The Hands of Time – A Guide to Names of the most used Watch Hands

ic_query_builder_black_24px | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Xavier Markl | 4 minute read

There are many ways to tell the time: digital watches show us the time using numbers, whereas the first mechanical clocks did not even have faces, and indicated time by chiming it. Hourglasses, candle clocks or clepsydras are other examples. And there’s a segment that we here at Monochrome, refer to as ‘Other Display‘, which include the URWERK’s MB&F’s and Ressence’s of this world. Still, most watches use hands on a dial to show us the hours and minutes, and as is their wont, watchmakers have displayed great creativity in the way they shape hands (for practical or more fancy purposes). These come in a variety of styles and are an integral part of a watch design. It would be tough to come up with an exhaustive list, but we’ll take a look at the most used hand designs from watches we have photographed over the past few months.

Alpha hands

Alpha type hands have a wide base and a narrow stem to connect them to the center of the dial. Example → Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda MetrographeParmigiani Fleurier Tonda Metrographe Limited Edition Montreux Jazz Festival

Arrow hands

Arrow hands feature an arrow-shaped pointer. These are often used for sports or technical watches. Example → Omega Seamaster Planet OceanOmega Seamaster Planet Ocean Deep Black - Black Sedna Gold

Baton hands

Baton hands, also called stick hands, are straight and elongated. Their minimalist lines lend themselves perfectly to dress watches. Example → Piaget AltiplanoPiaget Altiplano

Breguet hands

Some brands will call these pudically ‘pomme’ (apple in French – because of their distinctive round hoop near the tip) but to us we think of them as Breguet hands, although Breguet has left such an indelible imprint on watch making to the point that many watch parts are best known by his name (numerals, overcoil, etc.) and of course the hands. Breguet style hands were designed in the late 18th century. Example → Breguet Classique 7147Breguet Classique 7147 Enamel

Cathedral hands

Cathedral hands are a classic for military watches, but have been featured on a great variety of watches with a large hour hand and slender minute – the cathedral name is most likely inspired by the stained glass window design for the luminous material. Example → Montblanc 1858 chronograph tachymeter limited edition bronzeMontblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter Limited Edition Bronze - Review Price

Dauphine hands

One of the most traditional and popular style of hands. Dauphine style hands have a triangle shape and are faceted. The etymology come from ‘dauphin’ the eldest son of the French king. Example → Carl F. Bucherer Manero PeripheralCarl F Bucherer Manero Peripheral

Fleur de Lys hands

What a lovely name, isn’t it. The Fleur de Lys hands are decorated with a stylized lily in a commonly used symbol in heraldry. It has appeared on countless European coats of arms, and it is known in particular as a symbol for the French Royalty. Example → Czapek Quai des Bergues

Lance hands

Lance hands are similar to ‘Alpha’ type but are generally thinner. Example → Schwarz Etienne Roma Power reserveSchwarz Etienne Roma Power Reserve

Leaf hands

Leaf or feuille in French – Wide in the middle and narrow at the end and base, leaf-shaped hands are a perfect match with classic, understated design. Example → H. Moser & Cie Endeavour Perpetual Calendar

Mercedes hands

The name ‘Mercedes’ hands derive from the three-pointed star in the hour hand, that resembles the Mercedes Benz logo. Rolex never indicated why they created these hands, and if there’s a relation to the car brand, or other reasons for their choice. However it’s save to assume that the “Mercedes” star in the large open circle of the hour hand, makes a more stable area in which luminescent paint can be applied. Visually it also helps to distinguish the hour hand from the other hands in low-light settings. Example → Rolex Explorer I

Plongeur Hands

‘Plongeur’ is the French for Diver. Plongeur hands usually refer to dive watch hands (specifically for Omega) with a straight hour hand and a more prominent and highly visible sword shaped minute hand. Orange is a popular color to highlight the all-important minute hand.Example → Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200m
Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200m

Syringe Hands

The elegant syringe hands also take their name from their shape. Their body is designed in the form of a barrel with a needle-like thin pointer. A perfect design to inject elegance into watches. Example → Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar 5320GPatek Philippe Perpetual Calendar 5320

Snowflake hands

The snowflake hands are unique to the Tudor brand, and specifically some of their dive watches. According to the legacy these hands have been developed per request of the French navy, who wanted hands there were more legible for the divers. Example → Tudor Black Bay S&G

Spade hands

Spade hands are shaped like the playing card suit. The Ulysse Nardin below features spade and whip hands. Example → Ulysse Nardin Marine TorpilleurUlysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur

Sword hands

Sword hands or Glaive in French – as the name suggests, sword hands are shaped similar to a sword blade. Many Cartier watches provide examples of such hands. Example → Cartier Drive

Drive de Cartier Extra Flat 430MC - SIHH 2017

11 responses

  1. We hear you guys, however we did not have a watch with syringe hands in front of our camera in the past months… We’ll add them later, for a complete guide in our Technical Perspective series.

  2. Best to call the so called Breguet hands Pomme . As this style of hand was actually the genius of Lepine. Continued repetition has reinforced the marketing.

  3. And also please add the asegai hands by Laurent Ferrier, and Morritz Grossmann. I call the larger version of Breguet style hands as used by Urban Jurgensen a Birds head.

  4. Great article! Please also include Laurent Ferrier’s beautiful Assegai hands in your Technical Perspective guide 🙂

Leave a Reply