All it took was one act of rebellion-of-sorts to legitimise black watches. It’s not that they’re new, but one brand in particular has resisted the genre with such vehemence that it created an outlaw cult, and that brand is Rolex. It has not gone unnoticed that among the most desirable Rolexes for the younger generation of collectors are those aftermarket creations by Bamford, Pro Hunter and others, with their all-black versions of Rolexes, from Explorers to GMTs and everything in-between.

If ever there was a case of “unintended consequences”, this is it. Rolex could, with the snap of a finger, offer authorised, all-black versions of its watches to its clientele, and — overnight — this would disarm the entire underground “rebel” industry that was borne solely as a result of Rolex’s not-unexpected intransigence. And yet Tudor (which is, whether Rolex wants us to say so or not, a wholly-owned division or subsidiary or whatever other term they wish to apply) celebrated undiluted blackness with a stunningly-attractive family of all-black watches for 2016.

Given that Tudors are made by Rolex and the cases are nearly identical, it doesn’t take a genius to point out that Rolex is, in fact, already making black watches in-house. For Pro Hunter, Bamford et al, they can continue mining the riches of the premium added to Rolexes by their black coatings, as long as Rolex resists and there are enough customers prepared to lose their warrantees and forever forego factory servicing. Rolex will NOT service an aftermarket-blackened Rolex, which is perfectly within their rights to refuse.

A question begged is “Why would one want a black Rolex?”, let alone any black watch, especially as the earliest ones were prone to showing the sort of wear-and-tear which could only be loved by those collector/apologists who euphemistically call faded dials as “tropical”. If you think scratches in steel look terrible, they’re minor when compared to streaks of natural-colour steel shouting through the worn-out coating of the pre-DLC era. Even the most committed of Paneristi must know they’re lying to themselves when they see pre-Richemont models with scarred coatings: they should be called “zebras” rather than “distressed”, let alone “tropical”.

Thing is: black watches look cool, and some even work for dressy affairs, like all-black offerings from Ralph Lauren, Jaquet Droz or Roger Dubuis. Such watches originated in motor-racing circles thanks to Heuer from the late 1960s into the 1970s, while special ops-types wanted all-black watch cases for the same reason that the originators of the aftermarket black Rolexes did: shining steel cases reflect light, and either reveal your presence to the enemy, or to your prey (which is how Pro Hunters got their name).

Black won out, even though blued steel had been the finish used for years by gun makers for the rifles to be used by both hunters in peacetime and snipers in combat to achieve an anti-reflective finish. The transition to black watches that took place in the 1960s involved surface coatings and anodising, while plastics would soon deliver watch cases where the black went all the way through – thus avoiding exposed metal when scratched.

Heuer Montreal

Heuer Monaco

Heuer Monza

All-black Swatches — though plastic and therefore not “lofty” enough to entice connoisseurs — did precede what is now becoming the norm for cases in which the black penetrates the material, as did the IWC Da Vinci of 1986, with coloured ceramic, while early titanium, aluminium and metal-and-rubber watches appeared in true black, or greys dark enough to pass for black. Other pioneering watches leading up to the more trouble-free timepieces available today include the 1970s Porsche Design watches made by Orfina and IWC, and the Bulgari Diagono.

Things certainly have changed since the turn of this century, and the trepidation that must have affected the original purchasers of 1970s black Heuers and mid-1990s black Panerais now applies only to link bracelets — though even the wear-and-tear on those now longer means instant revealing of the metal beneath. A colleague who has been wearing a Breitling on a black Milanese mesh bracelet daily for two years delights in showing me how it still looks factory-fresh.

In an upcoming column, we will provide a guide to the various treatments, as opposed to solid materials that are black all the way through, but briefly, the basic techniques included anodising, simple plating or PVD (“Physical Vapour Deposition”), the latter evolving into the tougher and now dominant DLC (for “Diamond-Like Carbon”). This is a chemical coating of far greater durability than PVD, with dependable scratch-resistance rather than wishful thinking.

Better, though, for the lover of black watches who wants complete freedom from visible wear (though I can appreciate that there are those who do prefer a “distressed” look) are cases made of solid titanium, ceramic or carbon fibre. Although the black colour penetrates the entire material, each has its strengths and weaknesses, but showing wear-and-tear isn’t one of them.

