Designer shares a deep dive into the history of classic Apple Watch faces

The designer Arun Venkatesan today shared an interesting insight in some of the classic watch designs that inspired various dials for the Apple Watch, detailing how Apple took design cues from well-known watches from companies like Rolex, Breitling, Heuer, and others.

Venkatesan delves into the California watch face, Chronograph and Chronograph Pro dials, Count Up dial, and GMT dial.

The California watch face, for example, was inspired by a dial design that originated in World War II. It was thought that the mix of Roman and Arabic numerals made the dial more legible in poor visibility conditions.

Originally called the “foolproof” or “high visibility” dial, it adorned the fronts of “bubble-backed” Rolexes, so called because of the bubble-shaped caseback that gave the watches a subtle look. Surprisingly, the indices are set in both Roman and Arabic numerals, where the other watches would stick to one or the other. Mixing the numbers is thought to help both the wearer and his comrades-in-arms in reading the watch in poor visibility conditions.

The GMT watch face, meanwhile, was based on classic timepieces capable of tracking two time zones at the same time, while Count Up is based on classic dive watches.

Unlike previous faces, the name Count Up refers to a type of bezel, not a dial or complication. Also known as a diving bezel, this rotating bezel, when paired with the minute hand, helps measure elapsed time in minutes.

The countdown bezel can be traced back to a monumental year in the history of the diver’s watch: 1953.

Apple’s chronograph dials are based on a long history of chronographs dating back to the early 1800s and have become some of the most popular dial types. Venkatesan says his research led him to be impressed with Apple’s dedication to design, as it’s clear that Apple has taken the time to study the history of many of the classic watch faces available digitally on the Apple Watch.

As I researched and wrote this essay, my respect increased. With watch faces, Apple could have taken the easy way out by simply mimicking existing watch archetypes on a superficial level. Instead, they studied each one’s history intensely. When designing each face, they took that history and the constraints and opportunities offered by modern technology into account.

For those interested in the history of the Apple Watch and for those who want to learn more about the classic watches that inspired Apple’s designers, Venkatesan’s article it is worth reading.


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