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03/10/2022
 8 minutes

Black Watches – Telling Time in Stealth Mode

By Sebastian Swart
Tudor-Black-Bay-Stealth-2-1

Mystical, unfathomable, and evil, while simultaneously timeless, elegant, and a symbol of power: the color black. The darkest of all colors stands for death, a key reason why it fascinates us the way it does. But did you know that black isn’t actually considered a color because it doesn’t reflect light? Instead, it’s understood as the absence of light. Sounds like the stuff of a great watch, don’t you think? 

Ever since watches have existed, watchmakers have been manufacturing their products out of steel and precious metals to woo us with notions of glitz, glamour, and having a piece of “the good life” on our wrists. If we’re honest, black watches don’t exactly exude this idea of carefree, morally bereft hedonism. They instead represent something else with their sporty, cool, if not downright rebellious character. Did you ever notice that some of them are kind of difficult to read? In spite of this, these timepieces are horological forces to be reckoned with, precisely because of (or despite) these qualities. Black watches are growing in popularity, and have made their way into the mainstream. 

Did you know that the late German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld is considered one of the pioneers of black watch wearing? “Kaiser Karl” can be seen in a number of pictures from the early 1970s with a black Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ref. 5402 on his wrist. Because AP did not have a black Royal Oak in its catalog at the time, it’s assumed that Lagerfeld had the stainless steel watch PVD-coated himself – a true watch rebel with a cause! 

The first mass-produced black watch was probably the Porsche Design Chronograph 7176, introduced in 1972. To commemorate the watch’s 50th anniversary, the brand released a 500-piece limited edition version in 2022, which features a COSC-certified in-house movement. Jack Heuer also recognized the potential of black watches early on: His company produced the Heuer Monaco “Dark Lord” in 1974. 

Something all black watches from this era have in common is their PVD coating. Physical vapor disposition is a process that condenses a thin coat of black onto a surface. One drawback of early PVD coating, however, was its lack of durability. 

Modern PVD processes, including the diamond-like carbon (DLC) method, deliver much harder finishes. That being said, they still are just coatings that do not permeate into the material they are covering, meaning they are still susceptible to wearing or chipping. The watch industry has done extensive research on these processes over the years, discovering new black materials for watchmaking in the process, including ceramic and carbon.

Today, we’re presenting a few popular black watches from different price categories that are made from different materials. 

Porsche Design: black watch pioneers
Porsche Design: black watch pioneers

Blaken – Rolex, Blacked in Germany

If you’re looking for a black Rolex, you’ll quickly learn that the Swiss watchmaker doesn’t have a single black timepiece in its catalog. Black Rolex watches are in high demand among some enthusiasts, and since Rolex has yet to respond to this, others have stepped in. The German company Blaken GmbH from the small town of Menden is one such company.  

If you’re tired of your stainless steel Rolex, Blaken is there to help blacken it, along with a number of other modifications that might tickle your fancy. Blaken can also purchase the Rolex model of your choosing and modify it for you, applying a DLC coating to the case and bracelet. This applies a super-thin carbon layer to your watch that has a hardness of 3,000 Vickers, meaning it’s considerably more durable than stainless steel.  

For some Rolex purists, such “manipulation” of these hallowed timepieces is going to come across as downright heresy. But as we all know, a watch owner can do with their timepiece whatever they deem fit: smash it, use it as a football, or even, heaven forbid, modify it. 

It is important to note, however, that any modification will nullify Rolex’s five-year warranty. If you choose to have them modify your Rolex, Blaken GmbH becomes responsible for any warranty claims thereafter. 

You’ll regularly find Blaken-modified Rolex models on Chrono24. Depending on the model and type of modification, prices for these timepieces are around 11,500 USD for an Air King, and nearly 70,000 USD for a Daytona from the current collection.

A Rolex Submariner ref. 116610LN, modified by Blaken
A Rolex Submariner ref. 116610LN, modified by Blaken

Back in Black – The Four “Black Series” Seiko Re-Interpretations

A few weeks back, Japan’s most famous watchmaker Seiko presented “The Black Series,” four limited edition Turtle and Sumo diving watches from their Prospex line. All four watches feature seductive orange accents, and are modern re-interpretations of models Seiko first presented in the 1960s and 70s. Back then, however, these watches were not black. 

While the references SPB253J1, SPB255J1 and SPB257J1 are equipped with the in-house 6R35 caliber, the SLA061J1 features the 8L35 movement. Seiko is producing 5,500 pieces of the three models with the 6R35, while the SLA061J1 with its 8L35 caliber will have an even more limited run of only 1,000 pieces.  

Seiko is manufacturing these watches out of vacuum-ionized stainless steel, part of the watchmaker’s in-house Super Hard Coating process. The case is then DLC coated in black. These watches have a diameter of between 40.5 to 44 mm, depending on the model you select, meaning there will be the right timepiece for just about every wrist. 

Like every Seiko Prospex diving watch, these Black Series watches offer a water resistance of 200 m (20 bar, 656 ft). They also feature domed sapphire crystal, something that can be expected in this price category. Speaking of price, you’ll find these watches to be very affordable: the SPB253J1 and SPB255J1 with the 6R35 caliber list at 1,200 USD, while the SPB257J1 (also with the 6R35) lists for 1,300 USD. The SLA061J1 with its more premium 8L35 caliber has a list price of 3,300 USD. 

