The Colourful Evolution of Watch Design

The Colourful Evolution of Watch Design

Discover the Parmigiani Fleurier

Head of Watches, Sarah Fergusson takes us on a tour through the history of the evolution of the colours chosen in watch design, taking a closer look at the superb craftsmanship of the Parmigiani Fleurier. 

If we were able to take a visual overview of current trends in watch design, although we wouldn’t looking at a rainbow, we certainly wouldn’t be faced with anything close to monochrome. The spectrum of colour available to the watch buyer today is still arguably limited but is a marked increase on even ten years ago.

We can consider white a kind of standard dial colour, the reason for this being tradition, and originally, an availability of materials. Looking at the first clocks with a dial as we would recognise them, these were mostly white enamel with numerals painted in black. The first watches, pocket watches, were visually very similar (the movements within were of course quite different.) While machined and enamel dials became popular in the 19th century, the range of colours did not usually extend too far. Some were decorated with floral motifs or figural and pastoral scenes but again these were not the main or ground colour of the dial itself.

As would befit the decade, the 1970s was the first truly colourful time for some watch brands, with many offering certain models in a choice of full dial colours. Some had a practical reason for bolder colours, like the orange often used for increased legibility in dive watches. Rolex released their so-called ‘Stella’ dials during this time too, a collection of strong vibrant dial colours. The company then caused quite a stir when they released their 2020 collection in September of last year. Perhaps in a nod to the Stella legacy, the classic Oyster Perpetual was updated and saw the introduction of five new vibrant dial colours including a vivid yellow. For a brand known for their understated, classic palette, these current bright dial watches stand out against the majority of current models across the market. Something that is also significant is that these are not special or limited it edition pieces. They form part of the Rolex core collection which says something of the current openness of today’s buyers to colour and vibrancy.


special edition Tonda Metropolitaine PFC273-0063300 model, stainless steel case, automatic PF310 calibre movement, round signed creme de menthe flinque dial with applied rhodium-plated Arabic numerals and rounded wedge hour makers, sunken small seconds at 6, with dot markers in white, broad lume-filled hands, pencil sweep seconds hand, cut out elongated date aperture at 6, diamond-set bezel with 72 round brilliant cut stones, crown with PF monogram, skeleton caseback revealing signed 28 jewel movement, with Edition Speciale and No. 67171 to the caseback edge, on a tapered stainless steel polished link bracelet strap, with a concealed clasp featuring PF monogram, personalised inscription to the clasp interior, in box, with outer box, no papers | £3,000 - £5,000 + fees


View Lot 146 ⇒


In 2014, Swiss company Parmigiani Fleurier released a new iteration of their Tonda wrist watch, the Metropolitaine for women and the Metrographe for men. While the Tonda itself is not new, the Metropolitaine/graphe edition was, and was designed to appeal to a younger audience. Part of the range made available was a limited run that featured a pale green dial. The colour has many historically positive associations – of fertility and renewal and health, but perhaps today if we think of the colour there may be fewer current positive associations or interpretations. The colour is however having a moment in home decorating. We are now used to the tropical leaf prints and various combinations of shades of green and gold that adorned the pages of interiors magazines in the last year or so. In terms of watches specifically, there has been fashion for blue and navy watch dials in the last few years. In fact if you were to ask me last year which colour defined the market, I would have said a dark or navy blue. The Tudor Black Bay Fifty Eight in navy blue released two years ago was a standout in the hue and has been met with immense critical and commercial success. This year and last, we have also seen several high profile releases with green dials too though. The Omega Seamaster with malachite dial is a special one, as is the Bvlgari Octo Finissimo green dial, but perhaps more mainstream are the new Seiko and Certina dive watches.4 It is difficult to say why but I think most would agree that blue is imminently more wearable, in general, than green. In his article on green watches, journalist Ruediger Bucher described blue as a transitional colour, one that occupies the space between formal white, grey and black, and starker colours like orange, pink and yellow.5 This does ring true, when we consider that blue is traditionally one of the core suit colours that one could wear to the office without raising any eyebrows. On a watch therefore, the colour enables the piece to be versatile and imminently wearable, no matter the occasion.

Looking at the dial of the PF specifically though is not a strong traditional green, but a paler colour. Our associations with this will be quite distinct from the darker emerald and mossy tones therefore. For me, it would be mint ice cream and the art deco era. These two notions could be defined as fun, indulgent and stylish, and quite nostalgic. The trend for heritage style watches has been a strong one in the last year, pushing the nostalgia angle perhaps, from faithful reproductions of originals to vintage-inspired design elements. The PF is not a heritage watch however, it is distinctly modern in most aspects of its design. We must also not forget the brand’s relatively short history – they are a mere spritely 25 years old and do not have a long historical back catalogue to peruse for inspiration.

The PF Metropolitaine it is definitely a fun piece, if we can say that about a watch, especially one that reportedly retailed around £9,000. Its oversized numerals and wide hands give it a playful, less serious appeal and diamonds are a nod to an occasion and not to the office. PF describe the green tone, or crème de menthe as they call it, as ‘bewitching’ and ‘enigmatic.’ The wearer, for them, is someone that is a ‘trend-setter rather than a follower.’6 While these are of course retail terms set to draw the customer in, but we cannot be too cynical here. The watch was, after all, released around 2014, and at the time, there were not too many green dial watches being released, especially in a women’s size. Then, it really was something markedly different to be seen on the wrist. Now too, as green manages to edge in on blue’s popularity, the watch really is quite appealing, and all the more current.

Our Select Jewellery & Watches auction on 1st July features one of these special edition lady’s Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda Metropolitaine with the crème de menthe dial at lot 146.



Auction Information



Thursday1st Jul 2021 14:00

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View the auction catalogue ⇒




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