A California or Cali dial has a distinct design that’s easy to identify: a watch dial with a combination of Arabic numerals, Roman numerals, and index markers. The most common style has Roman numerals from 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock, and Arabic numerals from 4 o’clock to 8 o’clock. The 3, 6, and 9 positions are usually designed with index or dash markers, and12 o’clock is marked by an inverted triangle.
This dial style dates back to the 1930s when Rolex was making movements for Panerai to supply watches to the Italian Navy, which asked the company to make a luminous watch for divers. The end product is the Panerai Radiomir (then called Ref. 3646). In the decades that followed, this dial style became more and more popular and has inspired many different brands.
In this article, we’re going to talk about watches that used this style and provide links on where you can find them.
California Dial Watches
It was in the early 1940s that Rolex patented the design. The luxury brand, however, did not really call it a “California dial.” The actual origin of the name is not clear.
According to an article on Theo and Harris, there are three possible origins of the term “California dial”: it’s a nickname by Californians because they loved the design; second, it’s a term used by California watch dealers who was hunting for watches with the dial; and lastly, it’s a term that was used to describe the work done by Melrose-based Kirk Rich, who was popular for refinishing dials with the design.
Here are some of the most popular Cali dial watches today.
Panerai Radiomir Manual Wind Black Dial Watch (PAM00249)
The Panerai Radiomir dial has evolved into different versions over the years, but the original California dial version remains one of the most popular: the classic design of Roman and Arabic numeral markers, as well as a railway track minute circle.
Panerai has made the dial more luminous, in response to the need of commandos to use the watch in darkness. According to Panerai, this was achieved by manually adjusting the numerals of the paint and using a specific brush with a sharp point. You can read more about the history here. Panerai has made the dial more luminous, in response to the need of commandos to use the watch in darkness. According to Panerai, this was achieved by manually adjusting the numerals of the paint and using a specific brush with a sharp point. You can read more about the history here.
The Panera Radiomir (PAM00424) became very popular over the decades that followed and continues to be available today. This watch is a 47mm polished steel model with a black dial with luminous numeral and hour markers. Having a hand-wound mechanical movement, this model has a power reserve of up to three days and has a see-through sapphire crystal case back. The strap is a handsome Scamosito dark brown leather with beige stitching, and the strap is trapezoidal brushed steel.
Undone is a Hong-Kong based watchmaker known for its customized watches and collaborations with well-known brands and beloved characters such as Peanuts and Star Wars (which we’ve also featured on the site).
This is a brand that combines modern and classic designs as well. One example is the Undone Cali Blue watch, a modern Cali dial-style timepiece with a vintage feel. The watch is a 40mm model with a mechanical movement, a 316L stainless steel case, and a water resistance to 100m.
This watch is fully customizable. The customer can pick features like dial color, case, bezel, hour and minute hands, and strap. You can check out the watch design and customization options here.
Spinnaker Men’s Hull California Dial
Spinnaker is another Hong Kong-based watch company. The brand specializes in diver-inspired watches with automatic movement.
The Spinnaker Cobalt Blue watch is a 42mm model with a stainless steel case and a genuine leather strap. The Cali-style blue dial has the standard Cali design but has a date window at 3 o’clock. The watch runs on a Seiko NH35 Automatic movement, and the water resistance is up to 10m. The hands and indexes are luminous, making it visible even under low light conditions.
Another model with a Cali dial is the Spinnaker Volcanic Black watch, with an ionic plated black dial and a dark brown leather strap. See more here.
Nomos Club Campus 38
German watchmaker Nomos Glashutte is known for its clean, minimalist and Bauhaus-inspired watch designs.
The brand’s take on the California dial is the Nomoc Glashutte Club Campus, a line of watches with a combination of luminous Roman and Arabic numerals.
