Guides Watches

Every Style of Watch Hands Explained

Breguet Classique Calendar 7337

From dive tool legibility to timeless flamboyance, we run the gauntlet of spears, arrows, swords, and other pointed ways of telling the time. If you love tool watches, your watch hands will be of the straight-cut functional variety, for good reason. And if you know your watch brands, the easily identifiable Mercedes and Snowflake hour hands only underline the strength of good design and brand identity. But have a look at the more frivolous takes on time-telling, including Spade and Breguet hands, and you might find a new love for dressy cool.

Alpha

A. Lange & Söhne Datograph

Often mistaken for the more ubiquitous dauphine hands, the Alpha design has a narrow base and becomes the fierce, long tip of a spear. You’ll find them debatably best represented on the impossibly crisp dial of an A. Lange & Söhne Datograph with a dab of lume. This slim-waisted hand design is also the calling card for the hot-for-2024 brand Parmigiani, with a particularly lithe skeletonised version on their Tonda PF.

Baton

Patek Philippe Nautilus 5811

Straight to the point (pun intended) and unmistakably function-forward, the straight-cut baton hands are charmingly honest. A functional creation of the 20th century, they sparked a mighty big debate when AP launched the Code 11:59, but the beauty is in the detail and finishing, so loupeup for a closer look. Our fave might be the slim, rounded cricket bat-shaped version on the graillicious OG Nautilus.

Arrow

Omega Seamaster

Yes, this is literally an arrow-shaped hand, sharp and unmistakable. It’s close to being an Omega trademark from the 1950s, very much visible in the modern Seamaster Planet Ocean series. You’ll also find it on the steel-bezel version of the Speedmaster Legend, a great neo-vintage entry ticket to Moonwatch lore. It’s a charmingly literal shape that makes for superb legibility, especially when offered with liberal application of Super-LumiNova.

Lozenge

IWC Mark XX

The lozenge hand’s diamond shape is an angular charmer, with thin ends and a wide, often folded center making for a distinct and recognizable shape. Lozenge hands can be found in a dressy blued variant on a Cartier Pasha or perhaps most known in a white matt lacquered and bold-lumed form in IWC pilot’s watches. Tool-tastic and the ABC of legibility paired with big Arabic numerals.

Breguet

Breguet Classique Calendrier 7337

The only watch hand design that has the mark of its maker, which says a lot for the influence of Abraham-Louis Breguet and his 18th-century brand. The complex swoopy shape of a feuille, or leaf, hand narrows in then surprises with a big circle followed by a needle-sharp end. Breguet has great form in keeping the flame alive on their 2024 watches, while dial mastermind Kari Voutilainen is known for his intricate interpretation of its curvaceous shape.

Cathedral

Oris Big Crown Waldenbergerbahn

On this list, the complex design of the Gothic cathedral-style hand is probably the least used of all these days. It’s thought to be inspired by the segmented design of stained-glass windows, with the bulbous end of the hour hand resembling a cathedral (see) cupola. The classic ranges of Montblanc and the evergreen Oris Big Crown are great examples of how to do it right, 2024-style.

Dauphine

Grand Seiko Heritage Collection SBGJ201

The sharp dauphine design has a tapered, diamond-like shape. A short, sharp point protrudes behind the center point, while the razor-sharp end often has a center fold. For us, the best dauphine hands around are the impossibly sharp, hand-polished versions by Grand Seiko. Go in with a loupe, and the Japanese obsession with detail becomes vividly apparent. When done right, a dauphine hand will reflect enough light from the smallest source to make low-light legibility possible without added lume.

Feuille

H. Moser & Cie Endeavour Centre Seconds Concept Lime Green

The organic shape of the feuille hand comes from the French word for leaf and offers a soft elegance to any dial. H. Moser’s minimalist Endeavour Centre Seconds range of no-index dials puts their soft and calming design in a well-deserved spotlight. A good feuille hand might have a slight fold in the middle and do look rather exquisite in an end-curved blued version.

