A Brief History About The Hands Of A Watch – Types and Origins.

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It is hard to find good information about watch hands despite the fact they are very important in watch making. In deed, how can you see time without them and how can you celebrate watchmaking accuracy, know-how and performance without them? Nevertheless we it is hard to find good information about the different types, the history and who is doing what. Here is what we know.

Hands Of A Watch, A Bit Of History

It is said that the first hands factory in Switzerland was founded in 1812. It was Wagnon Frères in Geneva. The founder is Charles Wagnon and his grand-son, Ami Wagnon exhibited the company products in Paris in 1878, in Zürich in 1883 and in Chicago in 1893. By 1896, Wagnon Frères were producing around 400 different sorts of hands. By the the years 1900’s, there were more than 60 factories in Switzerland producing hands for the most beautiful watchmakers. Today, there are maybe 10 remaining. The oldest hands factory still functioning in Switzerland is Fiedler SA in Carouge, founded in 1848 in Geneva by Valentin Leisenheimer. Theodore Fiedler works in the factory since 1907 and by 1918 he purchases the factory and the Leisenheimer business. At that time, there were only 10 employees. Decades later, the business moved to Carouge and now counts around 90 people with a very stable business.

Valentin-Leisenheimer-Fiedler-SA

Fiedler-Leisenheimer

The Making Of Watch Hands

Hands are made from metal strips. The metal can be precious like gold or platinum as well as stainless steel. You need to count more than twenty manufacturing steps, obviously depending on the product, to make good watch hands. Here are some of the important ones:

  • Pre-Drilling the cannon hole (to insert the future axis)
  • Cannonade by stamping
  • setting the surface with a diamond cutter
  • Cutting the hands by punching, riveting, striking and finishing of the head and hand’s body.
  • Polish
  • Galvanic bath for coloration
  • Quality control
  • Packaging

Fiedler-SA-watch-hands-metal Fiedler-SA-watch-hands-metals

Fiedler-SA-watch-hands-production-luxury

 

Fiedler-SA-watch-hands-manufcturing

Fiedler-SA-watch-hands-control Fiedler-SA-watch-hands-production

Fiedler-SA-watch-hands-controls

Fiedler-SA-watch-hands

Fiedler-SA-watch-hand

Different types of hands, a watchmaking important detail

Part of the overall watch design, the hands of time will for sure bring an outstanding look to the watch dial. From color to shape, metal or design, it will sign off the dial with a specific look. Here are the most common different shapes of hands you can find in the market.

Alpha Hands

Alpha-hands-Lecoultre

They have a large base and then get the stem thinner. They have been used in different watches to provide a dynamic and sharp precision of time. Generally you find it in motorsport watches for example containing a chronograph, allowing a certain level of precision.

Baton Hands

Baton-hands-stick-hands

Baton hands are generally used in minimalistic watches or very classy and elegant ones. They are also called stick hands as they have a elongated shape from the base to the edge. You can obtain a very chic result if you play with a contrasted color of the dial (as per the example here above).

Breguet Hands

Breguet-hands-pomme-hands

they are also called the Pomme hands, by the round shape near the hand’s tip. They are called the Breguet hands because Abraham Louis Breguet invented it. Breguet has created tremendous heritage in watchmaking, so certain watch parts, designs or shapes are still called by the name of his inventor. This shape of hands confirm a classical look to the watch as well as a slight hint of poetry every time you check what time is it.

Cathedral Hands

Cathedral-hands

cathedral-hands-with-luminescence

These hands were historically placed in military and pocket watches. Their shape reminds a cathedral window. Some historical models had even skeletonized hands making it even more “cathedralic”. Later across the years, other watches used these hands as it let a lot of space for luminescent product. This hands shape provides a great visibility in the dark. last thing to note is the hour hands which is also called “bee” hand because of its shape that reminds a bee.

Dauphine Hands

dauphine-hands

This kind of hands were developed in the late 40’s and they are still quite popular. The word Dauphine comes from the French and several stories try to explain its origins. One of the stories tells that the name Dauphine is given to the wife of the prince, also called in French “dauphin”. We tend also to say that Dauphine came from the english Dolphin and that the shape of the hands are as the silhouette of a Dolphin. No matter the stories, what we can say, is that Dauphine hands are very modern and sharp. The base is large and finish very spiky, like a long triangle.

 

Lance Hands

lance-hands

Lance hands are a bit like the alpha hands but generally they are thinner. The base neck is longer, which brings a look like a knight’s spear. It is an interesting alternative to classical design. The edges are sharp which make them more modern and sleek.

Mercedes Hands

Rolex-Submariner-Mercedes-hands
There is no direct connection between Mercedes Benz and this type of hand. The first brand to use it was Rolex. The symbol of the three pointer rising star is a symbol of positive energy. When Mercedes used it as a symbol, some people would also pretend that it is the 3 ways of transportation: Land, sea and air. For the watch-world, the usage of Mercedes hands helps visibility. Even if the minutes and/or seconds hands get in front of it, you can still see it. Also, the surface containing the luminescent substance is wider, allowing a perfect visibility in the dark or in deep sea. That is why this type of hands are used in motorsport and diving essentially.

Leaf Hands

Leaf-hands

This type of hands are very beautiful and very elegant. As the base and the end are thinner than the middle, it looks like a leaf shape. The leaf hands will procure a great allure to your watch dial.

Snowflake hands

snowflake-hands

The snowflake hands are specific to the Tudor brand. In the 60’s, the French marine asked Tudor to develop a great watch for divers and one important detail was that divers would be able to have a perfect visibility of time no matter the water conditions. By enlarging the edge of the hour hand and by adding a losange to the second hand, it offered a larger surface to apply luminescent product. Therefore the time hands were much visible by night or in great depths.

Syringe hands

Syringe-hands

Syringe-hands-modern

This one is a very specific shape, mainly used by Patek Philippe for decades. It is called Syringe hands because as you can see in the above image, the hand is manufactured in the form of a barrel with a very spiky pointer, like a syringe needle. It does reflects a certain classicism. Nevertheless, the spiky needle on top of the hands can also be quite interesting for chronometers as a mark of precision. It does remain rare to see them today, only a few brands, a part from Patek, would use these hands. One interesting advantage of such a large hand body is that you can place a lot of luminescent product, providing a great visibility at night.

Spade Hands

spade-watch-hand spades-watch-hands-classic

Here is probably the most classical hands shape of all. The spade hands takes its name from the cards game and the “spade” family. We would see this type of hands in pocket watches and traditional clocks. Nowadays we can still find some brands proposing this type of hands but in very classical models. There is a long tradition in Germany for clocks so this heritage is still very present.

Sword Hands

Sword-watch-hands

Sword-hands-cartier

The Sword hands have an interesting design feature. This Sword shape hands provides a bold look, very powerful and they can be full as well as skeletonized. Omega and Cartier have a tradition to use the Sword hands for their masculine lines as a strong symbol of virility and dynamism.

I hope you had a better clarity on a topic not that easy to find information. There are many other watch hands but the above are definitely the most common used ones. Two small pieces of metal that transmit all the ingenuity of the watchmaker.

Arsène Wargas

Info sourced by the author for luxuryactivist.com. All content is copyrighted with no reproduction rights available. Images are for illustration purposes only. 

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Arsene Wargas

Arsène is a young yet very passionate Parisian author. He is passionate about luxury watches and joined Luxury Activist team since 2015. While working in PR and marketing he loves to share his passion for luxury Swiss watch-making. He contributes in a regular base with articles around watch brands, history and new launches. Follow Arsène on his social networks.