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ALL ABOUT: One-hand watches

Tags: FAQ | Guides | Technology and concepts | Classic

10.1.2022 | 9 MIN

One-hand watches are definitely not usual. I would bet my whole watch collection that they will never be usual. Only few watch brands make these, which makes them an even more interesting alternative. They change the way we think about time.


Before learning how to read a one-hand watch, we need to grasp the main idea behind these watches. Why are one-hand watches made? Especially now, when watchmakers compete who makes the most precise watch, often trying to get to hundredths of a second? Or are they trying?

Philosophy of one-hand watches: Simply relax

"It's not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it." Seneca

It's crucial to answer one important question: How precisely do we need to tell the time in real life? Connecting this question with one-hand watches, most answers are that we plan everything important in longer time intervals.

An example would be going to the cinema. The film does not start at 18:23, but more likely at 18:30. When setting up a date or a job interview, you wouldn't say "at Time Cafe at 9:39," but at quarter to ten. And we could go on.

Your time is focused more on events rather than seconds and minutes when you own a one-hand watch. Your life is in our hands, not on the watch.

You might say that when you need to catch a bus, or that every minute of your work and personal life is filled to the brim with things to do, a watch without a minute hand, let alone a second hand, are useless in your life. In the watches' defence, there is a principle I called a "phone principle."

We all need to admit that we carry our phones everywhere all the time with us. We are surrounded by precise time. There's time on our kitchen appliances, scar dashboard, computers, public buildings... It's getting harder and harder to not know the time than to know the time.

"Time was created by people so that they know how long they'll be here and what it'll cost." Jan Werich (a famous Czech actor, loose translation)

Single-hand watches are also not the best kind of watch for a sport match. They're usually very elegant and almost ethereally graceful. It's better to wear a watch like this with a suit or a quality sweater than with work overalls at construction. It's also better to wear these at an event which supports the philosophy of this kind of watch.

The moon phase complication – The most breathtaking and unnecessary complication
The moon phase complication – The most breathtaking and unnecessary complication

Contemporary producers of one-hand watches highlight that you should feel more relaxed when you look on your watch. You should notice the truly important things. And I like this thought very much.

A good friend of mine says that we should do only what is either useful or what we like doing. And knowing him, he himself takes his advice seriously. Unlike me for example. Or maybe unlike you, too. We spend too much time doing something we don't want to do, something that wastes our time. But time is the only thing that belongs to us in this world, and which is the most precious.

"There are thousands of ways to kill time, but no one knows how to resurrect it." Albert Einstein

And how much time do we spend chasing the small things or thinking about what we wanted to do, but didn't have time to do it?

One-hand watches make you think about the truly important matters. About what we really want to do while we have the time. They make their owners feel the present more mindfully. And it's said that once you learn how to read them, you will understand the vanity of counting minutes and seconds.

How to read time: One-hand watch employing 12-hour principle

Reading a one-hand watch only looks difficult. In reality, a glance is enough to tell whether it's 8am, somewhere around lunch or 1pm. There is a bit more for telling the minutes. So how does it work, exactly?

1 –

1 – whole hour, 2 – half past, 3 – quarter to, 4 – five-minute interval.

The hand shows (most often) 5-minute intervals. If it's exactly at the hour marker 12, it's noon or midnight, just like we're used to with watches with an hour hand and a minute hand.

Každý index znamená 5 minut od vyznačené hodiny.

Every index means 5 minutes past the marked whole hour.

Every subsequent index means 5 minutes past the marked whole hour. We can say with confidence it's 12:05, 12:10, 12:15, ... till 12:55.

Aktuální čas:

Current time: 1:42 (roughly, but it's shortly before quarter to two)

Every quarter is also usually bold, which makes reading the clock easier. At the same time, since there is only one hand between two whole-hour markers, you take tell whether it's quarter past, half past, or quarter to with a quick look.

Každý index znamená 5 minut. Aktuální čas:

Current time: 10:18 (maybe 10:19 by now)

How to read time: One-hand watches employing the 24-hour principle

The principle of a one-hand watch employing the 24-hour principle is the same as it is with the 12-hour principle. The only difference is that the hand of a 24-hour dial completes a rotation only once a day.

Noon is traditionally placed at the hour marker 12, but at the usual hour marker 3 it's 9pm, at the hour marker 6 it's midnight. Conventional hour marker 9 is replaced by 6am.

The indices between whole hours usually show 10-minute-long intervals. All this is beautifully shown in this picture from Botta:

One-hand watches with 24-hour dial are therefore less precise when it comes to minutes. However, if you get used to this system, they easily show you what time it is, and which part of the day it is.

Suddenly, you see the whole day in front of you from a different perspective. And maybe, it's exactly this system of telling the time that most of us will find sufficient.

The flow of time is (seemingly, of course) slowed down. The hand travelling around the dial immitates the manner of the Sun travelling around our planet in 24 hours. The simplicity of this is genius.

This concept is certainly not for everyone, because not only is the system of second and minute hands different, the 12-hour system is also replaced.

Aktuální čas:

Current time: 15:40 (3:40pm)

Although this system might make someone relax, it can have the opposite effect on someone else. Since it can't tell the minutes precisely, there might be some situations when you need to know the exact time and looking at the watch could be rather stressful. However, sticking to my principle I call "I carry my phone with me at all times anyway," even this argument did not stand the test of time...


Your choices are the same as they are with watches with multiple hands. You can choose from a quartz movement and a mechanical movement (automatic or manual winding).

With the case of mechanical movements, producers most often opt for movements from brands such as ETA, Sellita and others that do not offer movement specially made for single-hand watches. The space for more hands is therefore hidden under the dial.

