One-Hand Wonders | Swiss Watch Gallery
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One-Hand Wonders

THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF SINGLE HAND TIMEPIECE

At first glance, single-handed watches may seem like an oddity. After all, the very notion of modern timekeeping revolves around the use of two hands on a dial depicting hours and minutes. The single hand watch was in fact the norm back in the 16th century, and now it seems it’s making a quiet comeback with a number of brands recently introducing single hand timepieces. This single-hand renaissance is more than just a gimmick – it’s a tribute to mechanical timekeeping in its purest form. We decided to travel through time to trace the evolution of the single hand watch.

THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF SINGLE HAND TIMEPIECE

At first glance, single-handed watches may seem like an oddity. After all, the very notion of modern timekeeping revolves around the use of two hands on a dial depicting hours and minutes. The single hand watch was in fact the norm back in the 16th century, and now it seems it’s making a quiet comeback with a number of brands recently introducing single hand timepieces. This single-hand renaissance is more than just a gimmick – it’s a tribute to mechanical timekeeping in its purest form. We decided to travel through time to trace the evolution of the single hand watch.

Inspired by the Sundial

Timekeeping in its rudimentary form was the sundial, which depended on the movement of the sun to keep track of the day. The earliest form of mechanical time measure with a single hand can be traced back as early as 1350. You’ll find best example still standing at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy, built in 1353 by a local watchmaker. In the 1600s, as the mechanical watch industry was taking shape, watchmakers relied on a single hand to measure time, which was the norm on all mechanical clocks, pocket watches and tower clocks of that period. Technological advancements in and a need for more accurate forms of measuring time however resulted in the creation of two-hand movements to measure both hours and minutes.

Still Ticking Over Time

As the watchmaking industry focused its efforts on two-handed mechanisms, the single-hand watch did not fade away completely. Many were still drawn to the minimalist look and approach to timekeeping. Brands such as Breguet continued to make pocket watches with single hands in the 1800s, all the while improving on the complex movement for time reading precision as well as long term reliability. Over the course of history, single hand watches continued to tick on but they never achieved the same levels of success as their two-handed counterparts in the world of horology. Nevertheless, watchmakers never fully closed the book on the concept of the single hand watch.

The Revival

Over the course of the last decade, the watch industry has seen single hand timepieces making a comeback. Driven by consumer demand for unique models, the one-handed watch is slowly achieving a small revival. Several watchmakers have begun designing and producing single-handed timepieces as their staple offerings, whilst traditional houses such as Breguet, Jaquet Droz and Vacheron Constantin have also added single hand models to their collection. 

It starts with the eye-catching case: with the typical notches on the bezel, its contrasting satin and polished surfaces and its artfully shaped lugs, it offers – from the very first glance – a compelling blend of sportiness and elegance.

Breguet produced a highly-limited wristwatch based on the Souscription pocket watch some years ago. The Breguet Rothschild 7010 Souscription was a commissioned piece produced in 18k yellow gold, equipped with an enamel dial and a self-winding movement with hour and minute indication.

 

 

Jaquet Droz is another watchmaker that has several one-hand models within its collection such as the Astrale Grand Heure. Offering a clean and minimalist design with a striking black enamel dial, the 18-carat red gold case houses a self-winding mechanical movement with a power reserve of 68 hours.

The Philosophia by Vacheron Constantin is also a prime example on how stunning a single-hand watch can look. A commissioned number by Atelier Cabinoteirs, the manufacture’s special-order division, the timepiece combines a 60-second tourbillon at 6 o’clock with the central hour in a 24-hour display and a moon phase on the left. The Philosophia utilises a modified version of Vacheron’s Calibre 2755 movement.

Although mostly custom-built examples, the single-hand watch is slowly carving out a following for itself amongst watch collectors. A quick search online will surely produce some interesting choices, especially for those who want a timepiece that will stand out from the crowd.