True Eternity On Your Wrist: Meteorite Dials
How often do you think about the dial of your watch? You might think about the design, the hour markers or the date window but how often do you think about the dial itself? It is only when the dial is made from a unique substance do we really start to pay attention. There have been mother-of-pearl or enamel dialed timepieces for around one hundred years now with Patek Philippe having created some of the most beautiful designs ever. Yet there is one substance that has only been used since 2008. A substance that can be older than any known life on Earth. A substance that is not from the Earth. Meteorite.
A meteorite is a meteoroid that survives passing through Earth's atmosphere intact. A meteor or Shooting Star is a meteoroid that doesn't survive and vaporizes into dust.
It is not known when the Gibeon Meteorite fell to Earth however most estimates place it's landing somewhere in the PreHistoric Era limiting the impact date from three million to three thousand BC. It is also unknown when humans first discovered the fragments that now are estimated to weigh over 26,000kg but generations before any Western explorer visited Namibia, local Nama people had been carving and polishing the smaller segments into spear and arrowheads. It was either in 1836 or 1838 that Captain J.E. Alexander travelled through the Western Colonies of Africa and heard of large iron stones from the local people. Like any British Imperialist in an African Colony, he promptly went off to go find and claim it for Queen and Country. Small samples of the rock were found near Great Fish River and after being sent to London and studied by John Herschel, the man crucial to the development of photography, it was confirmed that they were not of this Earth.
Over the next thirty years, more Western explorers and scientists would come to Namibia to search the 275 km long and 100 km wide area in which the meteorite was said to have landed. Hundreds, if not thousands, of kilograms of meteorite were taken from Namibia until the country finally gained independence from British rule in 1990. The Government promptly placed a ban on tampering with or removing any piece of the meteorite without permission. Several chunks of the metal now reside in a display near the town of Gibeon, varying in size from 190 to 500 kilograms.
Unlike the majority of rock meteorites that land on Earth from the Asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the Gibeon is 90% iron which when polished has a truly unique look. For decades it has been used in jewellery however it was not until 2008 that it was used in a watch, a white gold limited edition Rolex Daytona Cosmograph. The once dull metal is almost unrecognizable after hours of careful polishing and finishing that amplifies the unique texture and pattern of meteorite known as the Widdmanstatten pattern. Named after Count Alois Von Beckh Widmanstatten, who found that by heating iron meteorites he could influence and augment the natural color and lustre of the repeating patterns of the iron and nickel present.
I have never truly been a fan of the Roman Numeral Daytona dial (Or the modern Daytona at all if I'm honest) but there is truly something about the meteorite dial that just makes everything about this watch work. It's no Paul Newman and there are many other watches I would spend the $30,000 price tag on first but as far as unique Rolexes go, it's pretty hard to beat. Whilst they not longer make the Daytona with the meteorite dial, Rolex still offers a meteorite dial with several watches, most notably the Ladies Datejust 31mm. The light silvery color to the dial is more feminine than the standard silver or white but is more unique than the traditional mother-of-earl. Adding a diamond dial or diamond bezel adds a certain ju ne s qua to one of the world's most ubiquitous Rolex watches.
What I did find strange whilst researching meteorite dials is that for the most part, they are found in dress rather than tool watches. I would have thought that the harsh metallic ribbons would compliment a functional watch and "action man" look but after reading an interview on Quill & Pad with Stephanie Belmont, Product Director at Jaeger-LeCoultre, that sliced meteorite dial is very fragile. No-one who has spent days slowly grinding and polishing the dial to become perfectly flat wants you to wear it rock-climbing. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Calendar Meteorite was announced at SIHH 2015 and it is beautiful. The Master Calendar has always been one of my favourite pieces from Jaeger and the dark grey meteorite works perfectly with the rose gold case. This dial is not made from the Gibeon Meteorite but instead is made from a rock meteorite that landed in Sweden.
Whilst the common similarity of the Widmanstatten pattern exists, the Daytona and the Master Calendar have completely different feels to them. I think it's really appropriate that a meteorite dial has been used for a watch containing a moonphase complication, linking humanity's fascination with the stars and space to the very essence of star stuff. The small German watch brand Schaumburg also makes a watch with a moonphase complication that too features a meteorite dial. This piece is limited to a run of 75 and like the Daytona, has a dial from the Gibeon.
Other dress watches include the Jaquet Droz Lunes meteorite dial and the Grande Second Meteorite both of which have a stone meteorite dial. The Grande Seconde has a really interesting way of using the meteorite, it frame two vertically arranged mother-of-pearl sub-dials framing the gentle pearlescent with it's unyielding and harsh lines. Then there is Louis Moinet and the Meteoris series. Each of the four watches has a unique meteorite dial and each watch is limited to just a series of one. 1st Meteoris was the world's first and only watch to have a dial made from meteorite originating from Mars, Iddat al Harasis 479. 2nd Meteoris has a dial from Sahara 99555, also known as the Rosetta Stone, which is the oldest known rock in the solar system at 4,566,200,000 years old. 3rd Meteoris has a truly amazing dial from an asteroid (an inactive object orbiting in the sun whereas a meteoroid comes a comet, an active object orbiting the sun) called Itqiy which actually looks like it has an amazing night sky has been captured within. 4th Meteoris has a dial that is made from moon meteorite that has a more matte grey coloring to it.
When showing Quill & Pad's Elizabeth doer the process of dial making, Mr. Belmont said that "wearing a meteorite is like having a piece of eternity on the wrist" and unlike how Mr. Biver describes the TAG Heuer Connected, this is a much truer use of the word eternity. Billions of years before you or I ever existed, these pieces of metal and rock were there and countless more will remain in space after we've gone. That is true eternity.