Auxiliary Dial

Understanding Auxiliary Dials

Auxiliary dials, or subdials, are smaller dials embedded within the main dial of a watch. They are used to display additional information beyond the basic hours and minutes. The number, size, and position of these subdials can vary greatly, depending on the design and functionality of the watch.

Subdials are a common feature in chronograph watches, where they are used to measure elapsed time. However, they can also be found in other types of watches, serving a variety of functions such as displaying the date, day of the week, month, moon phase, or a second time zone. The presence of these subdials adds to the complexity and mechanical prowess of the watch, making it a coveted feature among watch enthusiasts and collectors.

Chronograph Subdials

Chronograph watches, often referred to as ‘stopwatches’, typically feature two or three subdials for measuring elapsed time. These subdials can measure seconds, minutes, and hours, depending on the design of the watch. The presence of these subdials allows the wearer to use their watch as a stopwatch, without interfering with the main timekeeping function.

The layout of these subdials can vary, but the most common arrangement is the ‘tri-compax’ layout, where the subdials are positioned at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. This layout is considered classic and balanced, and is often used in iconic chronograph watches such as the Rolex Daytona and the Omega Speedmaster.

Calendar Subdials

Some luxury mechanical watches feature subdials that display the date, day of the week, or month. These are often found in ‘triple calendar’ or ‘annual calendar’ watches, which display the date, day, and month, but need to be manually adjusted at the end of shorter months.

‘Perpetual calendar’ watches, on the other hand, are able to account for the varying lengths of months and even leap years. These watches often feature multiple subdials to display all this information, and are considered some of the most complex and prestigious timepieces in the world of horology.

The Artistry of Auxiliary Dials

While the functional aspects of auxiliary dials are certainly impressive, their aesthetic appeal cannot be overlooked. The presence of these subdials adds depth and complexity to the watch face, creating a visually intriguing display that is both functional and beautiful.

Watchmakers often use these subdials as a canvas to showcase their artistic skills. From intricate guilloché patterns to miniature paintings, these subdials can be adorned with a variety of decorative techniques that elevate the watch from a mere timekeeping device to a work of art.

Guilloché Subdials

Guilloché is a decorative technique that involves engraving intricate, repetitive patterns onto a material. In the context of watchmaking, this technique is often used to decorate the subdials, adding a layer of visual interest and sophistication.

The patterns can vary greatly, from simple straight lines to complex geometric shapes, and they are often done by hand using a rose engine lathe. This requires a high level of skill and precision, making guilloché subdials a testament to the watchmaker’s craftsmanship.

Painted Subdials

Some luxury watch brands take the artistry of subdials to another level by featuring miniature paintings on their subdials. These paintings can depict a variety of subjects, from landscapes and animals to portraits and scenes from mythology.

These miniature paintings are often done by hand using extremely fine brushes, and they require a high level of skill and patience. The result is a unique and highly personalized timepiece that is as much a work of art as it is a functional device.

Notable Watches with Auxiliary Dials

Many iconic luxury mechanical watches feature auxiliary dials, each with its own unique layout and functionality. These watches are often highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts, not only for their technical prowess but also for their aesthetic appeal.

From the classic Rolex Daytona with its tri-compax layout, to the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar with its multitude of calendar subdials, these watches represent the pinnacle of horological craftsmanship and design.

Rolex Daytona

The Rolex Daytona is perhaps one of the most iconic chronograph watches in the world. It features a tri-compax layout with subdials at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, which measure elapsed seconds, minutes, and hours respectively.

The Daytona’s subdials are not only functional, but they also add to the aesthetic appeal of the watch. The contrasting colors of the subdials and the main dial create a striking visual effect that is both sporty and elegant.

Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar

The Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar is a masterpiece of horological complexity. It features multiple subdials that display the date, day, month, leap year cycle, and moon phase, all of which are automatically adjusted to account for the varying lengths of months and leap years.

The layout of the subdials is balanced and symmetrical, creating a harmonious and elegant display. The use of gold and hand-applied markers adds a touch of luxury and refinement, making this watch a true testament to Patek Philippe’s craftsmanship and design prowess.


Auxiliary dials are a key feature in many luxury mechanical watches, adding both functionality and aesthetic appeal. They showcase the watchmaker’s skill in miniaturization and precision, and they offer a wealth of information at a glance.

Whether they are used to measure elapsed time, display the date, or depict a miniature painting, these subdials add a layer of complexity and intrigue to the watch. They are a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship of luxury watchmaking, and they are a feature that is sure to continue to captivate watch enthusiasts and collectors for generations to come.


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