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Technique – Improved visibility is an Artwork

Mieux y voir, c’est un art

A watch proves more or less easy to read according to its degree of complexity, but also according to its compliance with certain aesthetic codes. The latter are what determines whether a watch clearly shows the time or not. This is an important issue given that a large proportion of those who purchase high-end watches have reached the classic age of far-sightedness. And you can’t ask them to pop on their half-moon reading glasses for such an instinctive and ordinary thing as checking the time on their wrist. Watchmakers cannot work on an object measuring 3.5 to 4.5 cm in diameter without realizing how small this space actually is. Especially since the previous typical 45mm size has now dropped to 42mm, which makes a real difference.


The first lesson in enhancing legibility is to write larger. While this might seem glaringly obvious, there are a few potential obstacles. It is difficult to be subtle and refined while using thicker fonts and one soon falls into the sports watch category. This has not prevented Bell&Ross from creating a typical dial clearly geared towards readability. The formula is mainly based on the distinctive font of the four large Arabic numerals that the brand has created. Generally speaking, Arabic numerals are more legible than Roman ones, and less so than hour-markers. Oversizing the latter enhances legibility… up to the tipping point where the trend is reversed. Seiko diving watches often flirt with the limits in this respect and this borderline approach has contributed to their success.

Mieux y voir, c’est un art

The Bell & Ross BR03-92 and the Seiko Prospex SRPA83 PADI © Bell & Ross/Seiko


The second lesson involves making clear-cut distinctions. The tone-on-tone approach is hard to make out. Dial-free watches lack points of reference, and skeleton watches make things even worse by introducing an abundance of backdrops and varying depths. There is no surer way of losing visual grip, apart perhaps from peripheral scales such as a tachymeter. The most effective means is definitely white against a matt black background, as Tudor has done with its Pelagos models. Polished hands and sunburst dials are also to be avoided, since mirror-type effects disturb reading in both full sunshine and dim light. The advantage of contrasts is that they also work well on elegant models, confirmed by Breguet’s Classique 7147.

Mieux y voir, c’est un art

Breguet 7147 © Breguet


The risk of multiplying indications is to generate confusion. Small seconds here, chronograph indications there, and what is the purpose of this 3 o’clock counter ? Some brands have proved able to arrange complications in a particular order. Breguet has created a perpetual calendar with indications appearing in a vertical line. And Patek Philippe has superimposed the minutes and hours of its automatic chronograph, as seen with the Nautilus 5980. Conversely, certain separations also work well. Omega has optimized the nocturnal legibility of its Seamaster Planet Ocean watches by using two different Super-LumiNova® colors for the hours and minutes.

Mieux y voir, c’est un art

Nautilus Ref. 5980 © Patek Philippe


The last option is artificial enlargement. Rolex provides the most clear-cut example, having already patented in 1953 its Cyclops magnifying lens to enlarge the date. But the approach can also be more subtle. Some watches equipped with complication modules end up with a strongly recessed date disk and to avoid this cavernous effect, IWC has filled the date aperture of its Portofino Moon Phase watch with invisible optical fibers that raise the date and make it appear to be on a level with the dial. A highly original bright idea.

Mieux y voir, c’est un art

Portofino Remontage Manuel Phases de Lune © IWC

In short, I find that the 5170P to be one of the more intriguing recent novelties in the brand, worth noting because it packs a quintessential Patek Philippe chronograph caliber using a great dial and, thanks to its diamonds, “a touch of class” — as Basil Fawlty would call it. 7000/250, using a beautiful blue enamel dial. It includes the new Caliber R 27 PS. Patek introduced the atmosphere in 2016, on the Flamme Calatrava 7200/200R. After placing the rocks, the gemsetter utilizes a burin to divide the gold between every diamond, exposing a portion of the lower half and allowing light to pass through. Does the method release more genius, it produces a lace-like engraved pattern in the golden round the setting that provides even more sparkle. The Ref. 7000/250 is priced at $447,939. The second ladies’ particular edition is a companion piece to the men’s newest 300-piece Patek Philippe World Time New York Special Edition, but at even smaller amounts. The women’ Ref. 7130 is limited to 2 75-piece editions (rose or white gold) using diamond-set bezels and dials that, like the men’s, are relief-embossed with a depiction of the New York skyline. The bezel is set with 62 diamonds along with the prong on the buckle is put together with the other 27 diamonds.