One of these is the Club Campus 38 Running on the manually-would Alpha caliber with a power reserve of up to 43 hours, this is a 38.5mm watch with typography that has a style of US highway signage. The glass is a domed sapphire crystal, and the hands ate rhodium-plated with SuperLuminova. The strap is a velour leather anthracite, and the water resistance is up to 100m. This watch is available in both black and white dials.
One noticeable thing about this model is the placement of the markers—the classic Cali dial has the Roman numerals on top, but Nomos formatted it in a slightly different way, where the Roman numerals are at the bottom, and the Arabic numerals are on top.
Technomarine ‘Cruise California’ Swiss Quartz Watch
This Technomarine Cruise California chronograph watch with a Swiss quartz movement (model TM-115021) is for those looking for a big sporty timepiece with a Cali-style dial.
This is a 40mm watch with chronograph functions (60 seconds, 30 minutes, and 1/10th of a second), a blue silicone strap, unidirectional bezel, and water resistance to 200m. The blue dial has a predominantly purple theme—from the Arabic and Roman numeral markers to the subdial at 6 o’clock, which has a date marker.
Apple Watch Series 6
The Apple watch, which is on its Series 6 version, has many watch faces to choose from–including a California dial.
The brand recommends three Apple watch models on its website: the Series 6, SE, and Series 3 versions. The latest is the Apple Watch Series 6, which has a 40 or 44mm case with an Always-On Retina Display. Some of the main features include Blood Oxygen and ECG apps, water-resistance up to 50m, and high/low heart rate notifications. See the rest of the features and explore alternative models here.
If you have an Apple watch and would like to change the face to a Cali-style dial, you can visit this page to learn how to customize an Apple Watch face.
Nicholas Hacko Rebelde
Australian watchmaker Nicholas Hacko is a small company that created its own watches in response to the restricted supply of watch spare parts in Australia about a decade ago. What came out is a watch called the “Rebelde” series,” a 44mm California dial watch.
This 2014 blog post by the brand discusses how the watch is not exactly a Panerai tribute, as the California style is not owned by Panerai. The post pointed out that there are many other brands (such as Rolex) that made use of the Cali dial starting in the 1930s when it started gaining popularity.
The Rebelde had solid rose and yellow gold versions and were limited to 10 pieces each. A special version, the “fifty,” was released in 2017 and had a guarantee for services like services and replacements for fifty years. You can read more about the watches and the brand’s journey here.
See a photo of the Rebelde watch on this Reddit discussion.
Because the brand is an independent watchmaker (they have since released the first and only watch that’s manufactured in Australia), they release a very limited number of watches. You can check out this page on their website to see what’s on sale, or you can send them an email if you’re interested to have one made.
Rolex Bubble Black and Oyster
We mentioned in the introduction that it was Rolex and Panerai are two of the brands that made the California-style dial popular. Rolex patented the design in 1942, and called it the “error-proof radium dial” and “error-proof radium hands.”
One of these models can still be found today, available in luxury watch resellers. This model on Chrono24, for instance. This one is called the Rolex Bubble Black watch Reference 2940, with a refinished Cali-style dial and a black leather strap. The 32x38mm watch has an automatic movement with a stainless steel case.
Another Cali-style Rolex dial is this 1944 Oyster Viceroy model on eBay Ref. 3359, a stainless steel 38mm model with a pink gold bezel and a leather strap.
You can read more about this Rolex model and California dial history on this Bob’s Watches piece.
This is a watch designed by Richard Paige, a fourth-generation watchmaker who is known for California watch stores.
The RPaige “Barrage” is a limited-edition, military-style Cali dial watch with a 44mm polished stainless steel case, convex sapphire crystal, and a vintage American pocket watch movement. This model, which also has luminous hands, is limited to only 50 pieces worldwide.
Paige is known for creating military style watches. You can read more about his brand, as well as what he refers to as an indirect involvement to the term California dial in this A Blog to Watch article, which he wrote.
You can also read more about the RPaige history here.