Hot Watch Color for 2021 Revealed



What’s the hot watch color for 2021? First answer this: ever “browsed” through hundreds of paint sample cards showing dozens of imperceptibly different shades of the same base color? Thank the Pantone Color Institute, the standardizing body for color names. But they do more! They choose which color will be hot this year, so that old things seem old and consumers continue to consume . . .


Anyone familiar with the Cerulean Blue scene in The Devil Wears Prada understands the concept: there are no color coincidences. Trends are not a matter of trial and error. If “hot colors” weren’t planned well in advance – Think Pink! – there’d be shortages and excesses throughout the supply chain. So color trends are planned well in advance.

Admittedly, the global volume of pigmentation used in wristwatches pales in comparison to other mass uses. But trends are trends. Nothing exists in a vacuum. For whatever reason, the Pantone Powers That Be make their plans public, so we know what to expect for popular watch colors in 2021.

Pantone color 2021

SPOILER ALERT! The color of the new year is . . . a combination of Ultimate Gray (light/medium gray) and Illuminating Yellow (bright yellow). Here’s Pantone’s sales pitch:

Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, the union of PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray + PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating is one of strength and positivity. It is a story of color that encapsulates deeper feelings of thoughtfulness with the promise of something sunny and friendly.

A message of happiness supported by fortitude, the combination of PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray + PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating is aspirational and gives us hope. We need to feel that everything is going to get brighter – this is essential to the human spirit.

The obvious elephant in the room: Coronageddon. The talk of practicality, solidity and fortitude is beating around the bush: dour neutrals are the natural response for consumers facing a dire economic outlook.

1948 Hamilton Ad

Happy fun prosperity times means splashy colors everywhere – frivolity is affordable. COVID-19 may have pumped-up the volume on the stock exchange, but these are desperate times, calling for a desperately muted color.

The idea: people will find comfort in [what is really] institutional gray, but allow themselves a small accent of bright yellow to liven things up a bit, as a suicide preventive of sorts.


I’m not sure how Pantone’s 2021 color diktat applies to watches. Our publisher’s derisive opinion of the monochrome gray Formex Essence Leggera is likely not atypical. Let’s face it: gray is a drab and boring color. Fine for remote controls, sweatshirts and battleship corridors. But for our time-telling jewelry? Not so much.

Be that as it is, where exactly will the gray go on tomorrow’s watches? Composite or synthetic cases! Casio and a handful of carbon composite cases already play gray, but people generally love the metal. Sure some novelty alloys could be used to allay the gray, but that seems more of a fringe pursuit than a mainstream mainstay.

Gray NATO watch strap

Gray NATO watch bands are already a thing – have been since they were first commissioned in Admiralty Grey. But even in its natural milieu, the gray NATO is about as exciting as a bottle of Gray Goose. Without the vodka. Or the label. And they’re clunky (both the bottle and the watch band).

Smartwatches and traditional watchmakers using silicone bands could easily conform to the new color norm. Putty color and the putty texture go well together. People seemed to really think that dollop of white goo in the G-SHOCK resin mix that John Mayer specified was an improvement, so maybe Ultimate Gray will work.

Gray watch strap

At best gray leather watch bands look like faded black. At worst, they resemble the hide of some anemic animal about which you’d rather not think. Personally, I don’t see gray leather flattering any skin tone – other than the dermis of the classic UFO alien. (You know: the ones called grays.) That market can’t be very big at all.

OMEGA Meteorite dial

Clearly, the dial is the most sensible place for gray. It’s like matte silver, I guess. Those crazy meteorite and other mineral dials can do it. Maybe we’ll be seeing department stores filled with fashion watches bearing fake moon rock dials. Consider me skeptical.

And so we turn to Illuminating Yellow . . .

Back in August 2019, aBlogtoWatch’s Ariel Adams famously (in these parts) turned to canary shit yellow for his self-destructing Undone collaboration. In fact, the watch world has been long been ablaze with bright yellow. G-SHOCK launched its all-yellow GDX6900HT in 2017. DOXA’s SUB 300 Searambler – best known as an orange dial diver – was available in yellow from the start, in 1968.

We hear that yellow is the hot ticket for the new Rolex Oyster Perpetual. It’s not quite as hot/bright/vibrant as Pantone’s Illuminating Yellow, but I’m not sure how much pull Pantone has at Rolex’s Geneva HQ. (Do you know the Pantone color for blood my Swiss friend?)

Anyway, the Pantone colors for 2021 are gray and yellow. So I’m thinking gray dial, yellow hands. Never been done before! Right?

Yeam Yema Navygraf Heritage: one of the best dive watches under $1000

Yellow hands aren’t a bad choice on a dark dial. But Ultimate gray is not dark, and Illuminating Yellow hands might not provide enough contrast.

The Pantone Colors of the Year, both being fairly light, can be used in tandem for hand colors and other dial markers, on a dark dial, without ruffling too many feathers.

The skinny is to expect yellow – bright saturated yellow – to increase in popularity as an accent color on watches released in 2021. Light gray may prove trickier to incorporate, but it shouldn’t be hard to use more than we’re currently seeing.

Whether anyone will like the new color accents and/or combos, whether they’ll notice or even care, remains to be seen. At least we’ll know the Pantone parade when we see it, and have some idea how it got there.


  1. I get “yellow”. I was told that it was no coinicidence that Uma Thurman wore that yellow motorcycle gear in Kill Bill. In Japan, if someone buys a sports car or motorbike, odds are really good that the purchase will be black or yellow.

    Gray…I mean, I like a gray. I definitely wear gray. I just don’t know if its something I want on a watch.

    • I’m with you. The classic smiley face isn’t yellow for realism. The primary yellow attracts attention and has a cheery connotation. Plus it is sporty, as are most watches.

      It’s hard to badmouth gray but it just doesn’t seem to lend itself to watches at all. I’ve seen light gray cases on military type field watches, and they look like something you’d be issued and not choose. It reeks of utilitarian blandness, something of commodity grade and not luxurious. I just don’t see personal items of any personal attachment in this color.

      I’ll be impressed if the movers and shakers can make this color pairing interesting in watches.

  2. The gray Casioak, G-SHOCK GA2110ET-8A is getting fairly popular in it’s light gray shade. No yellow to be seen on it though.

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