When it comes to horology, you’re often best served by keeping things simple. A watch that has a clean face, easy-to-read hands, and few complications is usually more aesthetically pleasing than one with a ton of features you may not even use. It’s not only about telling time, but about the elegance and ease of function. For some, the hands are the embodiment of the brand’s identity.
That said, there’s no reason to be boring! If you want something more elaborate on your wrist, here’s an entire guide devoted to the different types of watch hands available today. Considering it’s the part of the watch you’ll look at the most, it’s surprising how much the hands are ignored when you’re choosing a new watch.
In this article, we’ll take a look at all the different types of hands used in watches — from simple arrow hands to complex snowflake hands — and explain how each one works on a dial.
Alpha hands on the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Up and Down
Alpha hands are one of the most common types of watch hand, and they can be found on chronographs, GMTs, and other watches with multiple time zones. They sport a wide base with a narrow stem that connects them to the center of the dial. They come in different colors such as black (most common), white, or gold toned.
Arrow hands as seen on the Omega Planet Ocean
Arrow hands are usually used in chronograph watches, and they point to the hours and minutes with arrow shaped points.
The most popular watch with arrow hands is probably the Omega Speedmaster and Seamaster, but you can also find them on many other brands like Tudor, Breitling, and more!
Baton hands on the Rolex Oyster Perpetual and Rolex Datejust
Baton hands are the most common type of watch hand. They’re also called stick hands, and they’re used for hours and minutes. Baton hands have a long stem that connects to the center of your watch face, which allows them to move around as time passes. Baton-style watches are often referred to as traditional ones; however, many modern designs now use this style too!
If you want something that’s simple yet elegant then this might just be right up your alley.
Breguet hour and minute hands on the Cartier Tortue XL
Breguet hands are thin and elegant, with a long, sharp point at the end of the stem. They’re often used on dress watches to complement their slim cases and Roman numerals. The style was named after its inventor Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823), who invented many innovations in watchmaking and one of the first ever wristwatches.
Breguet hands are usually paired with Roman numerals on a thin dial; this makes them very legible at a glance while still keeping an overall elegant appearance that makes sense on a dress watch. They’re also often referred to as Pomme hands as the round hoop near the tip resembles an apple.
Cathedral hands on the Zenith Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 Tourbillon
The cathedral hand is a variation of the classic skeleton hand. These large hands are often seen on military watches. The pockets or windows on these hands, often filled with luminous paint are thought to resemble the patterns of stained glass windows in cathedrals, hence the name.
It can be found in watches today from many different brands, particularly in vintage or retro-styled watches.
Dauphine hands on the Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle
Dauphine hands are a variation of Breguet hands, a traditional and popular style of hands. They’re usually found on dress watches and have an elegant look that can be used to add some style to your watch. These were the style signature hands of the 50s and 60s.
Dauphine hands come in many different styles but are usually triangular in shape and faceted. The title Dauphine comes from the title dauphin given to the eldest son of the French king.
Feuille/leaf hands on the IWC Portofino
The feuille or leaf hand is a popular French style of hands, and it’s often used in watches with a small seconds subdial. The shape of this type of hand is a wide middle with tapered ends that meet the dial and the center. This makes it easy to see where it points on your watch face so you can tell what time it is at a glance.
Despite the leaf name, they seem to be inspired by the human body as well as a simple leaf. The graceful, slender shape can add an elegant feel to any dial.
A lollipop-style seconds hand on the Omega Seamaster 300
Simply elegant watches play with symmetry and lollipop hands mimic the basic symmetry of the circular dial. The elegant, but functional hands are broad enough for the application of luminous paints. The hour and seconds hand sports a circle decoration near the tip to allow for perfect low-light identification, as well as an easy way to quickly glance at the time with great recognition.
Look for lollipop hands on the popular Omega Seamaster, the vintage Tudor Submariner (ref. 76100), and the inaugural Rolex Explorer II ref 1655.
Rolex GMT Master II 126711 “Root Beer” with a Mercedes hand
The name derives from the three-pointed star that adorns the hour hand. It resembles the Mercedes-Benz logo, yet it has never been confirmed if Rolex created these hands in a nod to the famous car brand. If there’s a relation, they never revealed it.
No matter what the origins are, the larger area to apply luminous paint to makes these hands a great option for extra low-light readability. It also helps distinguish the hour hand from the minutes at a glance.
Snowflake hands on the Tudor Black Bay
These hands are distinctly unique to the Tudor brand and can be easily seen on the Tudor Black Bay. The wide hands are popular on their dive watch line and provide an excellent base for luminous paints as well. According to the brand, the design was requested by the French Navy to make the hands more legible while diving.
Syringe hands on the Patek Philippe Grand Complications
Syringe hand’s name origin is obvious if you look at them. The wider middle gives a great base for luminous paints for low-light readability and the elegant needle-like tip points to precise times on the dial. These hands can be considered a high functioning elegance for any watch face.
Sword hands on the Cartier Ballon Bleu
Sword hands are long, thin hands with a sharp point at the end. They’re usually used for seconds or other small subdials, but they can also be used to indicate chronograph functions.
Also named Glaive in French, sword hands are shaped very similar to the blade of a sword. It’s a popular hand style on Cartier and Patek Philippe watches.
Watch Hands: Final Thoughts
Now you know how different and effective the hands on your watch can be. Will the natural elegance of the vintage Breguet hands pull you away from the bulkier but distinctive cathedral hands with stained glassed window stylings? Or will you go for the function of the Mercedes or Lollipop hands for quick and easy recognition under any light conditions? The options are almost endless.
Consider the grace and functionality of different watch hands as you look at our vast selection of watches available at SwissWatchExpo.com.