Watch Hands and Their Nicknames
Watchmakers are quite possibly some of the most detail-oriented artisans in the world. When you start to dissect the nuances of watches, the intricacies you’ll find might astound you. One example is the watch hands. Yes, the hands of a watch, including indicator for the hour, one for the minute, and often one for the second, are one of the most functionally important aspects of a timepiece because they actually indicate the time. However, watch hands are also a stylistic element. There are dozens of unique types of watch hands. Over centuries of the art form, there are certain styles that have become prominent. Each of these has in fact garnered its own moniker. Here, we introduce you to a selection of different types of watch hands and watch hand nicknames.
Types of Watch Hands and Their Nicknames
Watch hands are a stylistic and functional element of a timepiece that might be something you overlook at first glance. However, each of the different types of watch hands are each painstakingly designed with a unique purpose and aesthetic. Below are some of the most notable types of watch hands and watch hand nicknames.
You’ll find a number of watch hands are nicknamed for their shape. One example of this is arrow hands. As the name suggests, they feature a pointer in the style of an arrow. Likewise, watchmakers design these hands for at-a-glance timekeeping. While they’re highly legible, they’re also typically more bulky and bold in size and appearance. You’ll most often find arrow hands on technical or sport watches, like the OMEGA Seamaster Planet Ocean.
Other watch hands get their nicknames from their creators. Similarly, Abraham-Louis Breguet, founder of his namesake brand, designed the Breguet hands back in the late 18th century. These elegant and delicate hands feature a ring and a point at the end. The center of the ring is hollow in a way that resembles a crescent moon. For this reason, Breguet hands have a number of other nicknames. Some examples include moon, crescent moon, hollow apple, or pomme, which means apple in French. Of course, you can find this style on a number of Breguet watches, like the Classique.
Dauphine hands are one of the most common and most popular styles. However, their nickname is a bit of a mystery. Many say their name originates from a French monarch’s son. Others say that because “Dauphine” is feminine, it was in fact his wife. Their traditional design features an elongated triangle shape that’s tapered at the tip and faceted along its length. There are also a number of variations of the Dauphine hands. For example, some are flat while others taper, like on this JLC version. They also come in an array of finishes to enhance their legibility.
Lance hands get their name from the weapon once used by knights and horsemen. The hands feature a similar shape from the instrument for which they draw their name. Their design has a long shaft, wider base, and narrow, pointed head. This A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Flyback has a luminescent version.
Like arrow hands, lollipop hands are nicknamed for their shape. Their design resembles the iconic candy treat, featuring a long stick with a circle at the tip. Depending on the particular watch, the circle may be open or filled. The OMEGA Seamaster is just one example of a model that features this style hands.
The three-pointed star that makes up the Mercedes-Benz logo is one of the most instantly recognizable insignias around the world. In contrast, the Mercedes style hand does not indicate an affiliation between a particular watch model and the famed car manufacturer. However, the Mercedes symbol is where Mercedes hands get their nickname. Rolex is the purveyor of Mercedes hands. They typically only feature the design on the hour hand and additionally, they often treat it with luminescent paint. This helps to distinguish the hour hand in low-light visibility. You’ll find this style on the iconic Submariner.
Similar to the arrow and lollipop hands, paddle hands get their shape and nickname from the paddle itself. They feature a straight design with a wider rectangle toward the end and a pointer at the tip. One example of a watch equipped with paddled hands is the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms.
Just as the nickname suggests, stick hands are much like stick hour markers. These long, slim, and straight hands typically feature a blunt edge. You’ll most often find this design used on dress watches, like a Glashütte Original or Patek Philippe Calatrava.
Baton hands are similar to stick hands. They are long and straight, but they are thicker and have a more imposing presence. You will find these most often on a watch like the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.
Alpha hands have a wide base connected by a narrow stem at the center of the dial. Then, they taper out to a point at the tip. One could say their shape resembles the letter “A.” Their bold, long, straight design exudes strength, like the implication of the alpha name itself. You can find this style on models like the A. Lange & Söhne Datograph.
One of the most ornate styles of hands is cathedral. Watchmakers have classically used the design in military watches. As the name suggests, cathedral hands feature elaborate geometric details that mimic the stained glass commonly found in church windows. Cathedral hands often consist of a larger hour hand and more slender minute hand. The oversized hour hand typically features a distinctive orb and needle-like tip. Overall, this style adds more visual interest than functionality. The Oris Big Crown Original Pointer Date and Zenith Pilot are two examples of models showcasing this unique style.
Fleur de Lys
Fleur de lys hands are also true to their name. The iconic decorative symbol appears at the pointed end of the hands, toward the tip. The fleur de lys is a relatively common symbol among the French and other European flags and coats of arms. However, it is rarer that you’ll find it incorporated into stylistic elements of the watch, like the hands.
Leaf (or Feuille)
Leaf hands or feuille hands, the French word for leaf, are another style whose name indicates the shape. They’re wide in the middle and narrow at each end, tapering at the base and the point. The design mirrors the shape of a long, slender leaf. This style is simple, sleek, and understated.
Lozenge hands are somewhat similar to sword-shaped hands. However, they’re a bit more symmetrical and elegant. They feature an elongated diamond-like shape that extends for the full length of the watch hands. The surface area provides a perfect opportunity for watchmakers to apply lume, if desired. Models like the Pasha de Cartier showcase this sophisticated design.
Obelisque hands resemble alpha hands to a certain degree. They have a wide base and narrow toward a small point at the tip. However, they’re not connected by a short point at the center of the dial. Instead, the wide base extends to the point at which the hour and minute hands meet.
Pencil hands are yet another style whose name informs the shape. Like a classic wooden pencil, these hands are long, thin, and straight with a small point at the tip. Depending on the width of the hands, they may be solid or filled and applied with lume.
It might not be obvious to English speakers. However, plonguer hands draw their nickname from a French word that corresponds to the type of watch showcasing this design. Plonguer means diver in French, and you’ll find this style on dive watches, like the OMEGA Seamaster and Ploprof. The hour and minute hands feature a design with a specific combination: a simple, straight hour hand and a more prominent sword-shaped minute hand that’s often in a bold color, like orange.
Like a skeleton dial on a watch, skeleton hands feature an open-worked construction. Some skeleton hands will showcase a single see-through element. However, others may feature an intricate design or pattern with several small openings. Audemars Piguet and OMEGA are two examples of brands that employ this style of hands.
Similar to Breguet hands, snowflake hands are specific to one watch brand: Tudor. The brand developed the design for the French Navy. They were looking for something to make their dive watches highly legible, and the snowflake hands were born. The result was a set of incredibly unique, oversized hands. Most notably, the hour hand features a distinctive square pattern at the tip. These robust hands are hefty enough for a good coat of lume for maximum visibility. You can find them on models like the Pelagos.
Spade hands are true to the symbol you find on the playing card suit. The design features a long, tapered hand with a spade shape functioning as a pointer at the tip. Sometimes, you’ll only see a spade style hand on the hour hand paired with a simple, slim minute hand. Other times, you’ll find the design on both. The Ulysse Nardin Marine Torpilleur is just one example of a model featuring this style.
Sword hands look like plongeur hands to some extent. As the name indicates, they bear resemblance to a sword blade. Unlike plongeur hands, they don’t have a stem at the base. Dive and military watches are the most common styles to feature sword hands. However, they’re also in a variety of other models. One interesting example is the Cartier Drive.
Last but not least are syringe hands. Just like the medical instrument itself, this style features a similar design. They’re comprised of a barrel shape that gradually widens from the center with a needle-like tip. The design of these hands lends itself to precise timekeeping and dressier styles.