Panda dial watches are a major topic in the watch collecting community, and for good reason. The dials are rare, eye-catching, and appear on universally loved chronographs. The iconic black-on-white dials first appeared on chronographs in the 1960s, after which their appeal quickly grew. The added legibility of the contrasting black sub-dials on white attracted watch buyers then, and still does to this day.
Simply put, a panda dial is typically found on a chronograph watch with three sub-dials at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. The watch must have a solid white, cream, or silver dial to achieve the panda look.
The “panda” nickname (which has never been an official name of any watch) originated from the sub-dials mimicking the markings of a panda’s face, with two eyes in black at 3 and 9, and a black nose at 6 o’clock. Once you’ve seen a panda dial and know its nickname, it’s hard to unsee the image of the bear after that.
Legibility was likely the original purpose for and a key factor of the panda dial design. The black sub-dials stand out against the white, making them easier to spot and read. There was an obvious novelty factor that accompanied the panda dial as well, and these two attributes combined to stoke demand.
Below are some of the most famous watches with panda dials.
1. Rolex Daytona Cosmograph
Some early panda dials that stand out in collectors’ minds will certainly be found on Rolex Daytona Cosmographs. The legendary Paul Newman Rolex Daytona has a panda dial. In those days, Rolex’s chronograph movement was actually made by Zenith, the best chronograph manufacturer on the market in the 1960s.
2. Zenith El Primero
Speaking of Zenith, there are other great brands that have created panda dial timepieces, one fine example of which is the Zenith El Primero, powered of course by legendary Zenith chronograph movements. Zenith, although very popular among collectors and aficionados, is less well-known than some other top brands. Even so, you can’t go wrong with an El Primero, and those in the know will understand and appreciate what you have on your wrist.
3. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak first appeared on the scene in 1972 at Baselworld. With its hexagonal case shape, a panda dial Royal Oak offers a different vibe to its round-case competitors. It’s not quite the classic look seen with a chronograph, and the black and white dial in some ways doesn’t have the same race-car look as round-case chronographs do. But make no mistake, the Royal Oak chronograph, like every other watch Audemars Piguet makes, is top tier through and through.
4. TAG Heuer Autavia Chronograph
An interesting fact about TAG Heuer is that it’s not the brand’s original name. Edouard Heuer founded the brand, and for decades it was simply called Heuer. In 1985, Heuer was bought by the TAG (Techniques d’Avant Garde) Group, and the brand was renamed TAG Heuer. What’s fascinating about the Autavia collection is that Heuer made the first dashboard timer for race cars, calling it Autavia, a combination of “automotive” and “aviation.” Heuer chronographs were always known for their precision. The Heuer Autavia Chronograph with a panda dial is a truly handsome watch, with a robust and precise movement.
Watches With Panda Dials: Forever Iconic
Due to their relative rarity and iconic status in the watch world, panda dial watches are relatively certain to increase in value in the coming the years. Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona and its well-publicized, record-breaking 2017 sale no doubt brought more public attention to panda dials than ever before, with the panda look firmly ensconced on the must-have lists of many collectors.