Mercedes

Rolex Submariner

Mercedes hands look uncannily like the symbol of garage prowess, and they are a Rolex trademark. While Tudor might have a snowflake hand visible at ten paces these days, in the eighties and nineties, the Wilsdorf family ties were more visible. And Tudor Submariners were sporting the very same hour hand. And these days, just like driving a Merc, the Y-shaped symbol within a small circle indicates success.

Snowflake

Tudor Black Bay Chronograph

Reviving the big, bold, and divisively angular snowflake hand was part of the massive success that has made Tudor the hot wrist property it is today. The point (sorry) of the paddle-like expanse of the snowflake hour hand is more than brand-boasting, as the big contrast between the hour and minute hand allows for fast-reading clarity when the minutes count on a dive.

Obelisque

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms

The obelisque is an almost frivolously curvy adaptation of the traditional sword design by Blancpain for their Fifty Fathoms diver. Like a sword hand, it goes very wide before curving into a tip. This also has a distinct middle fold that undoubtedly makes the curvaceous design complex to produce. It is simply one of those brilliantly executed shapes that becomes inseparable from an icon, like the Mercedes tip on a Rolex Sub.

Plongeur

Omega Seamaster Ploprof 1200m Co-Axial Master Chronometer 75th Anniversary Summer Blue

Nothing says function over form like a set of plongeur hands. Visible on a thousand microbrands and Seiko SKX mods, they are irrefutably part of the Omega Ploprof legend. A brash, broad typically orange sword minute hand means serious diving potential when teamed with a smaller sword hour hand. The odd shape of the too-large minute hand is part of the life-saving pairing with the bezel, telling you how many minutes of air you have left below the surface.

Sword

Cartier Tank

Sword hands are shaped exactly like their more deadly namesake: slim at the base, becoming wider towards the end with a sharp tip. They often have a delicate fold running down the center, making lume application difficult unless you lacquer the entire hand or use a flat design. And we must say Cartier does a killer version, with their bright blue interpretation popping off a chic silver Tank dial.

Pencil

Panerai Luminor

Also viewable as a kind of sword hand design, the pencil does exactly what it says on the tin, resembling a straight pencil with a simple pointed end. A great example is the functional form of equal thickness hands on a Panerai Luminor, even if we secretly wish the brand would release a smaller, round watch for a change. Pencil hands are mostly found on sports watches, filled with lume or with a cheeky lumed end.

Syringe

Blancpain Bathyscaphe

Watch hand designs are quite literal in their nomenclature, the syringe design being a case in (a sharp) point. These are classic mid-century hands known from pilot’s watches, and are highly legible, while its impossibly sharp point allows for exact readout of minutes or seconds on the dial. A sharp and particularly angular example of the breed is found on the Blancpain Bathyscaphe series.

Spear

Laurent Ferrier Série Atelier IV Classic Micro Rotor Magnetic Green

A spear hand is like a feuille design but slimmer, elongated, and with a sharper tip. We’d be lying if we didn’t confess to a deep desire for the Laurent Ferrier Assegai spear design, with its impossibly slender interpretation. Just like the rounded shape of feuille hands and the complexities of Breguets, the slimmer they are, the more time-consuming the hand-finishing process, making hands a big part of the details that make haute horology stand out.

Spade

Kikuchi Nakagawa Murakumo

The spade hands are not that usual these days and are predominantly seen on off-center brands like Ulysse Nardin with their marine-inspired sports watches. Like a feuille hand, the hour hand will have a slender, sweeping shape, culminating in a spade-shaped end. By that, we mean the curvaceous playing card variety, not the garden implement. Stand-out ambassadors for this quirky design are Japanese independents Kikuchi Nakagawa with their delightfully perfect black-polished, rather sexy version.

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About the author

Thor Svaboe

As the sole Norwegian who doesn’t like snow or climbing mountains, Thor has honed his florid writing skills at Time + Tide, and is now an editor at Fratello Watches. This Viking would fearlessly go into battle under the banner of independent watchmaking, and his End Game watch would be the piece unique Greubel Forsey Hand Made 1.