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Panda Patronage: A Look at Our Panda Watches (& Some Other Favorites, Too)

Bear with us for a moment.

The date was October 26th, 2017. The event was the highly-anticipated ‘Winning Icons’ auction. The place was the Phillips auction house at 57th and Park Avenue in New York City. And the sale that took everyone’s breath away was that of the 1968 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona that once belonged to iconic film star Paul Newman. The price tag was a staggering $17,752,500. It was a new world record for the highest price ever paid for a wristwatch at auction, by far beating the previous record paid for a Patek Philippe Ref. 1518 just a year before.

The watch had been a gift to Newman from his wife, the Oscar-winning actress Joanne Woodward. On the back of the watch was inscribed her three-word message to him: ‘Drive Carefully Me’. It was a sporty-looking chronograph, befitting of an actor who was also an avid sports car racer. Perhaps its most eye-catching feature were the three black miniature dials set against the beige-colored main dial. The ‘panda dial’ watch, so-named due to the mini-dial configuration on the main dial, was highly popular with chronographs back in the 1970s.

The distinctive panda dial is proving more popular than ever, which is the reason for this article. It’s also why we at LIV Watches have designed and made our very own panda dial watches. We will discuss these here, as well as four other panda dial watches we also like. What can we say - we love our pandas!

Paul Newman's Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Reference 6239
(photo by Henry Leutwyler for WSJ Magazine)

What is a 'panda watch'?

A panda watch could be loosely defined as a chronograph with black miniature dials or sub-dials (or sub-registers) placed on a predominantly white (or off-white) main dial. They are dubbed ‘panda dials’ due to their resemblance to the eyes and nose/mouth of the cute and universally beloved black-and-white bears native to China. Equally-popular is the ‘reverse panda,’ which incorporates white sub-dials against a black main dial.

It was Rolex that first introduced the original panda dial with black sub-dials against a white dial, as they did with Paul Newman’s Daytona model. It’s interesting to note that it was the first time Rolex had used inverse colors for sub-dials, as their chronograph dials had always been monochromatic until the Daytona. It was Breitling that then introduced the reverse panda dial with its Superocean model. The typical formation of the sub-dials is at the 3-6-9 positions, although the 3-9 position (i.e., just two sub-dials) is also commonly used.

One of the panda dial’s enduring features is its easy readability. It’s very much associated with vintage chronographs, which explains their high value today, and was included in acclaimed collections such as the TAG Heuer Carrera and Omega Speedmaster. It also explains how the panda dial really never went out of style.

Vintage advertisement showing the Breitling Superocean's 'reverse panda' design.

Our pandas

LIV Watches prides itself on its innovative in-house American design ethic combined with Swiss-inspired attention to detail. Those are the exact attributes we’ve brought to the technology and styling of our panda watches, two of which we’d like to share with you here.

-Esti Chazanow
Co-Founder at LIV Watches

LIV GX-AC Swiss Panda

Our GX-AC Swiss Panda is a limited edition (only 1,000 were made) automatic chronograph that includes an ETA Caliber 7750 and 3 sub-dials (comprising 12-hour, 30-minute, and continuously running second dials). It offers an impressive 42-hour power reserve when fully wound. This superbly sporty and modern-looking watch further features high-grade dual sapphire crystals with anti-reflective coating that give it a polished look and maximum scratch resistance. It of course qualifies as Swiss-Made.

We’re especially pleased with the layout of the sub-dials. Rather than the typical ‘Daytona-style’ chronograph layout (with the 3-6-9 configuration), we opted that our sub-dials be at 12 and six o’clock, with the seconds at nine o’clock. All three sub-dials appear submerged in surrounding black, akin to a gear train. The dial also has oversized digital-style numerals at two and four o’clock. We know it’s a very unusual configuration of sub-dials and numerals, which we believe gives the GX-AC Swiss Panda a sleek and stylish asymmetrical look that is unique to this panda watch from LIV Watches.

The Oracle of Time blog raved about our GX-AC Swiss Panda in its review of the watch, calling it “a striking piece” that is distinctly modern in its aesthetic. It praised its high-quality movement which offers a precision of at least +/- four seconds per day. The review was especially enamored of the watch’s bezel, which it described as having “the kind of knurling you’ll find in a Bentley, complemented by visible screws to give it a distinctly mechanical look and feel”. We like it too! The design of the watch was considered cool and contemporary, which only further sealed the reviewer’s belief that the GX-AC Swiss Panda was excellent value for money.

LIV GX Auto Chrono Swiss Panda

LIV Rebel Panda

Our Rebel connection comes in four different models: a quartz chronograph, an auto-chrono, an automatic, and a quartz GMT, not to mention an array of different color and strap combinations. The real panda in the Rebel collection is the Swiss-Made Rebel DDC Quartz Chronograph, with ‘DDC’ referring to day/date/chrono. It features the well-respected Ronda Z60 quartz chronograph movement, which ticks precisely behind what we vouch as being a pristine sapphire crystal and impeccably-styled 3D dial.

The sub-dials are in the traditional 3-6-9 configuration that gives the watch a whiff of vintage nostalgia, while remaining a resolutely modern, racing-inspired timepiece. The design is given extra oomph with only the 12 indicated as a square, digital-inspired numeral. Somehow the lone 12 shown on the dial gives the Rebel DDC Quartz Chronograph that extra masculine yet quirky something about it. This was a watch made for the self-confident, non-conformist man who values excellent quality and outstanding value for money. This is in line with what Watches You Can Afford had to say: “Worn without confidence and the Rebel is almost imposing; worn as intended and it’s a statement.”

