I’m a fan of the beaches of the Caribbean. The white sand, the green palms, the unique turquoise-blue of the water that’s been described as Windex®, toothpaste, neon, Paraiba (the variety of the gemstone tourmaline that comes from Brazil), and other bright descriptors.
And as I became a fan of the Rolex Day-Date, I envisioned a watch with a dial to match that Caribbean turquoise-blue. But I thought I’d have to have a dial custom finished with the Pantone® turquoise- color that came closest.
Then I discovered the Stella dials.
To the uninitiated, the Stella dials are those bright candy colored lacquer dials that briefly appeared on certain Day-Dates and Datejusts in the 1970s. You know… the dials that look like you could sink your finger into right up to the second knuckle. And lacquer is indeed the key. Layers of it. In blue, mint, ox blood, brown, red, pink, orange, green, black, turquoise, and yellow.
Some Stellas are diamond dials. Others feature baton hour markers. They were spread between Day-Dates and Datejusts, although a quick look at images on Google shows mostly Day-Dates.
These dials were originally produced for the middle eastern market. Rumor has it that they weren’t all that popular, and sat on jeweler shelves (where’ve we heard that story before?). And in fact, there are reports that Rolex destroyed batches of dials as unsellable (once again, alas for a time machine and an intervening hand).
That is apparently why there are so few of the dials around today – and why watches bearing them often sell at auction for three to five times their pre-auction estimates (Lot 265, Rolex ref. 118206 with Stella turquoise dial, Christie’s Geneva, 12 November 2012 – pre-auction estimate 20,000 – 30,000CHF, final bid 105,000CHF).
The name Stella is another conundrum. Some say it came from the Latin word for star. Others maintain it was inspired by the artist Frank Stella and his colorful images. The only thing that is sure is that it did not originate with Rolex.
And knowing the final bid on that lot at Christie’s in 2012, plus the final bids on several similar pieces last spring at the Phillips Auction One, I’m left feeling like Marlon Brando in “Streetcar…” – wanting… desiring… crying out for the unattainable.