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Verrien | Watch Faces and Dials: A Guide to Customizing Your Timepiece

When it comes to a watch, telling time is the primary function. The dial, or face, of the watch is the tool that delivers this information. The minute and hour hands, along with the second hand, are the standard indicators of time, but the way this information is presented can vary greatly from watch to watch. To understand the different options available to watchmakers, it’s important to break down the components of the watch face.

The dial is the material, color, and finish/texture of the surface of the watch face. The hands are the markers that indicate what time it is, while the indices are the markings that represent the time. Sub dials can be included in watches to provide additional information, such as digital readouts or analog dials. Bezels are the area around the dial and often have additional markings and information related to the dial. The crown is how you set and interact with the information on the dial.

Key Takeaways

  • The dial, hands, indices, sub dials, bezel, and crown are the main components of a watch face.
  • Different watches can present time in unique ways.
  • Bezels and sub dials can provide additional information beyond just the time.

Watch Dials

When it comes to watch dials, there are a few basic categories to consider. The most common type is the plan dial, which is usually a flat color that can be shiny or matte in finish. Plan dials are typically made from stainless steel or other common metals, but can also be made from precious metals like gold.

Textured or patterned dials have a long history in watchmaking and can feature a variety of patterns. Guilloche dials, for example, feature a wave-like pattern and are often done with a brushed or matte surface. Linen dials, on the other hand, look like cloth but are actually engraved or embossed on a metal surface. Marquetry dials are a form of dial art that involves arranging small pieces of material, such as mother of pearl, into patterns. Tapisserie dials are similar to guilloche dials, but feature a pattern of small squares instead of waves. Teaked dials reference the vertical strips of a ship’s teak deck and consist of simple engraved or painted vertical lines.

Skeletonized dials feature holes that show the machinery of the watch below. The simplest form is the “open heart” dial, which shows the escapement beating. More dramatic examples incorporate the mechanisms of the watch into the design of the dial, with all the components exposed. Tourbillon complications are almost always exposed on the dial of the watch.

Unique dials are often made from a precious material or are some form of hand-crafted art. For example, meteorite dials are made from a slice of meteorite, while stone, wood, mother of pearl, brass/bronze, and cloisonné dials are also available. Some examples of unique dials can be found at Crown and Caliber and Uplarn.

Overall, watch dials come in a variety of styles and materials, from simple plan dials to intricate and unique designs. When selecting a watch, consider the style and material of the dial to find the perfect match for your taste and needs.

Watch Hands

The hands of a watch are crucial as they indicate the time. There are 12 basic types of hand styles, each with variations and exceptions. In addition to these, there are also unique styles that show up every now and then. One example of a unique style is the Fleur De Lys style, which is essentially a Baton style hand with a Fleur De Lys pattern in it. Some brands even incorporate their logos or other shapes to make their hands stand out.

An example of a one-off style is the “snowflake” style from Tudor Black Bay Line. These unique styles add character and personality to a watch, making it stand out from the rest.

Watch hands come in various shapes and sizes, with different colors and finishes. Some of the most common hand styles include:

  • Baton: straight and narrow with a rectangular or trapezoidal shape
  • Alpha: similar to Baton, but with a triangular shape at the tip
  • Dauphine: similar to Baton, but with a more tapered shape
  • Sword: similar to Baton, but with a pointed tip that resembles a sword
  • Skeleton: a see-through style that shows the inner workings of the watch
  • Leaf: shaped like a leaf with a curved end
  • Breguet: a unique style with an open-tipped end and a moon-shaped curve at the base
  • Mercedes: named after the car company, with a three-pronged shape resembling the Mercedes logo

When choosing a watch, the style of the hands can greatly affect its overall appearance and appeal. Consider the type of hands that best fit your personal style and preferences.


When it comes to watch dials, the indices or markings on the dial are an important aspect to consider. Different styles of indices are available, and they often relate to the type of watch. For example, dress watches usually have stick markers for the hours, while dive watches have dots for the hours.