LIV Rebel DDC Aspen

Other pandas we like

We are intensely proud of what we’ve achieved with our own panda range. But there are of course other panda watches that we believe are worthy of a special mention, four of which include:

Omega Speedmaster CK2998 Pulsometer

Omega’s Speedmaster collection has tremendous history. After all, it was the watch issued to astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the famous Apollo 11 mission, although it was Aldrin’s Omega that was the actual first watch on the moon; hence it being known as the Omega ‘Moonwatch’. The Omega Speedmaster CK2998 Pulsometer paid homage to that illustrious heritage. The new version released at the 2018 Baselworld features a vintage panda design with black sub-dials on white main dial.

Omega Speedmaster CK2998 Pulsomete


This 2018 iteration of the Speedmaster differs to the original chronograph worn by the astronauts, which had a monochromatic dial and sub-dials (i.e., being black-on-black). The 2018 model features a stainless steel case with a so-called ‘straight’ or symmetrical case in which the crown and pushers are unprotected, as well as a Calibre Omega 1861, 18 jewels, and 48-hour power reserve.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph

Venerable Swiss watchmaker released its own watch in 2017 with the classic panda sub-dial configuration used by the Rolex Daytona and aforementioned Omega Speedmaster CK2998. This panda design by Audemars Piguet was slightly different for two reason: first, the sub-dial at 6 o’clock is smaller than the other two, in a style some watch pundits would pedantically dub ‘not-quite-panda,’ which we feel is a bit harsh! Second, the Audemars Piguet model is not black on white but black on silver, giving this panda watch less of a vintage look and more of an uptempo, stylized look instead.

The dials for this watch were specifically based on the chronograph watches that Audemars Piguet released from the 1930s to 1960s, as well as the watchmaker’s hallmark Grand Tapisserie motif on the main dial. It includes Audemars Piguet’s automatic Caliber 2385, along with 37 jewels and a minimum 40-hour power reserve when fully wound. The case houses glare-proof sapphire crystals and screw-locked crowns that give the watch a water-resistance of 50 meters. The Royal Oak Chronograph is certainly a classy addition to the pantheon of beautiful panda watches.

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore

Zodiac Sea-Chron

We of course had to include a reverse panda in our list of favorite panda watches and we decided to go vintage with our choice. Zodiac may not be a watchmaker with the high-end prestige of the likes of Omega or Audemars Piguet, but it’s still a respectable Swiss watchmaker that has been in business since 1882. We really love its Zodiac Sea-Chron, which was released in 1965 at the height of the deep-sea diving craze that swept the world in the 1960s. Being a dive watch also distinguishes it from most panda watches, which are chronographs usually inspired by motor racing.  

The Zodiac Sea-Chron was a 200-meter shock-resistant dive watch housing a Valjoux 72 movement with 17 jewels. Its features included three sub-dials (with 1/5 second, 30- minute and 12 hour registers) in white, a tachymeter scale, and a stainless steel bracelet with 17 links and matching end links. The watch was notable for its uncluttered dial and rotating bezel with hash marks and triangles from 0 to 20 minutes, both of which made for easy reading underwater. Two oversized pushers were also welcome for divers.

Zodiac Sea-Chron panda dive watch

Zodiac Sea-Chron panda dive watch

Franck Muller Master Banker Chronograph Transamerica Limited Edition

We simply had to include the Master Banker Chronograph Transamerica Limited Edition by Franck Muller, if only because it offers not two, not three, but four sub-dials! It’s clear why the Swiss watchmaker is so loved by film and music stars and sports celebrities - it offers watches that are cheeky and statement-making, even a little brash, but always well-made. This model’s four registers are distinctly arranged. It offers the option for two additional time zones in the sub-dials at the 12 and six-o’clock positions. Then there is the date display sub-dial at the three-o’clock position, while the seconds sub-dial is located at 9 o’clock. Finally, the exterior of the dial features a 30-minute chronograph complication.

Interestingly, it’s an intuitively-designed panda layout, in that one’s eyes naturally go to the top or bottom to check ‘alternative’ times (i.e., those of other time zones), while the seconds and date dials also make sense in their respective positions. The dial looks even more stridently contemporary with its larger-sized even numbers, while all key quarterly numbers (3, 6, 9, and 12) are missing. Yet, even with its ultra-mod styling, this Franck Muller panda model retains a retro sensibility thanks to its white dial, black sub-dials, and red accents.

Franck Muller Master Banker Chronograph Transamerica Limited Edition

The Franck Muller Master Banker panda is unusual because it features 4 subdials.

The panda dial concept is not only unique, even quirky, in watch design, but one that has remained at the vanguard of watchmaking for decades now. We have no doubt that panda watches will continue to enthrall watch lovers for years to come.



About the Author

Esti Chazanow, Co-Founder at LIV Watches
Esti's passion for men's watches led her to co-found LIV Watches—a microbrand dedicated to connecting watch collectors with high quality, limited edition, Swiss Made timepieces at prices they can afford—and the rest is horological history.

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