The Little Black Watch Is the New Little Black Dress

All (or mostly) black watches have been around, famously making their mark when Hublot introduced the Big Bang All Black model in 2006. The black ceramic timepiece was 44.5 millimeters, and many of the black watches that followed were also generously sized.

To be sure, women could, and did, wear them, but black watches designed on a smaller scale have appeared: Ralph Lauren, Dior, Chopard and Bulgari all recently introduced black watches in the 30-to-39 millimeter range.

This is “really a fashion company’s approach to watches,” said Virginie Liatard, a watch specialist at Phillips in Geneva. “You have the Porsche-designed black watch worn by Tom Cruise in the last ‘Top Gun’ movie. They did a ladies’ version that is small and black-coated, but Porsche is not a watchmaker. It seems that black watches for women tend not to come from watchmakers.” An example: Ralph Lauren’s latest Stirrup collection watch, available in 36 millimeters and 32 millimeters, with a matte black finish and black lacquered dials.

Bulgari introduced an all-black Octo L’Originale Ultranero watch for men in 2017 before following with a full black watch for women last year.

“Our first approach to black was as a watchmaker, not as a jeweler,” said Antoine Pin, Bulgari’s managing director of watches. “But we felt we were missing something. We needed some contrast. The jeweler wanted to highlight the black by putting it with gold.” The results: the black Serpenti Seduttori and the black Serpenti Spiga, both accented with rose gold and diamonds.

Initially, Mr. Pin said, the brand was “not thinking of a black watch as a little black dress. But it’s an obvious product for ladies — it’s elegant, chic and modern, but you don’t think that when you’re a watchmaker. In the world of fashion, the LBD is important. In the world of watches, it’s less obvious.”

But black watches, like black clothing, can be the base of any wardrobe, said Marco Pecorari, program director of the Master of Arts in fashion studies at Parsons Paris. The fashion designer Julie de Libran noted that black “creates an outline, a contrast with the rest, a protection over another color, and it brings strength.”

Ms. Liatard of Phillips also considers black watches to be pieces in a fashion wardrobe. “My first vision of a black watch for women is an Art Deco watch — you have the feeling it is a black watch that you would select when you are wearing a black dress,” the staple that “will suit any event.”

Black watches can serve the same purpose, she said. “The Chanel J12 — Chanel’s all ceramic, all black watch — is super cool with jeans during the day, then during the evening you might want a black watch with some jewels to wear with your little black dress.”

Christian Dior is embracing black watches, too. In 1954, Mr. Dior wrote of his respect for black in his “Little Dictionary of Fashion.” “I could write a whole book on black.” Inspired by his legacy, the house in September dressed a new model of its La D de Dior watch in a 34-millimeter round case featuring a black dial adorned with three black-diamond markers.

The black watch is the ultimate fashion accessory, according to Jean-Claude Biver, who was chief executive when Hublot unveiled the Big Bang All Black — which, with its black case, dial, hands and indices, made it difficult, if not impossible, to tell the time.

“Do you really buy a watch to know what time it is, or do you buy it because you enjoy the aesthetic?” he said. “The time indication has become secondary. An all-black watch is a provocation: ‘Have you seen my watch?’ It’s chic to say, ‘I don’t see what time it is, I can always look my iPhone.’

“Time is not essential today,” he added. “In the beginning of the last century, watches had one purpose: to tell time. Today, watches have different roles. They are symbols of richness, or strength.”

Black itself has long been associated with strength and power, according to Florence Leclerc, dean of Parsons Paris, because “in the 16th century, black was reserved for the aristocracy.”

And while black actually is not a color — it is the absence of color — its connections can be profound: To the French Lebanese artist Mouna Rebeiz, “black is metaphysical, a part of the inexplicable, of the mysteries of creation, of life.”

And it can be a symbol of technology. “Black has a stealth look I associate with modernity and technology, with the Tesla, with matte black car wraps,” said Priya Khanchandani, head of curatorial at the Design Museum in London.

According to Mr. Biver, the Big Bang All Black watch came about when Hublot determined that black-coated ceramic would not scratch. Previously, “black watches were made of a black coverage over steel,” he said, “and when they were scratched, you saw the traces of the color of steel.”

Over the years, black has come to be associated with cities, with urban landscapes. That was the symbolism that lay behind Chopard’s creation of its black Happy Sport Fifth Avenue Edition watch. “When we were thinking of crafting exclusive pieces to commemorate our New York flagship’s big move to the legendary Fifth Avenue, we really wanted to do something extra special — something we don’t do often,” Caroline Scheufele, Chopard’s co-president and artistic director, wrote in an email.

“This color is bold, chic and modern, all characteristics I associate with New York City, so it made sense to introduce a new Happy Sport timepiece that embodied these qualities,” she wrote. “Additionally, as this watch serves as a tribute to the Big Apple, the black backdrop allows the bright red dancing apple that floats across the dial to really pop.”

Any watch made by Chopard, Bulgari or Dior will require the skills of expert watchmakers and jewelers crafting haute-horology, luxury items, and consequently, it will cost in the thousands of dollars. So Rémi Chabrat, the chief executive of Undone, a custom watch company in China, decided to make an affordable black timepiece for women.

“I was involved in the watch blogger community,” he said. “One of the bloggers worked for Chanel and was wearing a J12. ‘I love the watch,’ she said, ‘but it’s too expensive for everyone.’”

The Urban 34 “Black Spirit” Edition, which had been scheduled for introduction on Wednesday, is a 34-millimeter quartz watch, powered by a Seiko movement, that includes a black-coated case, crown and buckle; a mother-of-pearl dial covered in translucent black paint; four black indices; and a black leather strap. The watch can be personalized with “engraving on the back of the strap,” Mr. Chabrat said, “or we can upload an image on the back of the case.”

Because of production levels as high as 5,000 watches a day, he said, the “Black Spirit” was to be priced at $249.

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