X
Stay on top of all watchmaking news ! OK
×

This search is sponsored by Parmigiani Fleurier

Search in :
Sharp needles - Hands on

Sharp needles Hands on

They’re so omnipresent that you barely notice them. And yet, a watch wouldn’t be a watch without them. Here’s a hands-on guide to... hands.

It may be January of 2021, but an article about hands doesn’t always have to be about washing them! The hands of a watch can be a key part of its identity. In fact, hands are such an important feature of the watch face that, often, you don’t really see them.

Many choices, few suppliers

There are countless different styles available, but very few suppliers. They include Universo (founded in 1909, a European leader, now part of the Swatch Group), Fiedler (Switzerland’s oldest surviving watch hand manufacturer – its mother house was founded in 1848), Waeber HMS, Aiguilla SA, GVA Montres, MPI in Asia and La Pratique, which has been based in Morteau, France, since 1907.

Attention ça pique !

Quai des bergues Midnight in Geneva, PIlot Type 20 Blueprint, Memoris Superlight © Czapek, Zenith, Louis Moinet

A difficult year

These suppliers offer thousands of products, some standard, some less so. And, as you would expect, the public health crisis has not worked in their favour. “We predicted a decline of 18%, and we ended the year down 25%,” explains Laurent Waeber, Managing Director of Waeber HMS SA in Fleurier. The company works mainly for the Richemont group, but also for LVMH, Kering and some independent watchmakers.

Attention ça pique !

Grand Seiko 60th Anniversary © Grand Seiko

Time for a new economic model?

Other variables have affected the market. “We’re being asked to be more agile and reactive,” Laurent Waeber continues. “But that’s difficult when labour represents 65% of our costs. What’s more, Asia has become more competitive in terms of both quality and reactivity. In Switzerland, on the other hand, we have the ability to produce small batches of 300 or 500 units. In Asia, if you’re ordering less than 3000 units, they’re not even interested.”

Attention ça pique !

Endurance Pro, Capeland Shelby® Cobra 1963 Dan Gurney © Breitling, Baume & Mercier


Another positive factor for Swiss producers is single-batch orders. “There’s almost no repetition,” Laurent Waeber adds. “We get an order for a design, a single batch of a few hundred pieces, and the client moves on to something different. For us, that means we must be absolutely perfect from the get-go. That requires experience and savoir-faire, which we have, but that’s not necessarily the case in Asia.”

Timeless creations

Some hand shapes have remained virtually unchanged for generations. The classic example is the hollow apple shape, otherwise known as the Breguet hand. These slender blued hands feature a hollow circle near the tip. They remain a signature style for the Breguet brand, although they have been widely copied by countless other watchmakers.

Attention ça pique !

H5 © HYT

The same goes for the spear-shaped hands that, although they are not protected by copyright, are a defining feature of Cartier’s style, or the “Snowflake” hands used by Tudor. Other very popular designs include the leaf-shaped hands used by Frédérique Constant. Finally, in recent years we have seen a resurgence in the popularity of “cathedral” hands, often paired with vintage designs. These highly visible hands with their generous lume infill are a key element in the success of the Pilot watches produced by Patek Philippe and Zenith.

Attention ça pique !

Reine de Naples, Maillon de Cartier © Breguet, Cartier


Creative independence

Niche brands sometimes have trouble securing a source of hands, because their order volumes are so small. This has led some companies like Hysek to bring production in-house. Others still manage to find suppliers that are happy to fulfill small orders of highly creative products. This is the case for Ateliers Louis Moinet, who over the years have developed and refined their “dewdrop” hands. It also applies to the Roman hands that Czapek developed with Waeber HMS, “which have become a key part of the brand’s identity,” as Czapek CEO Xavier de Roquemaurel explains.

Attention ça pique !

Slim d'Hermès GMT © Hermès

Maker’s marks

If they don’t go as far as creating their own special shape of hand, many watchmakers imprint their identity on the seconds hand counterweight. The star of Montblanc or of Zenith’s El Primero, the T of Tissot and the B of Breitling, the cobra on the Capeland Shelby by Baume & Mercier and the nautical letter B for Breguet – these are just a few examples.

Attention ça pique !

Calatrava Pilot Travel Time, Slimline Moonphase Manufacture, Black Bay Bronze © Patek Philippe, Frédérique Constant, Tudor

There is also no shortage of different hand shapes – baton (Hermès, Nomos), skeleton (almost all of Greubel Forsey’s output, for example, or HYT, where they are coated with lume) – or finishes. Most hands are made of steel (which may or may not be blued), gold (at the higher end) and some showcase a special finish (Grand Seiko’s “zaratsu” polishing). The possibilities for artistry are endless, despite the diminutive canvas.

Brands

The Baume & Mercier watchmaking Maison has always had powerful emotional and celebratory connotations, while expressing watchmaking excellence in all its creations. Since 1830, it has embodied a...

Find out more >

Breguet’s archives, kept in Switzerland and in Paris, record the developments that have sustained Breguet watchmaking for more than two centuries. The firm is committed to remaining ahead of its...

Find out more >

From humble family beginnings Breitling grew into a major player in the world of chronographs and aviation instruments. At the dawn of a new era, the brand is poised for a legendary future.

Find out more >

Characterised by audacity and inventiveness, Cartier’s watchmaking history reflects a unique state of mind: “jeweller of kings and king of jewellers”. Its renown is bound up in the tradition of...

Find out more >

Czapek & Cie. harks back to the origins of one of the watch industry’s most prestigious names, which was born from the watchmaking skills of two Polish émigrés who sought refuge in Switzerland...

Find out more >

Frédérique Constant has made a successful business out of offering affordable luxury, experiencing growth rates well above the industry average. The owners have a clear mission to make fine...

Find out more >

From the very beginning, Grand Seiko has been pursuing the essential characteristics of a watch: precision, beauty, legibility. Its design reflects the unique Japanese sense of beauty. The brand...

Find out more >

“La Montre Hermès” has adopted an epicurean philosophy that values the creation of sober, contemporary timepieces.

Find out more >

The pioneers of “fluidic time” have become specialists in something that had long been thought impossible: combining mechanics and fluids in a wristwatch.

Find out more >

Ateliers Louis Moinet was born out of the passion of one man, and this is clearly to be seen in each of its creations. The Maison takes the concept of exclusivity to its height, producing only...

Find out more >

Patek Philippe enjoys outstanding renown and rare prestige, due to the constancy with which the Manufacture has applied its philosophy of excellence ever since it was founded.

Find out more >

Ever since it was founded, Zenith has been cultivating the ability to open up new horizons by assisting with some of the most remarkable human achievements.

Find out more >