Friday, April 18, 2014

The Complete History Of the "California Dial"

...California Dreaming...

The Complete History Of The

 "California Dial"

Rolex Myth Buster

On The Curious Case Of The California Dial

Rolex used to make watches with Art-Deco styled dials that were really distinct. These dials featured an upside down triangle for the 12 indices, and rectangular indices at 3, 6, and 9. The 1, 2, 10 & 11 markers used Roman numerals, and the 4, 5, 7, and 8 markers used Arabic numerals.

For years, people have referred to these unusual dials as "California dials" and people ask me all the time why the California Dial is called, "The California Dial." In other words, what does it have to do with California? The photo below was taken by Harsam of his 1943 Rolex Bubbleback, which has an original Art Deco "California" dial.

The photo below shows a beautiful Rolex Art-Deco poster which features a "California Dial" with Radium Innovation. Radium was the first type of luminescent material used to make dials glow in the dark.

In the photo below we see another two Rolex Art-Deco bubble-backs, and the one on the left has a white California dial.

Rolex "Bubble-Back" models are called this, because Rolex used to try and make watch cases look as thin as possible to try to hide the large, rounded case backs which concealed the large automatic winding rotor, and they achieved this by giving the watches convexed backs, which made them sit up proud on the wrist. 

Today, most Rolex watches have completely flat-backs, which I would argue make them lay flatter and fit better on the wrist.

Pictured below, we see yet another Rolex Advertisement which is probably from the late 1930s or early 1940s.

The Rolex magazine pictured above reads:


The figures and divisional signs are deeply recessed and filled with stong luminous compound.

Fully winds itself automatically and silently by 6 hours normal wear on the wrist. If wanted it can also be wound by hand in case of illness. No shocks nor vibration disturb its precision. Superlative finish of every detail. In addition to constant and even tension of mainspring-power, contribute and facilitate the obtaining of almost unbelievable regularity in precision timekeeping. Every one of these self-winding chronometer wrist-watches is now supplied exclusively with a Swiss Official Timing certificate, and impartial document of quality and highest precision. Montres Rolex

Panerai "California" Dial
In the entire course of history, Rolex never made any watches for any brand in the world, with one exception, and this was for an Italian manufacture named Panerai. The vintage Panerai watches were never made available to the public, because Panerai made them at the time exclusively for the Royal Italian Navy. The very first Panerai production models, which were made between 1936 and 1938 featured the Art-Decom masterpiece "California" Dial as seen in the photo below. The Rolex made Reference 3646 pictured below is a highly collectible watch today, and it is unusual in the sense it has no brand designation on the dial. 

Not only was this the first Rolex made diving watch in history, but it also was the basis of what would go onto become the most iconic watch ever made in history, which was the Rolex Submariner. You can always learn more about the Rolex/Panerai connection on Jake's Panerai World.

The "California" Dial Nomenclature

I think I might have recently figured it out, but I am not certain. I came across the image below which shows what appears to be a patent or trademark application filed by Rolex in 1941 for the dial design. The application does not refer to it as a "California" dial.

The person who showcased this image shared it on the Paneristi forum, and their name is Vincent Yeh. Vincent also said it is called a California dial because a California based dial company named Kirk Rich used to refinish a number of these art-deco dials in the 1980s. Vincent also pointed out that he believed that nobody beside Rolex sold a dial with mixed Roman numerals with Arabic numerals.

I don't know how much of this is true, but it is a good starting point. I will look into it and as I learn more, I will update this story. If you have anything to add to the history of the California Dial, please send me an email.

(Update: It appears the patent number for the Rolex watch dial is 221.643, and it was originally filed on April 30, 1941).

1941 Art-Deco Rolex Viceroy

This is a World War II circa Rolex Viceroy with an Art-Deco California Dial. The California dial has Roman numerals on the top and Arabic numerals on the bottom.

Photo Credit: Padi56

The "Semi-California" Dial

So where exactly did the Rolex "California Dial" design come from? Nobody knows for certain, but we can study the history of the design language. 

The Semi-California (seen above and below) has the upside-down triangle at 12 o'clock, coupled with the triangle markers at 3, 6, and 9, along with the 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11 markers in Arabic. 

Adam took the photo below of three Rolex Speedking bubble-back models that were made between 1944 and 1945, and on the far left we see an model with a standard Arabic numeral dial, next we see what is commonly referred to in Rolex collector parlance as the Rolex "Semi-California Dial."  Then on the far right we see a standard California Dial with the Roman Numerals on the top with Arabic Numerals on the bottom.