While I have been told by a manufacturer with long experience that such an occurrence was unusual, ceramic cases might shatter if dropped against a hard surface. The relative brittleness is inherent, but modern ceramics are tough — think of the vast selection of ceramic-bladed knives on offer, and how well they hold a sharp edge.

Titanium and carbon fibre suffer a different concern, although it is a prime selling point for both and a virtue to most: their lightness. I’m an ol’ tyre-kicker when it comes to watches, and I like the heft of stainless steel; I’ve never warmed to carbon fibre or titanium, but they both have an individual look, which provides them with their own appeal over, say, ceramic or DLC. Titanium has a finish that provides a different tactile experience to cold steel, while certain types of carbon fibre show a distinctive, visible weave.

If black watches appeal to you, and you simply cannot fathom the sacrifice of a warrantee by purchasing a timepiece with aftermarket blackening, your choices are now limitless. Aside from a few hold-outs such as the aforementioned Rolex, even the most prestigious houses have black-cased models, from Blancpain to Urwerk to IWC to Zenith.

Though the majority of black watches are sport or military models – it’s hard not to picture a Luminox, a G-Shock, a Panerai Black Seal, a hefty Richard Mille or a Royal Oak Offshore – when someone says “Think of a black watch!” – the aforementioned Ralph Lauren, Jaquet Droz and Roger Dubuis, along with the slimmer Hublot Big Bangs, certain ceramic Rados and Movados (especially the Museum Watch), add an extra level of Stygian chic to a black-tie affair.

It is no longer possible to do a “round-up” of black watches as there are simply too many — but there are standouts. Some brands, like Omega, celebrate them with such wit and panache that they even issued the legendary, NASA-approved Speedmaster in assorted black guises, reaching an apotheosis with the wittily named — and universally adored — Dark Side of the Moon.

As this year is the 30th Anniversary of IWC introducing ceramic cases to the world, it would be nice to see the Schaffhausen works deliver some sort of commemorative model. That brand, as much as any other, deserves kudos for its role in developing ceramics for watch cases. The 30th is pearl, but there is nothing to stop them issuing a ceramic-cased model in black pearl. The IWC pilots watch range is filled with black-cased models, but surely the three-decade mark deserves celebration?

Panerai has been producing black watches since the mid-1990s, the PVD long ago replaced by solid ceramic or more sophisticated treatment; the Italians always have a choice of black watches in their catalogue. Bremont, Bell & Ross, Breitling, Eterna, Grimoldi, U-Boat, Graham, Cartier, Romain Jerome, Anonimo, Zodiac, Glycine, Doxa … “black” is the new, old and future “black” and must now be regarded as part of the landscape.

But back to Tudor, probably THE hottest brand today in the £1,500-£5,000 sector. Having already staked its claim with the FastRider Black Shield, the company applied the same palette to the widely-worshipped Black Bay. The new Black Bay Dark was one of the hits of Baselworld, and it has such seductive pull that even those not predisposed toward black cases found it as enticing as its bronze sibling launched alongside it.

Its finish is, well, gorgeous: Tudor uses TiC (Titanium carbide), because, says Sven Olsen, the UK General manager, “it has been found to be very hard — ten times harder than steel — but less brittle than DLC. This is important on Tudor divers’ watches as pressure can distort a case and cause issues with coatings coming free.”

With prices of £3,050 on steel/fabric and £3,840 on leather, the Black Bay Dark costs less than a third of an aftermarket Rolex. And as achingly, stealthily cool as they may be, there remain the vexing questions of factory-applied vs aftermarket-applied, the retention of a warranty… and whether or not you wish to antagonise Rolex.

Me? I have enough black wristwatches to wear to Joan Jett concerts, accompany me to formal affairs, add appropriateness to funerals, and ensure that I avoid being spotted by guerrillas or gorillas. But I’m waiting for the Spinal Tap watch … which will be described thusly: “There’s something about this that’s so black, it’s like how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.”

But if this watch ever does appear (are you listening, Artya?), it should only go up to 11…

Read part 2 of Ken Kessler series on black watches, where he discusses the various ways watches are made black.