Strojek používaný u MeisterSingers založený na Sellita SW 210.

Movement used in a MeisterSinger watch based on Sellita SW 210.

However, some producers created their own in-house mechanical movements, which are made specifically for single-hand watches. In this case, a small retouch of some movement parts is needed to make sure the watch is precise and reliable. But this will affect the final price of the watch.

Strojek vyvinutý pro MeisterSingers Circularis.

The movement made for the MeisterSingers Circularis.

Short history of one-hand watches

We would instinctively say that the history of single-hand watches goes back to sundials, which told the time based on the single hand's shadow moving according to the Sun's rotation.

But the real ancestors are undoubtedly single-hand mechanical tower clocks, which were quite common until the 18th century.

There were many reasons for a single hand. Mostly, the first mechanical clocks were not nearly as accurate. A deviation of about half an hour on a daily basis was not uncommon. Reading the minutes precisely and accurately, when there was high chance of deviation of tens of minutes, would, therefore, be useless.

The main reason in their later use was readability. Tower clocks were the main source of telling the time for many people. Clocks, purposely put on high towers, had to be easily readable, and there was a risk of mistaking the hour hand for the minute hand. This way, there was only a single hand to read, and you could tell the approximate time more reliably.

Knowing the approximate time was enough for most people. Few professions needed to know the time precisely to the minute. Time was perceived in a different way, in longer intervals. It told people when to go to work, or how much time remained till sunset. But knowing the time to the minute, or to the second? People didn't need such accuracy.

Among beautiful examples of famous single-hand clocks, which you can admire to this day, is the clock on the northwest tower of Westminster Abbey in London.

Westminster Abby s věžními jednoručkovými hodinami. Zdroj: commons.wikimedia.org

Westminster Abbey with single-hand tower clock. Source: commons.wikimedia.org

The Abbey was built in 1245, but the east tower remained unfinished for a long time. This changed as late as the 18th century. The clock itself was made and fitted by the watchmaker John Seddon between the years 1738 and 1745. All three dials have only one hand, and this did not change even after a renovation in 1861, when the movement was replaced.

The background of the dials is black with elegant gilded Roman numerals, delicate floral pattern, and the hand itself is gilded as well.

Zdroj: www.mallardscollection.com

Source: www.mallardscollection.com

An even older one-hand clock can be found in Rouen, Normandy. The astrological clock Gros-Horloge from the 14th century is one of the oldest clocks in France. We could look for more clocks like this in Italy and other countries.

Jedny z nejstarších hodin ve Francii Gros-Horloge. Zdroj: rouen.fr

One of the oldest clocks in France, Gros-Horloge. Source: rouen.fr

Pocket watches were too made with only a single hand at first, but the reason for this was probably differnet from the reason for a single-hand tower clock or today's modern watches on our wrists. For example, one of the oldest watches in the world is the Melanchthon's watch from 1510, and it is thought to be made by the watchmaker Peter Henlein. The minute hand was becoming more common in the second half of the 17th century.

Melanchthon's Watch jsou nejstarší časově doložené hodinky na světě. Zdroj: commons.wikimedia.org

Melanchthon's Watch are the oldest watch in the world. Source: commons.wikimedia.org

The probably most famous single-hand watch was created by no other than Louis Breguet. He created the Soucription pocket watch in the 90's of the 18th century. Its owner paid a quarter of their price in advance, hence its name 'Subscription'.

Jednoručkové hodinky z dílny Abraham-Louise Bregueta.

Single-hand watch by Abraham-Louise Breguet.

It's not that he didn't make beautiful two- and three-hand watches at that time. The main idea, though, was to create simple, precise, and affordable watch. Thanks to having only one hand, the friction was bearable and the watch could have been repaired by any watchmaker. Its bigger diameter and only one hand made it easily readable, and its reliability and affordability made the watch very successful.

One-hand watches today

Even today, we can find single-hand watches made by well-established brand names. We can name art pieces by Vacheron Constantin, Jaquet-Droz, or Audemars-Piguet. However, you will not stop in your tracks because of lesser precision, you will stop to admire...

Audemars Piguet Millenary Frosted Gold Philosophique.

Audemars Piguet Millenary Frosted Gold Philosophique

I'd like to mention two best known brands of more affordable brands. The first one is German MeisterSinger, which you can find in our shop. It was only established recently in 2001, but their position on the market is unshakeable as they focus solely on one-hand watches.

The second one is Botta, also German. This brand has been making single-hand watches since 1986. This is thanks to Klaus Botta, who wanted to change his perception of time in the 80's. And so, he created the UNO BOTTA watch.

Model Botta-Design UNO 24 NEO.

Botta-Design UNO 24 NEO model

What's typical of both of these brands is that they are German, and that there is a Swiss movement ticking inside. And, most importantly, that both brands focus solely on one-hand watches. Another brand, not as well known, is the Scandinavian brand Seizmont, but they make also classic watches with more than one hand.

Who are one-hand watches aimed at?

The last question remains. The most difficult one. Why should you purchase a single-hand watch?

We went over one of the arguments, the antistress effect of one-hand watches, at the beginning. Another reason that comes up often is that it's the 'ice breaker' of conversations. People will most probably ask about them. Although buying a watch just to have a topic for a small talk doesn't seem like the strongest argument.

The strong arguments, though, are originality, elegance, and overall unusual aesthetics of one-hand watches. We choose our watches because of their design, and because they fit our style. But single-hand watches will find their owners. When the time is right.

So, are you ready to pause and take your time?


Watches mentioned in the article