They represent watchmaking sport-chic in two-tone mode. Immediately recognizable, the so-called “panda” chronographs catch the eye, some even speak of an almost hypnotic side. But what do enthusiasts mean by a panda dial? Quite simply, a white dial enriched with three black auxiliary counters located at 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock respectively symbolizing, with a little imagination, the two eyes and the mouth of the placid Chinese mammal.
The vegetarian bear entered the big family of the watch industry at the end of the 1960s. We then speak of exotic and original dials. Among them, the one that equips one of the variations of the Daytona chronograph launched by Rolex in 1963. This slightly eccentric side, which is all the rage today, was nevertheless unloved at the start. So much so that some customers asked Rolex to change this funny dial for a more conventional look.
But in 1969, everything changed forever. The Daytona was a huge success, thanks to Virages, James Goldstone’s film which takes the Indianapolis 500 mile car race as its setting. In the cast: Paul Newman, who wears his Daytona panda dial chrono on the screen as on a daily basis. The watch does not go unnoticed, the talent of the actor is recognized, the machine is launched! The Daytona “Paul Newman” chronograph is born, the “panda” dial is made official forever. A shock duo propelled to the rank of icon.
Now out of production, this model has become the Grail of collectors. On the vintage watch market, its price can reach, depending on its versions and its production date, exorbitant prices. In June 2022, the very rare 6264, in gold, was sold for the record price of 900,000 euros.
The Daytona isn’t the only legendary watch to feature a panda dial. Thus the TAG Heuer Carrera chronograph, also born in 1963, which has been seen on the wrists of motorsport legends and stars such as James Hunt in the 1960s, Mick Jagger in the 1970s or Ryan Gosling more recently. Or the Zenith chronograph, launched in 1969 and powered by the El Primero caliber, a movement still considered the most efficient in its category. In 1972, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was the first luxury watch presented in steel and sold at an exorbitant price, as comfortable on a sports field as for a gala dinner. There is also the reissue of the 1952 Breitling Navitimer: a chronograph equipped with a circular slide rule that would allow pilots to prepare for the smooth running of their flight. An exceptional career for this exotic dial, also renamed “panda”.
The pandas offer a unique style thanks to this chiaroscuro contrast which guarantees exceptional readability by emphasizing the indications displayed on these famous auxiliary counters for measuring time. While the vast majority of panda chronographs are mounted on large-link steel bracelets, they sometimes offer themselves leather or interchangeable straps in order to switch, without any special tools, from steel to leather and rubber. A great idea from Vacheron Constantin. In keeping with the current trend, panda dials should not be confused with Reverse Pandas, black dials with white auxiliary counters. In the world of fine watchmaking, nothing is too precise.