There’s a reason why timepieces with brown dials haven’t developed as a universal offering from watch brands in the same way other colorways have. The popular blue and green looks that we’ve seen proliferate over the past few years are able to offer a lively interpretation of time with their attractive and vibrant hues. Black and white, on the other hand, rely on a more traditional achromatic design that can be dressed up or down with ease. Brown, somewhere in the middle of all these more flexible options, is dependent on its subdued, warm tone to stand out and requires some extra effort to match with an outfit. However, this also stands for why brown-dialed watches are so unique and, slowly but surely, we’re starting to see the gradual growth of this field among watch enthusiasts of all levels. Here is our list of five watches from the past few years that use chocolate-colored dials so sumptuous you might find yourself wanting to take a bite. This list is just a starting point in the growing fascination with brown dials and is not meant to be comprehensive. Other recent offerings such as the Patek Philippe Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Ref. 5524R, Rado Captain Cook 37 mm, Tudor Black Bay Bronze, Panerai Luminor 8 Days Power Reserve Titanio (PAM00797), Hublot Classic Fusion Berluti, and a number of F.P. Journe Octa Automatique models in Havana Brown all make compelling arguments for being the first brown dial watch to join a collection.
No stranger to warm tones, Vacheron Constantin originally released this model (Ref. 4500V/1110a-B146) when it was revamping the popular Overseas line in 2016. While there was a brown-dialed chronograph accompaniment, this time-and-date-only version stuck with us thanks to its attractive sunburst dial finish and the timeless proportions of its stainless-steel case at 41 mm by 11 mm. Many regard the Vacheron Constantin Overseas as a contender for the greatest sports watch of all time thanks to its history, dating back to the Ref. 222 that was first seen in 1977, and its comprehensive blend of substance and style. The Ref. 4500V/1110a is a worthy bearer of this legacy with a touch of refinement thanks to its café au lait coloring. Inside the watch, the automatic manufacture Caliber 5100 offers a 60-hour power reserve and reliability ensured by the Geneva Seal. Price: $20,400
The Zenith Elite Chronograph Classic is one of the more underrated Zenith releases of the past five years. This subtle addition to the Elite line utilizes an update to the iconic El Primero chronograph movement and was released alongside a number of other color options in 2016. With its pale – almost taupe-like – polished brown dial, open registers at 3 and 9 o’clock, and concave, rectangular pushers, this classical design invited heaps of praise for its subdued appearance when it was first unveiled but has remained on the horological periphery ever since. As one of the few brown watches that leans less heavily on a chocolate tint and more on a wood-like tone, we’d love to see more brands apply similar “less is more” stances. Price: $14,400.
While Seiko’s more luxury-focused sibling, Grand Seiko, released a 20th-anniversary, limited-edition watch with a mosaic brown dial (SBGR311G) at Baselworld this year, our focus is on a more accessible, but equally intriguing, watch released by Seiko in 2017. The Seiko Presage Cocktail Time was initially a series of eight watches that included this caramel-colored version inspired by the “Manhattan” cocktail. The dial recalls a birds-eye view of a cocktail glass with its ridged edges applying a sort-of ripple effect. Seiko says that each dial receives seven layers of gloss finish to achieve its shimmering appearance. At 3 o’clock, there’s a small, color-matching date window. The stainless steel case comes in at 40.5 mm and has a polished finish. The best part of it all? The Seiko Cocktail Time SRPD46J1 is priced at only $425.
Urban Jürgensen produces some of the most attractive and elaborate time-only watches on the market today. The Reference 1140L RG Brown Limited Edition released at Baselworld 2018 is further proof of that. A walnut-brown dial contrasts with the finely blued hands to create a sumptuous tone. Arabic numerals made of solid rose gold are hand polished and appear as if they’re floating on the dial’s surface. A masterfully guillochéd dial, cross-hatched small seconds, and teardrop lugs (which have been individually forged and soldered, heat treated, and hand-polished) elevate the whole dial architecture. This limited-edition watch is the latest update to the Ref. 1140 series that has seen a variety of dial colors and case materials since its initial inception a few years ago. Last year, we saw the limited-edition Ref. 1140 make an appearance in platinum with a velvety blue dial. This year, the chocolate hue is a distinct diversion into warmer colored territory that really hammers home the level of handcraft going into each Urban Jürgensen timepiece. Inside the watch is the hand- decorated Urban Jürgensen in-house P4 Caliber with Swiss Lever Escapement, a twin barrel, and a 72-hour power reserve. Limited to 20 total pieces, the 40-mm timepiece comes on an alligator leather strap with a solid rose-gold folding buckle and clasp. It’s priced at CHF 29,900.
Another model originally released in 2016 is this take on Omega’s Seamaster Planet Ocean line with a Sedna gold case that, at the time of release, was billed as a ladies’ watch. Sized at 39.5 mm, we think this is a timepiece that can effortlessly bound between the barriers of gender and could be perfect for sharing between a husband and wife. While the design and layout of this watch are similar to previous Planet Ocean iterations, the movement used here is the real distinguishing factor. For the first time in the Planet Ocean lineup, Omega used a Master Chronometer designated caliber. Visible through the watch’s exhibition caseback, Caliber 8801 received the brand’s METAS certification and boasted anti-magnetic properties up to 15,000 gauss. The 39.5 mm sizing was also a new availability for Omega (who previously offered a unisex Planet Ocean option at 42 mm). The usage of the proprietary Sedna gold alloy for the case, buckle, and indexes was a good choice as well, effectively complementing the attractive, mahogany-brown dial and brown leather strap with rubber lining. Did we mention it’s waterproof to 600 meters? Price: $21,000.