A fresh trend that’s been sweeping through the luxury watch space recently is the brightly colored dial. That’s thanks in large part to the new line of Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches that were released in the latter half of 2020. With shades like yellow, turquoise, red, and more, the colorful Oyster Perpetual watches were a welcome addition to the more muted tones that we’ve come to associate with fine timepieces, although some of these brightly colored Rolex dials have already been discontinued after only about a year and a half of production.
However, those who are familiar with Rolex watches will recognize that boldly colored dials are not new to the brand’s catalog but in fact, have a history that dates back to the 1970s. Those vintage dials are known as Rolex Stella dials and many collectors have correctly pointed out that the new Oyster Perpetual watches are (more-or-less) modern revivals of the old-school Stellas. Let’s dig in a little deeper and find out the similarities and differences between the new colorful Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches and the vintage Stella dials that inspired them.
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What Is the Rolex Stella?
In the 1970s, Rolex began furnishing select Day-Date watches with colorful lacquered enamel dials. Rolex called them “Lacquered Stella” in the catalogs of the era, and there are two popular but incorrect theories about why they received this name. One theory claims that the name was taken from the Italian word for “star” while the other maintains that they were named after American artist Frank Stella, renowned for his kaleidoscope-like creations.
The name actually comes from a Swiss company called Stella that supplied Rolex’s dial manufacturers with special lacquers and pigments that were used in the production of these brightly colored dials. However, today they are simply known as Rolex Stella dials within the collecting community. It is understood that these dials were manufactured in limited quantities and were originally destined for primarily the Middle East market. The combination of the flamboyant high gloss dials with the normally conservative 36mm Day-Date President watch was a striking and unexpected one.
Rolex Stella Dials Colors
While Rolex Day-Date models are most frequently found with either black, white, silver, or champagne dials, the colors selected for the Stella variants were significantly less traditional. Rolex Stella dial color choices include:
Perhaps the aesthetic was too unexpected for most because the Rolex Stella watches were not particularly popular during their time. However, similar to several other once-overlooked Rolex references (most notably, the vintage Daytona references), Stella dials have reemerged as some of the most collectible vintage Rolex watches in today’s market. And finding one, especially in good condition, is a challenge since not only were they manufactured in smaller numbers but hard enamel also has a tendency to crack.
Rolex Models With Stella Dials
Rolex Day-Date watches fitted with Stella dials were primarily made during the 1970s and 1980s, but production tapered off in the early-1990s. Additionally, there are yellow gold, white gold, and platinum versions of Rolex Stella watches, as well as gem-set editions. As a result, these special edition dials can be found across several references, depending on their year of production:
- Day-Date ref. 1802
- Day-Date ref. 1803
- Day-Date ref. 1804
- Day-Date ref. 18038
- Day-Date ref. 18039
- Day-Day ref. 18079
- Day-Date ref. 18248
- Day-Date ref. 18239
The New Rolex Oyster Perpetual Collection
In September 2020, Rolex unveiled a new generation of Oyster Perpetual watches, boasting new calibers, new sizes, and new dial colors. Although the watches still offered the choice of neutral-toned dials, it’s the brightly colored versions that got everyone talking and quickly made Rolex’s entry-level model one of the most in-demand timepieces in the world.
At the time of their original release in September 2020, Rolex Oyster Perpetual dial color options included:
- Bright Black
- Bright Blue
- Coral red
- Candy Pink
- Turquoise Blue
However, less than two years after they were first announced, Rolex quietly discontinued a number of the colorful Oyster Perpetual dials at Watches & Wonders Geneva 2022. Both the Coral Red and Yellow options have been removed from the catalog entirely, and the fan-favorite Turquoise Blue “Tiffany” dial is no longer available for the 41mm model. Additionally, the number of options available for each model has also drastically been reduced. For example, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual 41 is now only available with Black, Silver, Bright Blue, or Green dials, with the green option being the only one left that features a saturated and glossy finish similar to what can be found on vintage Rolex Stella dials.
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sizes
For those who aren’t familiar with the Oyster Perpetual collection, it is Rolex’s entry-level model that is exclusively available in stainless steel and fitted with a time-only dial, a smooth bezel, and a 3-link Oyster bracelet.
The new-generation Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches is currently available in five different case sizes:
- Oyster Perpetual 28 ref. 276200
- Oyster Perpetual 31 ref. 277200
- Oyster Perpetual 34 ref. 124200
- Oyster Perpetual 36 ref. 126000
- Oyster Perpetual 41 ref. 124300
With that in mind, even upon their initial launch, not all sizes offered all of the different dial color choices. For example, while the 36mm Oyster Perpetual model was initially available with all of the different dial colors, the Candy Pink option was notably not offered for the 41mm model. Since this point, the number of options available for the various models has been further reduced, making it even harder for buyers to get the exact watch they want.
Rolex Stella Dials vs. Oyster Perpetual
They may look similar at first glance due to their eye-catching dial shades, but the Day-Date Stella dials and the new Oyster Perpetual watches represent two opposite ends of the Rolex watch spectrum. The Day-Date is Rolex’s most prestigious watch model – so much so that it is more commonly known as the Rolex President and it’s the watch that we’ve come to expect on the wrists of the world’s most famous and powerful people.
The Rolex Day-Date is only ever made in solid 18k gold or platinum, and diamond embellishments are always an option. Other flourishes often found on Day-Date watches include fluted bezels and President bracelets. The watch combines both a day and a date window, with the latter indication further enhanced by a Cyclops magnification lens protruding from the surface of the crystal above it.
On the other hand, the Oyster Perpetual is Rolex’s starter watch, offering the two most important design traits of a modern Rolex: a water-resistant Oyster case and a self-winding Perpetual movement. The face of the watch is straightforward in its design, featuring a trio of hands at the center, an unadorned smooth bezel, and a flat sapphire crystal. It only comes with a three-link Oyster bracelet, which is the brand’s most casual choice.
An Attainable Splash of Color
Given these fundamental differences, it is refreshing that Rolex would pick its entry-level model to showcase a vibrant and collectible dial style once reserved for its most exclusive line of watches. Rolex even revived the idea of the Stella style for a short while in 2013 when it released a few Day-Date models with colorful dials and matching leather straps. However, the most easy-going Rolex model has most recently been chosen to serve up the candy-colored dials – and buyers have been eating it up.
Although the Rolex Oyster Perpetual is by no means an inexpensive watch, it is far more attainable than a Day-Date President, especially if we’re comparing it to an ultra-coveted vintage Day-Date with a Stella dial. If the watch-centric corners of Instagram are any indication, the “Tiffany” turquoise editions and the sun-drenched Yellow options are the current favorites among the new OP colorways, which makes it even more surprising that the Yellow and Coral Red options are no longer available.
Rolex has long been considered a conservative brand, sticking to classic palettes and timeless silhouettes. Yet, given the advent of more cheerful options in recent years like the Rainbow Daytona, multi-colored sapphire “Gummy Bear” Yacht-Master, the gradient gem-set Pearlmaster models, and now the brightly-toned Oyster Perpetual watches, it’s clear that Rolex also is very capable of adding a splash of color to shake things up. With that in mind, given that Rolex only kept all of the colorful Oyster Perpetual dials as part of the catalog for less than two years, it’s also clear that Rolex knows precisely when and how to add a dash of color to its lineup for maximum effect.