The ever-changing universe of timepieces has recently embraced an emerging trend of monochromatic, densely textured dial designs with minimalistic or architectural patterns, delivered with the help of artists and architects alike. The most eye-catching is an in-house creation of Ulysse Nardin. Aptly named Freak X Razzle Dazzle, its geometrical pattern is inspired by wildlife camouflage and the patterns used to confuse observers trying to track the movements of warships during WWI. The vibrant dial has been “razzle-dazzled” using three techniques – lacquer, galvanisation and lasers. As it is actually a moving part of the self-winding carrousel movement turning every 60 minutes, the optical illusion is extremely vivid. Rolex is also taking a step into this direction with the 2021 Oyster Perpetual Datejust 36 in Oystersteel and yellow gold. This version of the model, first introduced in 1945, features a gold dial with a repeated, fluted motif, where half of the trapezoid shapes have a sunray brushing, whereas the other half are matt. Subtle as the quadrilateral pattern may be, its technical underpinning is impressive. The extremely precise etchings are made using a hi-tech piece of equipment called a femtosecond laser. This technology directs bursts of ultra-short (billionth of a microsecond) laser pulses onto the dial surface at an extremely rapid rate. Monochromatic dark watches have always been the start of my designs ... I prefer to stay as dark as possible. Why? I am from Finland, and Finland is darkness: the people, the music, the mentality – everything is about darkness Stepan Sarpaneva, Finnish watchmaker Hublot’s latest contribution to this genre is the Classic Fusion Chronograph made in collaboration with the American artist and activist Shepard Fairey. Here pop art meets a hypnotic, floral mandala, horologically applied in a three-dimensional manner onto a skeletonised dial, engraved titanium case and star-engraved sapphire crystal. During a Zoom meeting, Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe was completely transparent about such a watch being a talking piece that adds value to the brand image. He also talked about the win-win situation: collectors of Fairey come to Hublot, and collectors of Hublot come to Fairey. “The 50 pieces are sold out – some of them delivered to young collectors in China,” he added. Fairey, for his part, believes having his art on a watch is an ideal extension of his principles, since he is a long-time advocate of art being woven into people’s daily lives. “The mandala symbolises life’s cycles and circular elements like the sun ... It was important to me that the mandala be legible while the watch’s functional timekeeping also be legible. I believe that even if a timepiece is also an art piece, it should still serve its original function properly,” he says. Geneva-based Gianfranco Ritschel, watch expert and founder of the company Time to Train, consults and educates thousands of watch industry staff every year. “In the past technical prowess was enough to impress the clients. Now aesthetics and high-profile partnerships with artists outside the watch industry are becoming more and more important as this adds cultural and artistic value to the timepiece,” he says. The biggest reveals at Watches and Wonders Geneva 2021 Still, partnering with artists is nothing new. A quick look in the rear-view mirror shows how artists like Ettore Sottsass, Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, among others, collaborated with watch companies to develop stand-out pieces. Despite their raison d’être, Ritschel hopes these kinds of watches remain a niche. “Why? For me this is kind of the easiest thing to do – to make a graphic pattern is more of an aesthetical exercise; it doesn’t add any real watchmaking value.” Finnish watchmaker Stepan Sarpaneva has been designing monochrome watches with strong graphics ever since he started his eponymous brand in Helsinki. “Monochromatic dark watches have always been the start of my designs. I do make some with colours, but I prefer to stay as dark as possible. Why? I am from Finland, and Finland is darkness: the people, the music, the mentality – everything is about darkness,” he says. What he really loves about working with dark watches is how different the tones become when you work on them. “You must work a lot more with the surfaces, and you must know how this functions in reality, because you will not see this during the design process on the computer,” he says. The oeuvre of Japanese architect Tadao Ando is all about essential purity – and so is the watch collection he has designed with Bulgari. Titanium-encased, the design has two main features engraved onto the dial of the same material: a spiral starting at the small seconds hand, symbolising the black hole from which time was born, and a crescent moon in its first stage. “The endless spiral unravels until it cannot be seen. From expansion to compression, this design expresses the infinite, the eternal and the timeless,” the architect said about the Octo Finissimo Titanium issued in a 200-piece series. Apple could kill the Swiss luxury watch industry Whether this trend is a bubble or not remains to be seen. But Hublot’s Guadalupe offers another reason for the growing appeal of architecturally inspired timepieces: “Time is no more a utility as it is everywhere around us. Thus a mechanical watch must be something else – we must reinvent what a mechanical watch is.” Sarpaneva is certain he will remain on the strong-patterned monochrome path, as seen on the Super 1 where quadrilaterals extend towards the metal grid on the perimeter of the dial. But he doubts the big brands will. “I think they are trying it today – if it works for them commercially, they will keep doing it; if not, they will come out with a new green [model] tomorrow.” Want more stories like this? Sign up here. Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .