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Luxury watch trend-spot­ters would be blind to not have no­ticed the ex­plo­sion of panda dial chrono­graphs all over the in­dus­try. These watches, with their pe­cu­liar black-and-white aes­thet­ics, are im­pos­si­ble to miss and peo­ple love them for that. A panda dial watch is es­sen­tially a chrono­graph that has black sub­di­als over a white dial. This high-con­trast ef­fect re­sem­bles the face of a panda bear—you can see where the two eyes and a mouth would go—and was so nick­named.

But panda di­als are not a new trend. They had been res­ur­rected from the early 1960s thanks to the in­dus­try-wide (make that world­wide) ob­ses­sion with all things vin­tage. They be­gan as a way for watch­mak­ers to make chrono­graph di­als more leg­i­ble, since the time­keep­ing func­tion has been clearly marked out against the time-telling one. Who would’ve thought that some­thing so prac­ti­cal would end up be­ing a ma­jor trend in 2018?

Ar­guably, though, panda di­als never re­ally went away. They’ve just never been as pop­u­lar as they are now.

There are a few main styles: the clas­sic panda with three black sub­di­als at three, six and nine o’clock on white; the semi­panda which has sub­di­als in colours other than black or white; the ver­ti­cal panda with sub­di­als at six, nine and 12 o’clock or six and 12; and fi­nally the re­verse panda with white sub­di­als on black.

In­ter­est­ingly, the orig­i­nal panda dial chrono­graph wasn’t a clas­sic panda but a re­verse semi-panda. Made in 1957, the Bre­itling Su­perOcean Chrono­graph ref 807 was the watch that started it all. Bre­itling’s deep fix­a­tion with pre­ci­sion time­keep­ing spurred it to con­tin­u­ally in­vent many key fea­tures of the mod­ern chrono­graph. In 1961, an­other panda dial Bre­itling was in­tro­duced, the AVI 765 Co-Pi­lot. Also a re­verse panda for­mat, it how­ever has three sub­di­als—one more than the ref 807.

Around that same pe­riod, Tag Heuer caught onto the re­verse panda trend and in 1961 re­leased its auto-in­spired Au­tavia time­piece. Tag Heuer, then named Heuer, had also made panda ver­sions of its iconic Car­rera Chrono­graph, which are ex­tremely sought-af­ter to­day. But those came only af­ter this great watch com­pany made the first true panda dial.

In 1963, Rolex re­leased the Cos­mo­graph Day­tona ref 6239, which had black chrono­graph sub­di­als on a sun­ray opa­line dial. In­cred­i­bly soughtafter at auc­tions to­day (as are all vin­tage Rolexes), this ref­er­ence didn’t yet have screw-down push­ers, nei­ther did it have the word Day­tona printed on the dial. A first in the world, this was the pre­cur­sor to the leg­endary Paul New­man Day­tona. In Oc­to­ber 2017, New­man’s own Day­tona ap­peared on the auc­tion scene and was sold to a pri­vate buyer for a mind-blow­ing SGD23.4 mil­lion.

The Paul New­man Day­tona al­ways does well at auc­tions, but SGD23.4 mil­lion is un­prece­dented even for Rolex. As news of this record-break­ing vin­tage time­piece rip­pled across the in­dus­try, so did the de­sire for chrono­graphs of sim­i­lar de­signs grow ex­po­nen­tially.

In­spired by the iconog­ra­phy of these early and leg­endary ex­am­ples, brands to­day have re­leased a plethora of panda dial chrono­graphs up­dated with mod­ern de­tails. Mont­blanc’s TimeWalker Man­u­fac­ture Chrono­graph blends sport with vin­tage, the Bre­itling Nav­itimer 8 opens a new chap­ter for the brand and the Omega Speed­mas­ter CK2998 is as stylish as it is el­e­gant.

Aude­mars Piguet shakes up the Royal Oak Off­shore 42mm with a host of panda and semi-panda de­signs, as did the Gi­rardPer­re­gaux Lau­re­ato Chrono­graph. Across the pond on the ac­ces­si­ble luxury tier, Hamilton also got into the game with the In­tra-Matic 68 while Hublot had re­cently re­leased two re­verse panda Clas­sic Fu­sion Chrono­graphs, one each for foot­ball clubs Ju­ven­tus and Chelsea.

So panda di­als are of­fi­cially a thing but so was the mul­let, and at some point they’ll go out of style. Un­like the mul­let though, a panda dial won’t ever get you mocked.

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