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Single-hand timepieces in watchmaking history

Although you might consider single-hand watches pretty unusual or unconventional considering that most of the timepieces around us have at least two hands, mechanical timekeeping started with clocks of this type.

Without needing to go back to sundials (it is not our intention to write a history of time here), when ingenious watchmakers produced the first mechanical clocks, they used just one hand to indicate the time of the day.

Until well into the eighteenth century tower clocks had only one hand, which showed the full hour or the quarter-hour. This was not a big issue. In fact, while measuring time was already very important, the pace of life was definitely less frenetic compared to our days.

Moreover, clocks had to be readable in the distance and with just one hand there was not risk to make confusion between hour and minute hands.

With the development of more accurate clocks (the errors of the first tower clocks could be as large as a half hour per day), dials started to also show intervals of five minutes, then becoming usual for clockmakers to have not just the hand showing the hours but also a second one to show the minutes. Nonetheless, single-hand timepieces continued to be manufactured.

The history of watchmaking is rich of remarkable examples of single-hand clocks and watches. We list below a few examples of clocks and watches created in different ages.


Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy
Today the town hall of Florence (Italy), the building overlooks Piazza della Signoria with its copy of Michelangelo's David statue.


The clock on the tower’s facade was Florence’s first public clock. It was also the first public clock manufactured in Florence as well as the first mechanical watch. It was installed in 1353 by Niccolò di Bernardo, a Florentine watchmaker which designed the clock in his shop located on the street side of the building.



Gros-Horloge, Rouen, France
Installed in a Renaissance arch crossing the Rue du Gros-Horloge in Rouen (France), the movement of this watch was made in 1389, one of the oldest in France.


The clock was originally constructed without a dial being a mechanism meant to sound the bells on the hour, half-hour and quarter-hour. In 1409, a clock face was installed on the archway over a gate in the ancient Roman walls while the current archway and clock faces, were rebuilt between 1527-1529. The current dial represents a golden sun with 24 rays on a starry blue background. The phases of the moon are shown in the oculus of the upper part of the dial. The gouverneur de l'Horloge, or clock keeper, was responsible for its maintenance and lived in the small loggia next to the archway.



Westminster Abbey, London, England
The Westminster Abbey was built in 1245 and since then every royal coronation, with the exception of Edward V and Edward VIII, has taken place in this church.


The three neo-Gothic single-hand clocks with beautifully ornated black dials, gilded Roman numerals and one hand only were installed between 1738 and 1745, when both towers were completed, by the clockmaker John Seddon.



In 1797, Abraham-Louis Breguet, the greatest watchmaker of all time, created one of the most famous example of single-hand pocket watch, the "Souscription". Launched through a publicity brochure in 1797 and equipped with a special movement of great simplicity based on a large central barrel, it was sold on a subscription basis (hence the name), with a down-payment of a quarter of the price when the order was placed. Various models were produced, with different dials and gold or silver cases. The diameter was generally around 60 mm but a few were produced also with smaller diameters (including some at just 40 mm).

Breguet N.542, 62 mm, silver case with gold fillets, enamel dial, sold in 1800

Breguet N.1391, 57 mm diameter, gold-case, gold engine-turned dial, sold in 1805


Brands like Audemars-Piguet, Breguet, Jaquet Droz, Konstantin Chaykin, Speake-Marin, Vacheron Constantin and others still have or had in recent years single-hand models in their collections.

Created by Vacheron Constantin's Atelier Cabinotiers service dedicated to special orders, the Philosophia model, as named by its owner, combines a tourbillon at 6 o’clock with the central hour in a 24-hour display. If the owner wants to know the exact time at any given moment, he can activate the on-off slide of the minute repeater. The original idea was based on the postulate that mankind does not need to constantly know the exact time to the nearest minute.



Today, single hand wristwatches still have a large number of fans who are attracted by the unusual design of the dial, often a conversation starter.

In fact, design is one of the key factors behind the choice of our timepieces. At the end, as various surveys have demonstrated, most of the time that we look at our watch it is not to actually check the time but to simply observe the object.

German watchmaker MeisterSinger is recognized as the specialist in the manufacturing of single hand watches since 2001, when designer and entrepreneur Manfred Brassler founded the company in Münster with the goal of creating timepieces that, taking inspiration from the origins of watchmaking, could offer an alternative and charmingly simple representation of time.

Following the creation of its N° 01 model equipped with a fine needle point enabling the wearer to read the time to the nearest five minutes, MeisterSinger extended the research around single-hand watches and expanded the range to include more complex models that also show the weekday, the date, or even a second time zone, in most cases using open disks that allowed designers not to affect the "one hand" concept.

The MeisterSinger N° 01 presented at Baselworld 2001

The logo that appears on the dials of the MeisterSinger timepieces says a lot about the philosophy behind single-hand watches: it is a Fermata, the musical notation for a pause, as to suggest a more relaxed way to consider the passing of time.


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Time and Watches: Single-hand timepieces in watchmaking history
Single-hand timepieces in watchmaking history
Single-hand timepieces in watchmaking history. Although you might consider single hand watches pretty unusual, mechanical timekeeping started with single handed clocks. In 1797, Abraham-Louis Breguet, the greatest watchmaker of all time, created one of the most famous example of single-hand pocket watch, the "Souscription". German watchmaker MeisterSinger is probably the most famous manufacturer of single hand watches since 2001, when designer and entrepreneur Manfred Brassler founded the company in Münster. Single handed watches. One hand watch. Single-handed wristwatch.
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