This is the second part of our guide on watch hands. Here, we focus on the design evolution of the late 20th century - the space age and industrial design era. Watch hands are an integral part of the overall appearance of a timepiece, a detail that can come in various shapes and styles. Over the years there has been an evolution of different styles, each re-interpreting and defining the contemporary taste.
October 08, 2021
The Ultimate Watch Hand Guide - Part II
Marcus Siems @siemswatches
Collector, Author, Data Analyst
Watch hands are an integral part of the overall appearance of a timepiece, a detail that can come in various shapes and styles. Over the years there has been an evolution of different styles, each re-interpreting and re-defining the contemporary taste. This is the second and conclusive part of our guide on watch hands. Here, we focus on the design world of the late 20th century, of the space age and of industrial designs. As always this will not only be a description but I will quantify the popularity of each hand based on data I gathered from more than 4000 watch dials publicly listed on Chrono24.
Shape: Again, the name gives away the shape of this design. It is remarkably useful to apply large amounts of luminous material. Historically, it has been common that only the hour hand was shaped like an arrow with a dauphine-like minute hand. Modern examples though can feature both minute and hour arrow hands.
Distribution: The arrow is now definitely more popular than it has been in the last century; the annual market share never exceeded 4%. However, it seems to have been a popular choice for early dive watch examples in particular.
Popular examples: Omega Speedmaster CK2915, Seiko 6309-7040 Turtle, Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra, Nivada Grenchen Aviator Sea Diver
Arrow Hands: a style most commonly found on dive watches, which became particularly common around 1960. Photo @siemswatches
Shape: Baton or pointer hands are the most simplistic hands you can think of. They are literally a slim line and if they’re broad enough they might feature a small tip.
Distribution: The baton is an extremely common dress watch hand, with more than 25% of all dress watches featuring this style. Its minimalistic design has been valued all throughout history as this is potentially the only hand without a very clear peak in popularity.
Popular examples: Patek Philippe Ellipse, Vacheron Constantin Patrimony, Omega DeVille Tresor, Piaget Altiplano
Pointer Hands: the most minimalistic design with a preference for dress watches. Photo @goldammer.me
Shape: Index or pencil hands are another simplistic yet very common design choice. The index is slightly thicker than the baton such that it can contain luminous material. It shows a short tip and the index – as opposed to the pencil – has further a slightly slimmer base than body.
Distribution: The index is one of the most common styles of the 1960s and 70s (max. annual market share of 35%) but it stays a widespread choice until today. It has been especially valued for chronograph pieces but can be found on all different watch types.
Popular examples: Omega Speedmaster Moon Watch, Heuer Camaro, Rolex Oysterdate 6694, Panerai Luminor
Index Hands: the most popular choice of the 1960s and 70s with appeal up until today. Photo @goldammer.me
Shape: The stripe is a variation of the index hand. It is simplified down to a sole rectangular-shaped body without tip or base. During its beginnings the stripe has mainly been an exaggeratedly broad hand style that more and more got slimmed down to what you can for example see on most modern day Rolex pieces (non-sport watches).
Distribution: The stripe hand is the modern hand style with above 30% annual market share since the mid 1960s. It’s the manifestation of the modern sport and dress casual watch type (above 50% market share) and has been the go-to design for more than 50 years now.
Popular examples: Zenith El Primero, Rolex Datejust 1601, Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Master Mariner, Tudor Monte Carlo 7149
Stripe Hands: the sport and dress casual watch hand of the last 50 years. Its versatile interpretation makes it the perfect go-to watch hand design. Photo @goldammer.me
Shape: The watch hand named after one of the central figures of early watchmaking and its inventor, Abraham-Louis Breguet. It is shaped like a baton/pointer hand, very slim body, but with a hollow circle near the tip.
Distribution: It is almost funny how the Breguet hand shows up as one of the most recent styles. Originally one of the earliest styles dating back to the 18th century it apparently still impresses many watch enthusiasts with its archaic vibe. The Breguet hands have not been very common all throughout the 20th Century but have sparked new enthusiasm only within the last 30 years (max. annual market share below 5%). It brings out something truly anachronistic in watches and as ancient as this design seems, it has come to be a true comeback story.
Popular examples: Breguet Classique (and most modern Breguet pieces), Eberhard & Co Monopusher, Longines Lindbergh Weems
Breguet Hands: a fancy and archaic design, which has come to new appreciation in recent years. Photo @goldammer.me
Shape: In shape quite similar to the cathedral hand, the Mercedes tries to maximize the potential area for luminous materials. The hour hand has a barrel shaped base and a large circular area close to the top. This hoop is further subdivided into three segments giving it the resemblance of the Mercedes logo, hence the name. The minute hand is typically an index.
Distribution: Most people recognize this design as featured on the steel sports watch models of Rolex. However, it is not solely a Rolex design but can be found on many more recent watches and particularly on dive watch models (almost 60% total market share). As this design is closely linked to the divers of this world its trajectory over the years very much follows that of this watch type, increasing its annual market into the 1980s (max. annual market share 28%). Additionally, we also see that over proportionately many neo-vintage Rolex watches enter the secondary market, which adds to the most recent increase.
Popular examples: Rolex GMT Master, Rolex Explorer, Tag Heuer 1000 Professional, Omega Seamaster 200 Pre-Bond
Mercedes Hands: the prototypical dive watch and Rolex steel-sport watch hand of the modern days. A design with enough space for luminosity and iconic appeal. Photo @goldammer.me
As we can see, there has been a time and a place for every common watch hand style. Even though most of these styles can be found on many modern day watch releases their roots and their heritage dates back to specific points in time within the last century. Every decade has its own very distinctive ideas on how the hands on a watch should look like.
Hand Style Evolution: The relative market share for all 12 analyzed hand sets. We can see that every time period had its distinct hand styles.
Additionally, watch hand styles are not solely tied to time but to the watches purpose as well. There are certain hands traditionally associated to either dive watches or dress watches. The 1950s for example are a dress watch epoch and as such you wouldn’t expect sporty hand styles to be too prevalent. How popular a certain hand is, thus also reflects which watch type is hip. As we learn from time and past trends it is important to keep in mind that all these factors are interleaved; form follows function. It seems today we have entered a time in which there is a market for any type of watch and hence we can find so many of these classic hand designs enter the watch market again. So many great pieces feed from this design evolution. It’s a heritage inspired watch world and that is beautiful.
Side note: This guide is missing a few classic designs - prominently the spade, lance and snowflake hand sets. In the end I had to leave those out as there was just too little data (at the moment) to draw a conclusive picture about the distribution of those styles. I might be able to add them at a later time point. You can check the references for further info as well.
Check out the guides here:
 Watches from Chrono24, extracted 2020 Nov. 29th; Karlsruhe, Germany;
 The Hands of Time – A Guide to Names of the most used Watch Hands; Xavier Markl, Monochrome;
 Know Them Like The Back Of Your Hand: The Most Popular Watch Hands… Explained; Priyam Bagga, Ethos Watches;
 Watches 101: The 12 Most Popular Watch Hands; The Watch Index;
 20 Types Of Watch Hands; WatchRanker;
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