There are several types of indices that can be arranged in any number of variations. Here are some of the most common types:

  • Arabic numerals: The most common symbols for numbers today, replacing Roman numerals.
  • Roman numerals: A classic and traditional way to indicate the hours.
  • Stick markers: Thin lines or bars that indicate the hours.
  • Dot markers: Small dots that indicate the hours.
  • Diamond markers: Small diamond-shaped markers that indicate the hours.
  • Square markers: Small square-shaped markers that indicate the hours.
  • Triangle markers: Small triangle-shaped markers that indicate the hours.

The markings on the dial typically come in one of four forms:

  • Printed: The numbers or markings are printed directly onto the dial.
  • Applied: The numbers or markings are glued onto the dial.
  • Sandwich: Two disks are stuck together with holes in the top one and usually a luminous paint on the bottom one that shines through to create the markings.
  • 3D: The indices are either assembled or formed from a material or materials to create the indices.

One of the best examples of 3D dials is the Hublot Ferrari series.

Sub Dials

If you want to add more information to your watch dial, sub dials are one of the most common ways to do so, especially on chronograph watches. The regulator style of dial also relies on sub dials, with separate dials for hours, minutes, and seconds. Below are some standard sub-dial layouts, but keep in mind that there are many other options out there.

  • Lapsed seconds, minutes, and hours
  • Moon phases
  • Second time zone

Sub dials are also known as subsidiary dials.

The Bezel

The bezel of a watch is the outer ring of the watch cover. There are two main types of bezels: plain and informational. The plain bezel is usually a metal ring that can be part of the case and often protects the crystal. Sometimes these can be jeweled or decorated. Informational bezels come in a variety of styles.

One of the most prevalent informational bezels is the count-up bezel. This is a metal ring with 0-60 minute markers that can rotate typically one direction to mark elapsed time. Count-up bezels are most often seen on dive watches. Another similar bezel is the count-down bezel, which is marked 60-0 and indicates time left to 0.

The tachymeter bezel is mostly used in racing-inspired watches. It is a fixed bezel that measures speed in consideration to time and distance traveled. This type of bezel is most commonly used in conjunction with a chronometer. The telemeter bezel is a less common bezel style that is used to measure distance from an observer and an object or event. An example would be the distance a lightning strike is from the observer.

The GMT/world timer bezel is a bezel style used to track a second time zone for when you are traveling. The compass bezel is a basic orienteering bezel that is marked with the cardinal directions and often rotates in relationship to your position to the sun or some other natural marker. The pulsometer bezel is designed to help doctors and nurses to measure a patient’s pulse.

Slide rule bezels are one of the most complicated bezel styles and are designed to do mathematical calculations just like a regular slide rule. They include an inner fixed ring and an outer movable ring used to make the calculations with.

For more bezel styles with examples, you can check out WatchRankers’ excellent post.

The Crown

The crown is an essential component of a watch that allows you to set the time and date. It is typically located on the right side of the watch and is designed to be worn on the left hand. The most common type of crown is a simple knob that engages the hands and date complications when pulled out.

Some watches feature added functionalities to the standard crown, such as screw-down crowns that increase water resistance, and covers that protect the crown from water damage.

Destro watches, on the other hand, have their crowns and pushers mounted on the left side of the watch and are intended to be worn on the right hand. This is also known as the Italian term “right.”

One interesting outlier in the world of crowns is Pita Barcelona’s Oceana line, which uses a patented rotating case back to set the time instead of a traditional crown. The Oceana line is water-resistant to an impressive depth of 5000 meters, making it an excellent choice for serious divers.

In summary, the crown is an essential component of a watch that allows you to set the time and date. While the most common type of crown is a simple knob, some watches feature added functionalities such as screw-down crowns and covers. Destro watches have their crowns and pushers mounted on the left side of the watch and are intended to be worn on the right hand.

