This is not as simple as it may seem. Most people call any faded or degraded dial a chocolate, or tropical dial, especially if they are trying to sell it. Some people put great premiums on a brown dial, and others dismiss them outright as rubbish; inferior, degraded items never to be considered for a collector.
Personally I will place a premium on a dial that I think looks attractive. Some of my best brown dials I bought by accident, and that makes me feel good – this was by sellers who simply had not noticed that the dial was brown.
There are degrees of fade, ranging from the barely noticeable to the dials that look as though they were never black in the first place.
Once again, the value is all in the attraction. It must be attractive to be valuable.
For me there are four categories of Brown Dial:
- Dark Brown: An even, dark brown, visible but not always immediately obvious. Usually seen in 2998’s
- Galaxy Chocolate: This is an obvious yellowish milk chocolate brown. Immediately obvious as brown. This colour is seen in older radium dials, and I have seen a similar strong colour in 145.012.
- Dirty Brown: Sometimes grayish brown, seen in all older references, but for some reason I see many 105.012’s with this slightly unattractive colour. Not seen in 861’s, so far.
- Chocolate: Seen mostly in 861’s of two very specific serial ranges, 2911xxxx and 2960xxxx. These dials have been seen in varying shades of brown, with some variation through the body. The intensity of colour changes through the contours of the dial, often going lighter at the step, or at the subdials.
There is no doubt in my mind that the colour of these dials is caused in part by environment, particularly humid conditions. Several of the watches pictured I know to have spent time in tropics and humidity definitely seems to be a common thread in these watches past. This humidity can go too far, and cause the dial to degrade too far, or with unattractive patches. This may be oil, or water resting on the dial:
Is the colour Natural or Man induced?
This is a thorny subject, and particularity threatening for those of us who have paid premiums for a brown dial. So first the definitions of natural and Man Induced should be set.
Natural: A dial that has degraded in the watch, and remained in the watch. A dial that has changed as a result of normal wear, and environmental influences experienced during normal use on a persons wrist, or as a result of storage, over a long period of time.
Man Induced: A dial exposed to any light, heat or dyes for the purposes of changing the colour, while inside a watch or on its own.
So far, I think the watches with brown dials that command a premium are Natural. I have yet to find someone who can show me a Man Induced patination that I like enough to pay for.