When carefully studying the visual differences between the three Rolex SpeedKing models pictured above, I could not help but notice that the "California Dial" version on the right is the most stylized, and it is the only one with the closed "train track" chapter ring that runs around the outer perimeter of the dial, and it is also the only one with the blued and highly stylized hands which include the "Mercedes" logo on the hour hand, coupled with the hour hand that has a pyramid on the end. In other words, the California dial version has the boldest Art-Deco style details, which make it really pop!

Update #1

A reader named Tommy wrote in response to this and said:


I think the "California" dial may have it's origins with the Melrose Avenue shops in L.A.

The dials became very popular during the bubbleback craze of the 80's.  Many of the refinished dials being done for watches that these shops sold were half-and-half dials because they were so "deco" and were so popular with the people buying bubblebacks. 

I think L.A. dealers were seeking those dials ON bubblebacks that they were buying and selling in their shops and so they became known as "California" dials because the California dealers were looking for them at shows elsewhere in the country.  The people at the shows began referring to them as "California" because it's what the guys from California were looking for.

All is speculation but of course the term is only showing after the 80's.

The dial is really a half-Roman and half-Arabic dial, and that is how I have always referred to it. I never liked the term "California" because it was really irrelevant.

Another interesting variant is the all arabic with the triangle 12 marker. This is often referred to as...of all things  "semi California".



Update #2

I came across somebody who quoted James Dowling as saying:

"The dial was patented by Rolex in 1941 and used by them on manual and automatic watches for about 7 or 8 years. It was known by Rolex as the 'High visibility" dial, as it used quite large luminous numbers. 

In the 1970s, when the vintage watch boom started, a LA based dial refinisher, Kirk Rich, did some dials with this design. They became popular & many vintage watch stores in California sent their dials to KR. So dealers in the rest of the US & the rest of the world began to call them the 'California' dial."

Update #3

I came across somebody who said:

Rolex created the “Cali Dial” for it's various distributors and it became a fashion icon of high demand in California in the 30's-40's – hence the name. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rolex Super Hotness: Emily Scott Super Leggy Model from The Land Down-Under...

...Rolex Super Hotness...

Emily Scott
Super Leggy Model
from The Land Down-Under

Summer is on its way in the Norther Hemisphere and it seems like things have been on the serious side on Jake's Rolex World for a while, so it's time to lighten-up a little! What time is it? It's time for some Rolex Hotness! I would like to dedicate this post to my pal Steve (LOL-X) who owns and runs Emily Scott is from Australia and she is gorgeous!!!! In this first image we see her wearing a Rolex Submariner. Can you say "Youuuuuuuuuuch!!!!"

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rolex Studio Shot of the Day: Rolex Thunderbird by Kokota...

...Rolex Studio Shot Of The Day...

Rolex Thunderbird by Kokota

Monday, April 14, 2014

Rolex Appoints New CEO

Rolex Appoints New CEO

Jean-Frédéric Dufour

Today is a historic Rolex day. For only the sixth time in history, the torch has been passed to a new Rolex CEO, and for the first time in history, Rolex is bringing on-board a CEO from OUTSIDE the company. This is profound since Rolex has ALWAYS promoted internally. Perhaps this is a sign the Rolex board want to mix things up a little bit.

Today Rolex appointed a new Rolex CEO. His name is Jean-Frédéric Dufour, and he was previously the CEO of Zénith. If you are not familiar with Zénith, they used to make the chronograph movements for the Rolex Daytona, before Rolex began manufacturing them in-house. Jean-Frédéric Dufour will be replacing Rolex's CEO, Gian Riccardo Marini. On behalf of the readership of Jake's Rolex World, I would like to wish Jean-Frédéric Dufour, nothing but Godspeed on his fantastic new journey!

Benjamin Clymer from Hodinkee interviewd Jean-Frédéric Dufour in 2011 as seen below.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Rolex Oyster Fishbowl Ads

The First Waterproof Watch

How Rolex Brilliantly Used Fishbowls To 
Showcase The Waterproofness Of The Rolex Oyster

When Rolex introduced the revolutionary Oyster in 1926 it was an amazingly useful innovation. In other words, prior to the introduction of the Rolex Oyster, there were NO waterproof watches. It is hard to fathom (no pun intended) a world without waterproof cases, since we take them for granted today, but back in the late 1920s, through the 1960s, having a waterproof watch was a HUGE DEAL.  

