Styles Of Watch Hands And Who Does Them Best — Part Two: From Mercedes To Sword With Rolex, Cartier, Kikuchi Nakagawa, And More
In Part One of this story, we made some pretty bold claims, such as Grand Seiko making the best dauphine hands out there. I’ll still stand by that, and just as Part One described the A–D styles of watch hands, this time, we delve deeper into the alphabet and some quirky categories. For some reason, the Spade category is the last one I thought of, and it happens to be my favorite.
These categories are not set in concrete. Some of you might even dispute the fact that Plongeur is a separate category. They are, in fact, a mixed set of baton and sword hands used for a pretty-iconic dive watch. And who, exactly, are the progenitors of the enigmatically named Obelisque style? Read on, Fratelli, and let some unfamiliar styles of watch hands point the way.
Do Mercedes hands make the Submariner what it is?
One should think so, based on the hundreds (thousands?) of homages, copies, and inspired hands out there. Yes, they only belong on a Submariner or GMT-Master. Such is the power of Rolex. So much so that this design, unlike any other sword, feuille, or arrow hand, will make you shout “copy!” or “homage!” if you see them on any other watch. They do, however, cheekily also appear on a number of Tudor Subs from back when the Tudor actually had Rolex markings on the case back. Why are they called Mercedes hands? Because the round end of the hour hand has a pattern that indeed resembles the encircled star of Mercedes-Benz fame.
Obelisque hands on the iconic Fifty Fathoms
To be truthful, I have someone else to thank for this. I would’ve called the hands on the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms hands sword hands without a second thought, but look closer. The shape of the minute and hour hands on the diver’s icon is more complex. With a swoopy shape that curves out with a center fold at the tip, I do sort of see the resemblance to an obelisk. And like a few other hands on this list, their complexity and association with one of the top three dive-watch icons make them rather special. Their broad shape makes for a big area of lume as well, even if not many of these now-expensive Blancpains ever make it down to more than pool depth.
Plongeur rhymes with Ploprof
OK, they don’t actually rhyme, but there’s a reason Seiko modders use the word “plongeur” (French for “diver”), and it’s attempting an homage to the tool-daddy Omega Ploprof. The Omega beast makes the new Seamaster Ultra-Deep seem like your first Swatch and the Rolex Sub a dress watch (well, it kind of is these days). This is a steel brick of legends, made from the same warmer, more corrosion-resistant 904L steel that Rolex attempts to monopolize. I still envy RJ’s holiday shots where he insouciantly flaunts his massive tool (watch!) like it was a 35mm Casio, and I have one on my list. The “plongeur” term comes from the odd match of the small hour hand — here, cricket-bat-shaped — with a massive sword hand in a cheerful orange. Why? Because on a dive, your minutes matter, man. You don’t want to stay down there too long and run out of air!
Skeletonized sword hands belong on a Seamaster Professional 300M
This is indisputable, even if I have an ambivalent relationship with them. There is a reason there are too many Omegas in these two stories, and it’s not just because Fratello and #speedytuesday are inseparable. It is merely because Omega, with its studied wristwear evolution, has so many textbook examples of design principles put into practice. And yes, the Seamaster Professional 300M would not be the massive hit it is with any other hands. Like the evocative waves on the dial surface, the broad swords with their round lume pips are just right. I’m not sure I love them, but that white-dialed version sure looks crisper than fresh snow in February. And how about that lush green?
Syringe hands — Do they only belong on a pilot’s watch?
Feel free to start a massive discussion in the comments section, but I believe the majority will be on the aviator-inspired side. The straight hand that tapers into a fine pointed needle is a design we know from pilot’s watches like the Sinn 103 and the Blancpain Air Command. But have a look at the cheeky hands on the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe series. That is a bonafide dive watch, yet those cubist syringe hands look perfect on the dial. So when many of us associate the needle-prick perfect indication of a syringe hand with a German Flieger chronograph, the Blancpain might surprise you.
Snowflake hands — Too big or just right?
Our photographer Bert hates snowflake hands, and I think it’s because they are big enough to obscure many a sharp dial detail. There is no need to explain the snowflake-associated look, and I love them. While the hype of the Black Bay Fifty-Eight eventually made me sell mine, I still have a pang of regret. Tudor’s paddle-sized odd diamond-shaped hour-hand tip looks like nothing else in the world of watches and pairs up with an equally fun matching seconds hand. And that, my friend, is a stroke of marketing and branding genius, even if the shape was made for high visibility in a late-’60s dive watch.
Sword hands on a hyped-up Cartier are just right
Yes, Cartier is the brand du jour in 2022, and it’s a dressy one. Surely, sword hands are big, tough hands for a tool watch? Well, yes and no. With a change in size and color comes flexibility — just check out the Tank Solo (that I want!). While the sword hands on a Seamaster Professional 300M are skeletonized weapons, on a Tank Solo, they are delicate, sharp, and beautifully colored. The tint of heat-blued hands will add an extra dimension to any dial, and on a crisp silvery-white Cartier dial, they are just right. And yes, they happen to match the blue cabochon crown. They are angular with a slim base, widening out and ending in a sharp sword tip. A textbook example if I ever saw one, and on a dress watch at that.
Spear hands and the infinite charm of hand-finishing
Well, to be more precise, these are Assegai spear hands, and Laurent Ferrier is the name of the game here. To be truthful, Laurent Ferrier’s hands are, in essence, feuille hands but taken to their sleek extremes. It’s only fair that Ferrier has appropriated the term Assegai to denote the intense perfection of their slender hands. In Africa, the assegai is a well-known hunting spear used by the mythical Zulu tribe. It only takes one look at any Laurent Ferrier dial like this fresh green version above to see my point, and it is a sharp one (pun intended). Hand-finished, elegant, and just as brand-defining as a lumed set of snowflake paddles, though they seem almost grotesque next to these ballerinas.
Spade hands on a high, hand-finished, Japanese level
Aside from Laurent Ferrier’s Assegai spears in their infinite sharpness, these watch hands are my favorites of all time. Boy, doesn’t that sound like a bombastic statement, but take a look. The black-dial Murakumo, one of the two watch designs produced by Kikuchi Nakagawa, is nothing if not sublime. Yes, we can all see the touches of classic Patek and Vacheron in the proportions. The style is timeless, but how are those spade hands so smooth, almost glass-like?
The duo of Kikuchi and Nakagawa use the famed black-polishing technique for their 38mm cases and hands. Yes, you’re right — this is time-consuming manual work usually confined to smaller surfaces like screw heads. Suffice it to say, the results are stunning, with mirror-like reflections even beating Zaratsu (yes, I said it). Of course, the spade hands are referred to as such due to the flourish of the hour-hand shape. With Kikuchi Nakagawa, it takes on a three-dimensional path of its own. When I started this final paragraph, I suspected I might have overplayed my hand. But no, I’m standing by my favorite hands of all.
So, my dear detail-obsessed Fratelli, what do you think? Did I miss an important sub-genre of hands to you, or did I surprise you with new pointy delights? Let us know in the comments. But don’t be starting any big arguments, though. This is actually quite a subjective article, not the lexicon of hands.
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