The Seiko Turtle with a modern black look: the new ref. SPB257J1
The Seiko Turtle with a modern black look: the new ref. SPB257J1

The Carbon TPT® Richard Mille RM037

Richard Mille watches are exclusive, technological masterpieces made of high-tech materials. They’ve created lots of buzz with their futuristic designs and plenty of discussion about who’s got one on their wrist. These things come at a very high price: RM timepieces are simply unattainable for most enthusiasts. Richard Mille has a number of black watches in its catalog, one of which is the RM037 ladies watch. This timepiece measures 34 mm in diameter, and is available in gold, ceramic, or the company’s proprietary Carbon TPT®. 

Richard Mille places countless layers of its ultra-thin Carbon TPT® material on top of one another, which it then melts at 120°C (248°F) to form an extremely hard case that is highly robust and ultra-light. One very cool thing about this process is how it creates unique surface structures, giving every case its own individual appearance. Every Carbon TPT® watch is one-of-a-kind. 

The RM037’s black appearance is complemented by silver decorative screws that give the appearance of stars in the night sky. The RM037 is powered by the automatic Richard Mille in-house caliber CRMA1. This is a skeletonized movement that has a titanium baseplate and bridges. The watch comes on a black rubber strap. Looking to treat yourself or a loved one to this timepiece? That’s great! Just be sure to have upwards of 200,000 USD on hand to purchase it. 

Exclusive and black as the night sky: the Richard Mille RM037 ladies watch, made of Carbon TPT®
Exclusive and black as the night sky: the Richard Mille RM037 ladies watch, made of Carbon TPT®

Black Omega Speedmasters

The watchmaker Omega from Biel, Switzerland turns to ceramic for its black timepieces. The many variations of the “Dark Side Of The Moon” Speedmaster are great examples of this. The blackest of these models is the ref. 311.92.44.51.01.005 “Black Black.” The name says it all – fans of (very) black watches won’t be disappointed. Along with the case, the dial is also made of black ceramic, and the indices, hands, and subdials are – you guessed it – all black. The numerals on the tachymeter scale are also black, and correspondingly difficult to read. Do you like cool-looking black watches? Then this is the timepiece for you, just as long as being able to tell the time (even in good lighting) isn’t a top priority. 

A more legible option can be found with the Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon ref. 311.92.44.51.01.003. This model features the iconic Speedmaster dial design with bright Super-LumiNova on its hands and indices. It also has great-looking red accents such as the Speedmaster logo underneath the Omega logo at 12 o’clock and the red tip on the second hand. Both of these Speedmasters are equipped with the Co-Axial caliber 9300 and come on a nylon strap – in black, of course. 

The Omega Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon “Black Black” can be yours for around 11,200 USD; the more legible regular version will set you back around 9,600 USD. 

Blacker than black: the Omega Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon "Black Black"
Blacker than black: the Omega Speedmaster Dark Side of the Moon “Black Black”

The Tudor Black Bay Ceramic – Black and METAS-Certified

The Tudor Black Bay collection is probably the most successful series by the Genevan watchmaker. First introduced in 2012, it was an instant hit with the watch world. The timepieces in this line offer the classic look of vintage Tudor and Rolex diving watches paired with the latest technology. 

Tudor introduced the Black Bay Ceramic ref. M79210CNU-0001 in 2021, a black version of its 41-mm, three-handed diving watch. As the name makes clear, the case is constructed of ceramic. With the exception of the white indices and hands, along with the white stitching on the strap, this watch is entirely black. Tudor even equips it with a black caliber that has a tungsten rotor you can gaze upon through the sapphire crystal case back. 

This timepiece is powered by the in-house Tudor caliber MT5602-1U, which is both COSC-certified and Master Chronometer-certified by the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS). Be sure to have around 5,700 USD on hand if you’d like to add this technological masterpiece to your collection. 

The Heritage Black Bay Ceramic isn’t the only black Black Bay watch available. Released in 2016, the Black Bay Dark has a 41-mm stainless steel, PVD-coated case. In contrast to the Black Bay Ceramic with its black diving scale and numerals on its bezel, the Black Bay Dark features a white scale and numbers. The Black Bay Dark is powered by the in-house caliber MT5602 that was first released in 2015. Its stainless steel construction and simpler movement make this timepiece a more affordable option. You can find never-worn models on Chrono24 for around 4,200 USD.  

An elegant, black ceramic case: the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Ceramic
An elegant, black ceramic case: the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Ceramic

Summary

Fashion czar Karl Lagerfeld knew it way back in the 1970s: black watches are something special. You could say that black watches are more relaxed timepieces that exude a sense of ease. You’re less likely to find this with blinged-out watches with bold color accents, not to mention the overinflated heritage that comes with them. But with time, even those timepieces managed to establish themselves on the mainstream watch market. Black watches have done the same, and although not everyone has “seen the light” with them, the watch world has definitely seen the black. No matter what your take on them is, black luxury watches are a great addition to any collection. 


About the Author

Sebastian Swart

I've been using Chrono24 for years to buy and sell watches, as well as for research purposes. I've had an infatuation with watches for as long as I can remember. As a …

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