In 1926, at age 45, Hans Wilsdorf had successfully designed, manufactured and patented the waterproof Rolex Oyster. The challenge he faced was, how to communicate the value-proposition of such a product? 

1926 Italian Rolex Mermaid Oyster Poster

Hans came up with the idea of associating the fantasy of mermaids with the waterproof Rolex Oyster as seen in the 1926 Italian Rolex advertisement seen below.

Since Wilsdorf had a brilliant strategic marketing mind, he realized since human beings reasoned by analogy, if he showcased Rolex watches immersed in fishbowls, people would understand the real innovation the Rolex Oyster case offered, thus on November 9, 1922, Rolex patented an aquarium under Patent #52986, for showcasing fish swimming in the bowl with a submerged Rolex watch. The Rolex photo below from the late 1920s shows a beautiful woman with her Rolex immersed in a fishbowl, which made people really think when they saw the photo.

At the same time, as seen in the Rolex illustration below, Hans Wilsdorf came up with a brilliant idea to have authorized Rolex dealers display the waterproof Rolex Oysters watches, in fish-tanks, in their windows–with real fish swimming around the watch!!! This of course gained the fascination of many passer-bys.

Pictured below we see an actual Rolex Fishbowl store display, which would have had real fish swimming around, as well as a Rolex Oyster watch. The aqua blue water in the bowl just illustrates the waterline.
The photo below shows a different style Rolex fishbowl showcase, and obviously this one has no water, fish or Rolex inside.

1964 Rolex Fishbowl Ad

This Rolex Magazine ad from 1964 probably represents the tail end of Rolex communicating waterproofness by using a fish in a fishbowl. Fascinating, uh?!?!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hodinkee Reference Points... The Rolex Paul Newman Daytona

...Hodinkee Reference Points...
The Rolex Paul Newman Daytona

My pal, Benjamin Clymer from Hodinkee just posted a superb article which covers all the Exotic Dial "Paul Newman" Daytona models from Andrew Shear's collection. I highly recommend checking out the excellent article on Hodinkee, which is Superb!

You can alway learn much more about the Paul Newman Daytona by checking out The Complete History Of The Paul Newman Daytona story, and you can also learn much more about the The Complete History Of The Rolex Daytona Cosmograph.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sir Edmund Hillary & Tenzing Norgay On Top Of The World

...Rolex Super-Coolness...

Sir Edmund Hillary & Tenzing Norgay
On Top Of The World

Sir Edmund Hillary is pictured below wearing the navy blue parka and his quote as seen below is profoundly true. Tenzing Norgay is pictured below wearing his gold parka. Tenzing was a supreme climber, and he also said something really profound that has resonated with me for may years. Tenzing Norgay said:

 "It is the ultimate wisdom of the mountains that a man is never more of a man, than when he is reaching for something just out of his grasp." –Tenzing Norgay

Below is a copy of the very first Rolex Mount Everest Ad which was published 3 days after Mount Everest was conquered. You can learn much more about Rolex conquering Mount Everest in 1953 by exploring my article named "Rolex Conquers Mount Everest–The Complete History."

Stefano Mazzariol Rolex Macro Shot Of The Month...

Stefano Mazzariol
Rolex Macro Shot Of The Month
Vintage Rolex Day-Date Exotic Dial

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rolex Lume Shot Of The Day: All-New Rolex Polar Phantom Explorer II Orange Hand

...Rolex Lume Shot Of The Day...

Rolex Polar Phantom Explorer II Orange Hand

Chromalight Lumepower

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Complete History Of The Rolex Milgauss

...2014 Story Preview...



In the past, I have written some very detailed stories on the history of different Rolex watch models, including The Complete History of the Rolex Submariner & SEA-DWELLER, The Complete History of the Rolex Daytona Cosmograph, and The Complete History Of The Rolex Yachtmaster–just to name a few. 

I have been working on a story over the years, which I plan to publish in its entirety, pretty soon and it is named The Complete History Of The Rolex Milgauss, so I though I would share a special collage preview with you. In other words, no words, just photos, which tell a fascinating story!!!

I won't keep you completely in the dark, so I will share the opening story paragraph with you:

"In the early 1950s, a brilliant scientific organization was founded in Switzerland named the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which in French is named Organisation Européenne Pour la Recherche Nucléaire. It's nickname was CERN, which was founded in 1954, with the goal to build, maintain and operate the world's largest particle physics laboratory. This fascinatingly ambitious project began, like any great journey, with a few simple steps–in the beautiful and picturesque Swiss countryside."

This is a story about men and their machines...