Digital Dials

Digital dials have revolutionized the watch industry by breaking away from traditional analog dials. With the introduction of LCD screens, watches like the Hamilton Pulsar P1 could have completely new types of dials. The smartwatch has taken this trend to the next level with dials that are one large LCD screen that can change their look with a touch of a button.

Digital dials can range from simple, cheap LCD screens to full-on OLED screens that are essentially mini smartphone screens. While LCD screens are most often found at the bottom of the market and just show the time and date, smartwatches’ screens can be changed to suit your taste and can display almost any information that your smartphone can feed it.

Some of the best examples of digital dials include the Casio F91W-1 Casual Sport Watch and Apple’s Series 5 Smartwatch. With endless customization options, digital dials offer a level of personalization that traditional analog dials simply cannot match.


If you’re looking for something a little different in your watch dial, there are some outliers that break the traditional rules of watch design. Single-handed watches, also known as sundials, feature a single hand that rotates around a 12-hour dial to indicate both the hour and minute. MeisterSinger is a brand that has embraced the single-handed watch concept with their entire line being single-handed watches.

Another outlier is the 24-hour dialed watch, where the hands only rotate around the dial once every 24 hours. These watches often use military time markings and are perfect for those who prefer a more unconventional way of telling time. The Lum-Tec Combat B37 is an example of a 24-hour dialed watch. Glycine’s Airman line also features the 24-hour dial, with the bronze version GL0166 being a standout piece.

There are many other variations on dial styles, and it seems like there’s always someone trying to invent the next best thing in watch design. This is one of the most exciting aspects of watch collecting – the ever-evolving face of watch style and design.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some unique Apple Watch face ideas?

  • Customizable photo faces: You can choose any photo from your iPhone and use it as your watch face. You can even create a photo album and have your watch cycle through the photos.
  • Modular faces: These allow you to add and arrange different complications, such as weather, calendar events, and activity rings, to create a personalized watch face.
  • Motion faces: These watch faces use animations and graphics that move and change throughout the day. Some popular examples include the Liquid Metal, Fire, and Vapor faces.

How can I change the face of my Apple Watch?

To change the face of your Apple Watch, follow these steps:

  1. Press firmly on the current watch face.
  2. Swipe left or right to browse through the available watch faces.
  3. Tap the watch face you want to use.
  4. Customize the watch face by adding or removing complications or changing the color.

What are some popular third-party Apple Watch faces?

Some popular third-party Apple Watch faces include:

  • Infograph: This watch face displays a large amount of information, including activity rings, weather, and calendar events.
  • California: This watch face features a simple, classic design with Roman numerals and a bold hour marker.
  • Numerals Duo: This watch face displays the time in large, easy-to-read numerals and can be customized with different colors and complications.

What are watch face complications and how do they work?

Watch face complications are small, customizable widgets that display information on your watch face. Some common complications include weather, activity rings, and calendar events. To add a complication, press firmly on the watch face and tap “Customize.” From there, you can add or remove complications and arrange them to your liking.

Are there any free Apple Watch faces available?

Yes, there are several free Apple Watch faces available, including:

  • California
  • Chronograph
  • Color
  • Modular
  • Simple

What are the different types of watch faces available for smartwatches?

There are several types of watch faces available for smartwatches, including:

  • Analog: These watch faces display the time using traditional hour and minute hands.
  • Digital: These watch faces display the time using numbers.
  • Hybrid: These watch faces combine elements of both analog and digital watch faces.
  • Customizable: These watch faces allow you to add and arrange complications to create a personalized watch face.
Verrien | Watch Faces and Dials: A Guide to Customizing Your Timepiece

By Rose Spencer

Rose is an experienced writer and a watch seller, making use of pop-up shops space. She got into watches thanks to her granddad, who introduced her to the wonderful world of watches. Two of them still collect watches together, and Rose is always on the lookout for rare watches (and colorful) varieties.

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