How The Most Popular Watches Can Be Recognized By Just Their Hands

How The Most Popular Watches Can Be Recognized By Just Their Hands


I have a theory that I would like to test regarding the importance of watch hands in the world's most popular watches. As many regular aBlogtoWatch readers know, I am particularly attentive to the design and construction of the hands on a watch's face. I believe hands to be the most important element of a watch dial, and my theory is that if you were able to take the hands off the faces of the most popular and well-designed watches, you would still be able to recognize them with ease.

Alain-Silberstein-watch-hands Watch-Hands-Row-1

There are many very high quality watch designers that participate in the design of today's new timepieces. Unfortunately, there are also many very poor designers. "Poor" in regard to their ability to design a proper watch dial that is both attractive and legible. The reason for this less than exemplary grade has much do with how they prioritize the design of watch hands. I posit that now and forever the design of a "good" watch dial begins with the hands.

Omega-Seamaster-Planet-Ocean-Watch-Hands Watch-Hands-Row-2

You might find it interesting that many novice and fresh watch design talent does not approach the formulation of new dials with this general maxim. Instead of beginning a watch dial design with the hands, they end with the hands. This terrible oversight is perhaps the result of a lack of formal "watch design" training, and without assessing blame, I would simply like to state to the watch design world, please begin all dials with the hands. This, in my opinion, will prevent considerable abuse of legibility and improve the overall consideration of proportions.

Rolex-Submariner-Watch-Hands Watch-Hands-Row-3

To test my theory that the world's most popular watches are recognizable by just their hands, we have taken images of these watches and removed everything but the hands. The results are less than surprising to me, but I find that even seasoned watch lovers are stricken by just how important the design of the hands are. There is a considerable lesson here to brands looking to improve the "identifiability" of their watches. And that lesson is to produce unique or distinctive hands that consumers either consciously or subconsciously associate with your brand and watch models.

Hublot-Big-Bang-Chronograph-Watch-Hands Watch-Hands-Row-4

This article contains the hands of mostly very popular watches along with some lesser known brands and models that nevertheless have distinctive hands which allow them to identified despite the relative volume of the watches they produce. Some, of course, are more recognizable than others but it is interesting to see these hands taken off the of the dials we often see them on.

Patek-Philippe–Nautilus-Watch-Hands Watch-Hands-Row-5

What do we notice by seeing just the hands from each of these dials that you can't see? In most all instances, the hands are properly sized and proportioned. That means that they extend as far as they need to on the dial, and the minute hand is either distinct from the hour hand or easily identified. So it isn't just the hands that matter, but also their relative design in relation to one another.

I find it interesting that the seconds hand is often much less important than the minute and hour hands. Some of these dials don't have seconds hands or we haven't included them because we don't think they are necessary. In another instances, the seconds hands are crucial to preserving the overall character of the hand set.

A-Lange-Sohne-Lange-1-Watch-Hands Watch-Hands-Row-6

So are you able to identify all of the watches from just their hands? There might be one or two that is difficult to spot but you'll quickly feel silly for not knowing them at first glance if you look at our answer guide below. I think it is a testament to both big brand and boutique company design to see that a range of different watch companies are represented in this collection. While I would love to spend more time analyzing the hands and why they are distinct, I think the pictures speak louder than the words. What do you think? Are hands as important as we claim that they are? Are there models that should be in this list? What are some of your favorite watch hands?


Answer Guide: The watch hands in order of moving from the top of the article down are, 1) Alain Silberstein typical hands, 2) F.P. Journe hands, 3) Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean hands, 4) Rolex Milgauss hands, 5) Breguet pomme-style hands, 6) Panerai Luminor-style hands, 7) Rolex Submariner hands, 8) Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200M hands, 9) Hublot Big Bang hands, 10) IWC Big Pilot's Watch hands, 11) Zenith El Primero hands, 12) Patek Philippe Nautilus hands, 13) Urwerk UR-203 hands, 14) Swatch typical hands, 15) A. Lange & Sohne Lange 1 hands, 16) Audemars Piguet Royal Oak hands, 17) Mickey Mouse hands.

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  • Johnny Tank

    I do love the trident second hand of the Eterna Kontiki Diver.

    (image borrowed from the interwebz)

  • emenezes

    I quite agree that the hands are very important.  I hadn’t actually realized how much until this article.  

    Yet, I’m wary of superlative statements like “watch hands are the most important detail on a watch” that tend to be understood, if not immediately, afterwards, as exclusive: “the hands are the only important detail on a watch.”  Of course, none of us could agree with this.  The hands are important, but so are the dial, the markers, the crown, the  case, the lugs, the strap, etc,  But I have the impression that when such a statement is made, it tends to become exclusive in the minds of my interlocutors.  Whether it’s too much TV or Internet, is a mystery to me.  So I quite appreciate how Ariel put it: “the design of a… watch dial begins with the hands.”

    At last, I couldn’t name most of the dials, yet most seemed familiar to me.  But I cannot help leaving this here: 17 > 13.

