Can Any Brand Use the Mercedes Hand?

Can Any Brand Use the Mercedes Hand?

In short, yes! In long, yes too though we need to nuance this question a little bit. In a previous article I discussed the potential origin stories of the Rolex Mercedes hour hand (there are a few) and its purpose. However it came to be, we’ve seen it being used on many other models from numerous brands. As far as I know, Rolex didn’t patent the design and doesn’t even call it “Mercedes.” (That’s just how we watch enthusiasts call it.) But many tend to look down at brands that use the Mercedes hand, especially when it’s a micro/independent brand that does so. What could make it alright for another brand to use it and, conversely, what couldn’t? Let’s discuss this. 

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What is the Rolex Mercedes Hand? 

If we look at the Mercedes hand as just being a design element and a necessary one for any timekeeping device, it fulfills a very particular need: to indicate the hour. And it must be do so in a way that is quick, easy, and where one wouldn’t mistake the hour hand for the minute hand. Most watches come with hour hands that look very different from the minute and seconds hands to avoid said confusion. The Mercedes hand has a distinct design that makes it easily distinguishable from the other hands and doubles as a receptacle large enough for generous lume applications. That’s all there is to it from a pragmatic point of view. 

Why should anyone reinvent the wheel? Round cases work because they perfectly espouse the normal contour of our wrist, and white hands and markers set against a black dial provide for ultimate legibility. Although we don’t need wristwatches anymore, since we do love wearing them and brands can’t seem to make enough of them, let us ensure watches are legible, which is the raison d’être of the Mercedes hand. 

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Reasons Why Any Brands Can Use the Mercedes Hand 

First, and as mentioned above, it’s not a patented design. The name itself is not even patented, so I could end the article right here. But I won’t, just yet. Claiming that another brand cannot use the Mercedes hour hand would be as silly as saying only one brand can use pencil hands or create a chronograph displaying three sub-registers. Or that only Cartier can make square watches or that Zenith can be the only brand putting a trapezoidal date aperture at the 4:30 position on a chronograph. The fact that other brands have used Mercedes hands is a testimony to how good of a design it is, again, the same way pencil hands are legible and steel is a great material to make a case out of. 

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Second, how can we be sure Rolex came up with the design itself? After all, Rolex did not create the Oyster bracelet, Gay Frères did, but Rolex eventually bought the company that made it. Furthermore, Rolex didn’t create the compounds that make Chromalight glow ice blue, a Japanese engineer did. Rolex, like other brands, just renamed the compound to market it under a different name. There is a lot we don’t know about Rolex and its internal workings. No one knows, for example, what Rolex calls the Mercedes hands if they call it anything at all. For all we know, maybe Hans Wilsdorf saw the design somewhere or hired a designer that created this design and just decided to put it on every single one of its sports models. 

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Final Thoughts 

I do love talking about this type of subject. Too often, and too quickly, we find ourselves arguing about what is right and what is wrong in the world of horology, what a brand should do and not do, and what design element was either stolen or borrowed from another brand. Looking at the history of skin divers for example, it’s easy to see how multiple brands made similar looking dive watches in the 1960s-1980s because they were—to put it simply—shopping from the same suppliers. Perhaps Rolex was the first brand to get its hands on the Mercedes design and, because it is legible and robust, started using en masse. And other brands followed suit soon after.

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