Watch dial displays can be either analog or digital format or a combination of the two which is referred to as analog-digital or ana-digi. Analog displays enjoy a deep tradition in watchmaking, along with the mechanical movements that have traditionally been used to measure time.
Digital displays became popular in the latter half of the 20th Century with the advent of quartz technology and the high tech fad that blossomed, although mechanically driven digital displays were produced as early as the 19th Century.
Today, digital displays are commonly used for certain types of sport watches, particularly those with multiple functions that require readouts for a number of different kinds of data.
Despite the practicality of the digital format, the analog format offers
perennial aesthetic appeal, rooted in tradition but, perhaps, also because the analog display most nearly reflects the timekeeping display of the heavens.
Watch Dial Displays -- Analog Format
People have been measuring time in analog dial format since the ancient sundial which tracks the sun's position throughout the day as the earth rotates on its axis. It should come as no surprise, then, that we enjoy measuring time on a dial indexed by numerals or symbols with hands that rotate around the dial. Emulating the universe, the analog display captures a reflection of the grand mystery of time.
An analog display can be powered with either a mechanical or a quartz movement. The hands of a mechanical watch appear to glide around the dial because they move in split second steps, most notably the seconds sweep hand that moves every 1/5 second typically. By contrast, the seconds sweep hand of a quartz watch typically jumps at 1 second increments. Regardless of whether the watch movement is mechanical or quartz, the movement of the hands is nearly always achieved mechanically, although it is possible for the hands of a quartz watch to be simulated on an LCD screen.
Analog watches are made for every price range, and for high end watches the analog display is nearly univeral. Dial configurations and designs are virtually unlimited, using new techniques and materials, as well as tried and true decoration methods from years past.
The digital format indicates time by alpha-numeric symbols (mostly numerals) only, usually using a liquid crystal display (LCD) that consumes little battery power even with constant display. Digital LCD displays can be either positive (light background with dark numerals) or negative (dark background with light numerals), each of which is selected based on the intended use of the watch and the preference of the user.
Digital watches first appeared on the market during the 1970s when the display was LED (light-emitting diode) driven, usually with red numerals. After enjoying some popularity, watches with LED display were superceded by those using LCD technology which requires much less power to operate.
Despite great improvements in digital technology over the following decades, the popularity of digital dial displays crested by the mid-1990s.
Today, digital displays remain a popular choice for certain types of sport watches, such as the Suunto X10 (image to the right) which in addition to basic timekeeping also provides readouts for GPS, electronic compass headings, altimeter levels, barometer and thermometer readings, as well as 1/100 second resolution chronograph measurements.
While one can persuasively argue that the Suunto X10 is indeed aesthetically pleasing, digital displays are valued today more for their practicality than for beauty.