A lot has been said about the famous Rolex Mercedes hour hand. Many Rolex models sport the Mercedes hand, which has become one of the most instantly recognizable design traits of the Swiss brand. There are a couple of theories going around that have been repeated many times over. Whether or not they are true, we will never know: Rolex is a very secretive brand. The Mercedes hour hand has been a constant for decades, despite Rolex's lack of an explicit explanation. In this article, we’re going to revisit the two main theories about the origin of the Mercedes before focusing on its technical aspects.
The Two Main Theories about the Mercedes Hand
The most common story that has been going around relates to Mercedes Gleitz, the woman who famously swam across the English Channel in the 1920s whilst carrying a Rolex Oyster on a necklace. Hans Wilsdorf saw the perfect marketing opportunity to promote the Oyster case, a revolution at the time as it was the first case to be protected from water, dirt, and dust thanks to unique screw-down caseback and crown. The second theory is that each point nods to the three dimensions Rolex designed tool watches for: the sea (Submariner,) the land (Explorer 1,) and the air (GMT Master.) However, as indicated in the introduction, Rolex actually never spoke about the origin of the design, which might lead us to believe that there perhaps isn’t one.
According to Bob’s Watches, Rolex doesn’t call their three-pointed hour hand a "Mercedes" hour hand. That’s just what watch journalists have been calling it for several decades. As it turns out, we are obsessed with of making sense of things that perhaps don’t have any.
The Origin and Purpose of the Mercedes Hand
Although it is called a Mercedes hand, whether named after the English swimmer or because of its resemblance to the logo of the German car manufacturer, a Mercedes hour hand is, at its core, an intelligent design that serves a unique purpose. Although it is said that 50% of Rolex models today are equipped with the famed hour hand, it was first introduced in 1953 on the Explorer ref. 6150. Since then, most Rolex sport watches have been equipped a Mercedes hour hand and there is a good reason for that: it’s darn effective. Whenever we speak about form following function, we should mention the Mercedes hand.
Again, we will probably never know for sure why, when, or who designed the Mercedes hand, but we can perhaps all agree that it's iconic — classic, even —because it works. Generally speaking, effective watch design is when the hour and minute hands look radically different from one another, so that reading the time is easy. There is no question that the Mercedes hand is easy to see and looks different from the minute hand. Having a circular element, it’s easy to spot when covered by the minute hand.
As many others have indicated, adding the Mercedes-shaped construction makes it possible to add a large amount of lume whilst preventing it from cracking. At least, that could have been a problem a long time ago. The tripartite construction is probably just effective manufacturing and intelligent design, as Rolex sport watches are built to last. Adding the star in the middle means the lume stays in place, as the circular portion of the hand is more solidly built. In other words, it was designed this way to make reading the time easy. . . for a long time.
No new theories surrounding the design of the Mercedes hour hand have appeared in this article. Honestly, the two theories I mentioned above are the only ones with any grounding, but are still highly speculative. The reason why they are so widespread is because they are the only ones people came up with. Rolex never shared the origin of the Mercedes hand, and doesn’t even call it that, indicating (to me) that it is not related to a famous English swimmer, a car manufacturer, or any kind of spiritual meaning. It’s just a good design that works. There's no reason to make a big fuss about it.Featured image: www.milleneraywatches.com