  • Fraser Petrick

    Ariel, you are so right! The clarity of hour and minute hands is a no-brainer. I have a watch (whose name rhymes with Citizen) where the hands are so fine they’re hard to locate. On the other “hand” I have a Bulova Hack (modeled after WWII American Army issue) where the hands are quickly legible as one would want while storming the beaches of Iwo Jima or Normandy. Call me fussy, but I want a minute hand that comes to a point directly on the minute marker – as with Ernst Benz. I would also go as far as to say I can do without a second hand. Unless I’m timing my boat at the Americas Cup, I can’t think of the last  “time”  I needed to know what second of the day it was.

  • Chaz_Hen

    May I humbly add that IWC screwed things up, IMO, when they got rid of the old 3706/3713 & MK XII, XV hands with the rectangular hour in their “Flieger” line. The new hands look like crap. To put it subtly.

  • olifac3

    Chaz_Hen agreed, I’d love to see a revival of the more iconic IWC hands at some point (going with the popular trend of bringing back old designs lately). Sadly we’ll have to wait for the Pilot line at SIHH since IWC only update one line a year.

  • olifac3

    I would say I was already rather aware of the importance of a good set of hands since owning a base PAM, that’s all there is. Minimalism without extinguishing identity is certainly very difficult to pull off.
    Nevertheless, I adore this exercise! Feels like I’m back at school again, writing down my answers on paper then ticking or crossing the answers right or wrong!

  • CDN In London

    Maybe my wife is right, I do spend too much time reading about watches… I only missed 3.

  • MisterDeal

    Sad to say, I totally failed this test. I did get Urwerk right, however!
    Anyways, this also made me think about how sloppily various iconic watch-hand styles – Brequet, cathedral, dauphin, squelette, etc. – are often deployed inappropriately, randomly, and/or lazily considering the style of the watch. Not these examples per se, but in general…

  • DG Cayse

    Good topic Mr. Adams.
    IMO, 3 hands are all any watch needs. More than 3, unless being used for a ‘tool’ reason, is just clutter.
    I can even do without the date feature. Barbarian that I am.
    Lume is a requirement;although I will give Breguet a pass for formal & dress wear (the lights rarely go out and if so, they are out for a reason).

    I would also add the Tudor snowflake design to your excellent collection.

  • DoMo2117

    Such a great article, Ariel.  I loved the way you broke these icons down to their essential elements.  It really highlights what makes them distinct and goes beyond just the name on the dial (I was happy to name 12/15).  A fun one to include would have been the Ulysses Nardin Freak.  It’s nothing but a hand.

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  • Ulysses31

    I’m glad to say I got most of these, although I should point out that some of these iconic hands are actually ones that have been derived from earlier generic designs.

  • iamcalledryan

    awesome article. Hands are very important; it’s the smile of the watch and sets the tone for the character of the piece. I am a big fan of the sword hands and the Breguet pommes. I also love the little stubby ones like the Moser et Cie GMT hand and the Panerai subsid seconds. Least favorites are the Planet Ocean / Romain Jerome hands with big unsophisticated triangles at the end of them!

  • kevinwcs

    The hands are definitely important, but I think what really makes them stand out is how they work with the dial. The Speedy Pro for example, has the right hands, the right dial, the right proportions. It’s got the simplest sword style hands, and it works well with the simple, fuss-free dial. Great article btw.

  • dukdlx

    The legibility of the dial is critical to me when choosing a watch. This starts with the hands but also includes the contrast between the color of the hands and the dial. I also appreciate the style, quality and finish of the hands. My Ball Trainmasrer Power Rezerve has very delicate hands. They are blued steel and the seconds hand has the signature pair of reversed “R”‘s. The contrast of the blued hands against the white porcelain dial make it very easy to read.

  • aleximd2000

    I missed only 3 of them. There are several times when you have to stop and reset your fast lane life style and think about basics. This article is about that . My opinion is that the greatest watch brands are specific in this kind of things. They are pathognomonic( it is so characteristic that you can’t miss).Very good Ariel

  • MisterDeal

    EDIT: I wasn’t wearing my glasses. If I was, there’s no way I would’ve missed the Milgauss second hand. And I got the Brequet hands – I just thought they referred to a specific model that I wasn’t figuring out. But still, mine was piss poor performance, I can’t.

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  • emenezes

    BTW, even the only digital watch I ever had had hands… digital hands.

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  • socabaptist

    11 out of 16

  • johnthompson8

    What, no snowflake hands??

  • MarkCarson

    I know I should just let this post be, but since I think it was an outgrowth of a conversation Ariel and I had over exactly this subject (should hands come first in the design process), I would like to propose a counter effort. 
    Could these same watches be identified via their dials without their hands? In some ways the watches in this post were chosen for the uniqueness of their hands (like the Rolex Milgauss). If a set of watches were chosen for the uniqueness of their dials (many of which are the same ones as in this post), I’ll bet they would be just as easy to identify. AP ROO, PP Nauttilus, Panerai, Submariner, etc.

  • OmarB

    Hmm.  Why don’t I see any Bull Toro hands?

    That was hands down (obligatory ‘no pun intended’) the funniest HourTime show.   I was on a transatlantic flight literally laughing out loud listening to Ariel make fun of the brand and John saying “Bull Toro” over and over in his attempt at a gangster-hispanic accent.

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