra-Matic Auto

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Once again falling down the vintage-inspired rabbit hole, the Hamilton Intra-Matic’s slender faux yellow gold PVD case and brown sunburst fumé dial looks like something pulled straight off the set of Mad Men. That said, Hamilton opted to make this reference 42mm across, which is large for a dress watch but still a great fit for those with average to larger sized wrists. The “Matic” element of its nomenclature identifies the use of a self-winding (automatic) movement, in this case the tried-and-true ETA 2893-A2 which is visible via a display caseback. ($1,440)

H. Moser & Cie. Heritage Dual Time

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Launched in August at Geneva Watch Days, the Moser Heritage Dual Time is an extension of the brand’s more vintage-inspired collection that once again pulls influence from the early trench watches and pocket watch conversions that started surfacing in and around World War I. No modern watch brand is more synonymous with fumé dials than Moser, as it has been a signature of the brand for quite some time. For those in the know, it’s no challenge at all to pick one of their watches out of a crowd, whether a standard production reference, or one of their Concept collection watches that’s entirely devoid of forward facing branding. Lurking behind its bold burgundy fumé dial is a new and high-spec self-winding caliber with a bi-directional quick set second time zone, and a healthy power reserve of 72 hours. (CHF 19,900)

MIDO Commander Gradient

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While all other fumé dials thus far have used solid dials either painted, lacquered, or anodized to create their respective fumé finishes, the MIDO Commander Gradient takes a different approach. A transparent acrylic disc acts as its dial plate, with its own version of fade-to-black finish that grants its wearer a lens into its inner workings. Underneath the dial and hands, MIDO’s variant of the ETA C07 (as seen in the Rado above) is visible, including its date disc. Offering the same level of specs, you’re once again looking at an 80-hour power reserve with this model. Similarly to the Hamilton, the case finish for the Commander Gradient is a rose gold PVD finish over a steel case. ($1,225)

Tissot Seastar 1000 Quartz Chronograph

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Last but not least we are faced with an unlikely contender to be fitted with a fumé dial — the 300m water resistant Tissot Seastar 1000 Quartz Chronograph. Not to say that divers can’t (or aren’t ever) fitted with fumé dials, but when we think of the body of work of Tissot in recent years, this would not have made a list of predictions. The beastly 45.5mm diver ticks all of the requisite boxes for the diving/tool watch category; a healthy application of luminous material on its dial indices, hands, and bezel pip, a unidirectional bezel, a screw-down crown, and even screw-down pushers are all part of the package. ($725)