What goes around comes around. That’s certainly the case when it comes to watch hands on a dial. When you invest in a mechanical watch, you’re committing to years of looking at the dial on your wrist. Paying close attention to the design and execution of that dial pays off. Dial styles are a very personal choice, and collectors have strong opinions about what dials look best. Sometimes, those debates can get pretty heated. (Don’t ask us to mediate any “date or no date” death matches.)
One underrated component of any dial design is the choice of watch hands. You’ll find endless Reddit threads and comment sections spent debating indices and subdial locations, but not much time is spent discussing this essential component of dial design.
Different styles of watch hands can completely change the look and feel of the dial, and it’s important to know what your options are. Certain hands have a long horological history, while other watch hand types are newcomers to watchmaking. Like any carefully crafted object, symmetry and balance are paramount to the final product. Here’s our guide to selecting the right hands for your watch.
Dauphine Watch Hands
Let’s start with an elegant watch hand style with a long history. Dauphine hands narrow to a tiny point, and the length of the hand is faceted to provide three-dimensional depth. Patek Phillippe, JLC, Piaget, and Rolex have all used Dauphine hands. The name is the French word for Prince or Lord, which accurately describes the feel of these hands. The sleek, streamlined look of the hands makes them particularly well-suited to luxury watches with a minimalist style. Originally used in the ‘30s and ‘40s, these simple but impactful hands have stood the test of time and are still used on watch dials today. The Patek Phillipe Calatrava is a consummate example of the impact Dauphine hands can have.
Leaf Watch Hands
Although the name is self-explanatory, fine examples of this type of watch hand can lend a soft botanical flourish to a well-designed dial. Leaf watch hands feature an elongated oval that terminates in a fine point at the end. Depending on the size and style of the watch, that oval can be bold and circular, or extremely subtle. Well-designed leaf hands are a softer alternative to baton or stick hands. Employing them on a watch can warm up the look of an otherwise spartan dial. Longines is known for using leaf watch hands on many of their watches. On the Longines Master Collection Annual Calendar, the distinctive blue leaf hands complement the Breguet-style numerals. And speaking of Breguet…
Breguet Watch Hands
OG Swiss watchmaker Breguet completely transformed horology with his self-winding watches. However, he also contributed to the aesthetic design and appearance of watches, and several of his innovations are still used in watch designs today. The first innovation was his stylized Breguet numerals, an Arabic numeral style with curled flourishes on the terminals. The second innovation was a specific style of watch hands. Breguet-style watch hands can resemble stick hands or have an elongated diamond shape on the stem. At the terminus, Breguet hands have a circle with a filled crescent shape on the side. This unique shape is sometimes referred to by the French word for apple, pomme. Some collectors refer to Breguet-style hands as “pomme hands” because of this shape. The delicate circle at the end of the watch hands make identifying the time even easier. While Breguet hands almost always have a crescent circle at the tip, Breguet originally designed his watch hands with tiny stars or fleur de lis shapes before settling on this unique circle shape.
Arrow Watch Hands
When small children draw clocks or watches, they often instinctively include arrow watch hands in their drawings. There is something intuitive about pointing to the indices on a timepiece. Watches with arrow style hands use this unique watch hand shape to make reading the time quick and easy. The iconic watch with arrow style watch hands is the Omega Speedmaster 1957, and Tudor’s North Flag uses them to great effect. Judging from the resale prices of these watches, a visually striking hand style can definitely add value to a watch.
Baton Watch Hands or Stick Watch Hands
For dress watches, minimalism can make a big difference. Less is more on dress watch dials, and baton style watch hands fit the bill. Perpendicular lines never go out of style, and they’re quite versatile. Stick watch hands leave ample space on a dial, and can be combined with many different types of indices. Some references from Nomos exemplify this baton watch hand style that’s used in combination with other Bauhaus design elements
Mercedes Watch Hands
Although the “Mercedes” style watch hand was used on other watches in the past, it is now practically synonymous with Rolex references. It was originally designed to make the hour hand visible even when it was covered by another hand. Now, it’s become an essential stylistic element of Rolex watches. The trisected circle on this watch hand resembles the car’s manufacturer’s logo, which accounts for the name. The Mercedes watch hand is the perfect example of form following function in watch hand design.
Snowflake Watch Hands
Similar to the Mercedes style watch hand, Tudor’s snowflake watch hand was also developed with function in mind. It used a diamond shape to intersect the straight line of the second hand. A snowflake hand makes reading the time easier without encroaching on Rolex’s patented Mercedes watch hand style. Most Tudor enthusiasts love the unconventional look of the snowflake hand, but not everyone is a fan. The snowflake hand is now used for many Tudor references, including the beloved Black Bay 58 and the Tudor Pelagos.
Lollipop Watch Hands
Prior to adopting the snowflake hand, Tudor placed a circle at the end of the second hand on references 94010 and 76100. This circular hand is similar to a Breguet hand, but with a larger circle shape. Because of its shape, it was dubbed the lollipop hand. Like many watches with unusual hand styles, Tudors with lollipop hands are highly coveted. In fact, they consistently sell for several thousand dollars more at auction than their non-lollipop Tudor counterparts.
Plongeur Watch Hands
Plongeur is the French word for dive, and plongeur style hands were initially used solely on dive watches. They’re a thick, prominent hand that has a bright lume applied, for ease of reading in low light or underwater. Although initially invented for a practical use, the bold silhouette has gained aesthetic traction. Now plongeur style hands are even used on non-dive watches. Plongeur hands are the perfect counterpoint for watches with a wide bezel and symmetrically placed subdials. The Omega Seamaster is an excellent example of how plongeur hands work beautifully on a dive watch. Seiko has also gained acclaim for its use of plongeur hands on its references.
Match Your Watch Hands To A Rubber Watch StrapIf you’re a watch collector with an eye for details, don’t miss out on an opportunity to match a rubber watch strap to your watch’s hands. You can also match your watch strap to a unique watch crystal color, or coordinate it with a colored bezel. When you’re ready for a new look on your watch, it’s very difficult to change the watch hands, but it’s easy to swap out a new luxury rubber watch strap.