The term is both familiar and a delight for passionate Rolex collectors. Stella dial Rolexes have been shrouded in myth for many years: Did Rolex really ever retail these colorful dials? Where does the name come from? When did they sell them and in which watches? What is original and what is fake? The questions are endless. However, it wouldn’t be Rolex if all those and more questions were officially answered and if you went into your local AD, in all likelihood, you would have been told that your Rolex with a color dial was never actually made by the Maison Wilsdorf.
Until now that is: the Stella is finally proven thanks to the launch of the entirely new looking Oyster Perpetual range last month. Yes! Rolex brought back a whole range of color dials, or like official authorized dealer catalogues of the 1970 and 1980s called them “Lacquered Stella” dials. Made with today’s technical possibilities inheriting the glossy look of the vintage Stella, the new steel Oyster Perpetual “Stellas” immediately became the talk of the street and cuing lines in front of ADs became even longer than anybody would have expected.
Looking back almost 70 years you’ll find one of the first examples of color dials was also in Oyster Perpetuals in the early 1950s. There are plenty of references 6018, 6084, 6085, 6090, 6102, 6100, 6102, 6106, 6284, 6285, 6290 fitted with blue, red, brown, green and interestingly black (even though black isn’t a color by definition). These dials are not lacquered, they are rather manufactured using a sometimes-translucent monochrome enamel, all of which were hand-made and supplied by Sterne Frères. One can also find those dials in steel models such as the Ref. 6144, 6442, 6444. It can be assumed that the shear production costs, fluctuating quality and also delicacy of those dials didn’t make them very commercial or practicable to produce in larger quantities and therefore sometime during the early 1950s Rolex stopped delivering these dials.
During the late 1960s Rolex began the work on relaunching color dials. Remember these were the late 1960s where the design was heavily influenced by “hippy” or the so-called “flower power” movement and bright colour made its way into the mainstream. Consequently, we can find the first “lacquered Stella” dials in red (or orange as some would argue), blue, green, oxblood appearing at the very beginning of the 1970s. The dials where fitted or available as a supplement for Rolex’s most prestigious and most commercial watch the Day-Date, in either yellow gold or white gold watches references 1802/3/4/7. Even though we sometimes find them, there is no evidence that early Stella dials were made for rose gold Day-Dates. Nevertheless, some creative dealers might have changed the coronet, indices and hands to make them perfectly fit to the specific case met. But if you want to be sure, go for a yellow or white gold one with matching coronet, indices and hands.
Over the years Rolex offered Stella dials produced by the most common dial makers including Beyeler, Lemerich, Singer and Stern. The name “Stella” most likely originated by the producer of the pigments and lacquer which was used to cover the dials: Stella S.A. The name also used in Rolex dealer catalogues as you can see in the pictures of a 1986 Rolex Dial Selection and Price Supplement price list.
Like all good stories, there is a surprise final chapter to the Stella Tale. You might remember that in 2013 Rolex introduced new Day-Date dials for the references 118138/9. There was green and cognac for yellow gold, blue and cherry for white gold and chocolate or rhodium for Everrose models. These were coloured dials and had matching-color crocodile straps. However, they were not lacquered and the colours were very different to the original Stella dials. However, one of the rarest Stella dials was actually manufactured in 2013.
Most serious collector are constantly hunting for their grail or trophy or whatever you want to call it. So, what’s the ultimate grail for the Stella collector? The yellow dials? Tiffany printed ones? Issued examples with a Khanjar logo? All of them are extremely rare. But the recent discovery of a unique set of Stella dials made in 2013 puts all of them into perspective.
Based on the request of an important non-executive board member of Rolex, Singer SA produced a very limited set of dials for Day-Date, for white and yellow gold, and almost 25 years after the end of production, for manual-wind gold Daytonas. Whilst the Day-Date dials were not manufactured specifically for a particular reference, the gold Daytonas were made in less than twenty pieces, four colors, two of which assigned to each of the two references, 6263 and 6265. Turquoise and green dials with gold subsidiary dials were designated for the reference 6265 and red and yellow dials with black subsidiary dials for the reference 6263. The turquoise and green dials had yellow gold sub dials while the red and yellow were designated with black sub dials. To illustrate how difficult it was to produce those dials, Singer had to manufacture 50 red and yellow dials to have one perfect example that passed their quality control. All of these dials were fitted into watches by Rolex at the time of production and less than a handful of them, and only Day-Dates, have been discovered so far.