Hands are absolutely indispensable in every watch because they alone endow anonymous time with perceptible form. Their motions indicate progress, which is usually experienced as relative. No explanation of relativity is more apt than Albert Einstein’s quip, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”
Humanity’s most precious commodity results solely from the relative positions of the hour hand and minute hand. But a timepiece’s hands can do much more. They can indicate the duration of elapsed intervals, the date, the day of the week, the month, the leap-year cycle, and sometimes also the moon’s phases. Some even show how late it is this moment in New York or Tokyo. Hands are also extremely varied with regard to their shape, material, coloration, and naturally length and proportions. When watch manufacturers rely on readymade hands, they have basically no other option than to design the dial to match the available hands.
“Time does not change us. It just unfolds us.”
The better method, of course, is to begin the design process by harmonizing the dial and its hands. The first step is to fundamentally consider what sort of hands would match the design of the nascent wristwatch. Hundreds of different styles have been created during the long history of timekeeping, and a few examples are poire hands with their pear-shaped tips; Breguet hands, which culminate in a small pierced disc; skeletonized hands; rhombic dauphine hands; and filigreed gothique hands. Many watch manufacturers use hands in individualized shapes as an instantly identifiable feature.
Diversity also distinguishes the spectrum of materials. Galvanically finished or lacquered brass traditionally ranks among the most frequently used materials. Blued steel embodies special value, while solid gold and platinum signify understatement among the finest luxury watches. Other substances include bronze and Pfinodal®, a copper-based alloy that’s well suited for a chronograph’s hardworking second hand.