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ROLEX BLOG

Aged to Perfection: All About Rolex “Tropical” Dials

May 25, 2016

BY Paul Altieri

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For vintage Rolex watches, signs of aging and imperfections can result in enormous premiums at auction. Generally speaking, Rolex rarely makes mistakes; when they do, collectors take notice.

These imperfections would be seen as miscalculations or shortcomings had they been made by almost any other manufacturer; however because it is Rolex that has made these mistakes, examples of such are considered exceptional rarities and attain a cult following.

Tropical Dial

Vintage Rolex GMT Master with Faded Pepsi Bezel.

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Tropical Dial

Much like a patina on an old, bronze sculpture, true Rolex “tropical” dials on vintage Rolex watches are something that can only truly be earned through extended exposure to specific conditions. Due to a slight chemical imperfection in the finish of certain dials, the very top layer will change color after extended exposure to sunlight. These tropical dials become symmetrically damaged, fading and changing into rich and unique colors.

Although many dials appear to be original tropical dials, the majority of them are actually regular dials that have been damaged and then refinished. Some dealers will refinish the luminous on water-damaged dials to make them appear as though moisture played no role in the color-change process. Other dealers will have dials refinished to simulate a “tropical” color; and certain dealers will even go so far as to use a cavity magnetron to speed up the aging and fading process.

Vintage Tropical Crown

Although many dials appear to be original tropical dials, the majority of them are actually regular dials that have been damaged and then refinished.

Matching

However, a true tropical dial will have perfectly matching and aged, original luminous markers, rather than ones that were freshly reapplied after the dial had been altered. Most of the time, this is the quickest and easiest way to spot an original tropical dial from a refinished one.

Authentic tropical dials command a hefty premium when it comes to auction prices. As a point of reference, a 6263 Paul Newman “Oyster Soto” Daytona was estimated to bring in $1.5 million at Phillips’ watch auctions that took place in Geneva on May 14th. Part of the reason behind the price: this particular Daytona is only one of two known to exist with a tropical dial.

rolex gmt vintage tropical dial

Authentic tropical dials command a hefty premium when it comes to auction prices.

Since tropical dials are essentially otherwise-perfect Rolex dials that have sustained prolonged exposure to sunlight, there is no end-all definition for what makes a dial “tropical”. Often, dealers and individuals will take liberties with their definition of tropical dials, and improperly label, water/chemically damaged dials as tropical, in order to try to sell their Rolex watches for higher prices.

gmt master 1675 rolex tropical dial

Often, dealers and individuals will take liberties with their definition of tropical dials.

Collectors treasure watches with tropical dials because their unique coloration is something that can only be acquired through age and just the right conditions. Rolex produces hundreds of thousands of watches each year, and the company maintains a remarkably high level of control over the entire lifecycle of their products. However, not even Rolex can control the number of tropical dials that are currently in existence.

vintage gmt rolex tropical tree

Collectors treasure tropical dials because their unique coloration.

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