The 8 Most Popular Watch Hands and When to Use Them
Timekeeping devices used to tell the hour in unusual ways when precision timing was less important than it is today. Candle clocks used markings to indicate when an hour had passed, incense clocks burned incense sticks at a constant rate and changed scent as the hours passed, and gong clocks chimed at regular intervals.
Fast forward to the invention of mechanical watches and you get a more accurate way of telling the time using watch 'hands', down to even the milliseconds! And while boring sticks would have totally sufficed for this purpose, human creativity would not let it be so. A lot of watch hand designs were invented over the years, some looking more beautiful, or working more functionally, than the others.
In this article, we'll be looking at the most popular watch hand designs that have come up over the years, along with some guidelines with which watch build should you use them in.
Starting with arguably the most recognizable design in the modding community, Mercedes Hands are so called for the hour hand disc with three spokes, resembling the logo of the German car brand. It's not an official partnership, but that won't stop watch fans from using the nickname. This disc helps with legibility by clearly distinguishing the hour and minute hands at a glance in low light conditions. Rolex uses it mostly for their diver lineup, but it won't seem out of place if you use it for field or dress watches either.
Being a sister brand to Rolex, Tudor designed their signature hands in the same vein to help with legibility - the hour hand has an angular block near the tip of its hour hand to easily distinguish it from the arrow minute hand. It's said that the design stemmed from a request from the French Navy to make the Tudor watches easier to read underwater. These hands look best on diver watch builds.
It's a bit more obvious why Sword hands are named so - this type of handset starts slender at the neck before flaring out at the tips. They are also known as Glaive hands in French. You can usually spot these types of hands on Cartier watches, where it comes as an hour and minute set only. Because of the slim nature of their design, there's not much room to add lume to them, making them generally useful only for dressy builds.
We can say that Dauphine hands are the opposite of Sword hands, in that they start wide at the base while tapering to a point at the outer end. It is faceted and usually has a polished finish, giving it a premium look, making it a favorite of higher-end watch brands. The term is derived from a royal French title, specifically the eldest son of the king. This prestigious look and history makes this handset a great fit for dress watch builds.
Dial back the flashiness and you get the Baton hands, which are simple rectangular hands in different lengths to distinguish the hour, minute and seconds hand. Despite the simplicity, it actually looks best when used in dress watch builds, especially those designed to exude a sense of quiet luxury. They are also perfectly usable for tool watches where minimalism is tasteful.
Cathedral hands are most likely named for its multiple sections in each hand that are filled with lume, which loosely resembles the appearance of stained glass windows on churches (more so if you use different colored lume for each section). The ornate look makes it a good fit for dressy and formal watches, where elegance is the theme.
Breguet hands get their name from the Swiss Horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet, an important figure in the watch world. One of his designs are these hands that feature an apple, or a 'hallowed moon' near the tip, making for a unique look that graces watches meant for royalty. It goes without saying that these 1800s-era hands make the ideal dress timepieces.
If you're building a pilot watch, it's hard to choose hands aside from Pilot hands. These are optimized for split-second time checks for airborne pilots in missions where precision timing is crucial. The hour and minute hands are wider than most designs, allowing a wider area for lume application. Even the seconds hand is lumed for better legibility.
While certain hands are best suited for specific watch builds, there's room for creativity and experimentation. Notice that even though we have suggestions for which hand goes for which build, some of the pictures puts the handset on a completely different type of watch.
Breaking conventions can lead to surprising and captivating combinations, so don't be afraid to try using dress hands for tool watches, or diver hands for sporty builds. As a watch modder, you have the freedom to create a timepiece that looks the best to you.
Whether you're a seasoned collector or a budding enthusiast, exploring the vast world of watch hand designs opens the door to endless possibilities. Check out our hands catalog to find the perfect handset for your next watch build.