How does a one-hand watch work?

Klaus Botta, 21.03.2019

Some insights from watch designer Klaus Botta

Time has fascinated people ever since they became aware of its existence. And ever since, people have tried to use time properly, to take time for themselves, to control time and not to waste time senselessly. With the invention of the clock, a way was found to present, measure and represent time.

Today’s technical possibilities make it possible to achieve an impressive level of accuracy. But is the greatest possible accuracy really necessary at every moment of our lives? This is precisely the question I asked myself over 30 years ago when I developed the first “modern” one-hand watch. My goal was to display the time in a clear and simple manner. The result was the UNO.

With this watch, only a glance is needed to see what time it is (roughly). For example, “shortly after ten” or “half-past seven”.

Figure 1: UNO one-hand watch showing “shortly after ten“ (left) and “half-past seven”

Easy if you know how: how do I tell the time on a one-hand watch?

A one-hand watch has only an hour hand. It was very much a conscious decision not to include a minute or second hand. The hour hand of a one-hand watch moves in just the same way as the hour hand in a conventional watch, whose position likewise indicates the time to within a few minutes, as can be seen in Figure 2: the UNO one-hand watch (left) and the TRES three-hand watch (right) are both indicating the same time of day – namely ten past ten.

Figure 2: The UNO one-hand watch and the TRES three-hand watch are both indicating the same time of day

From the precise position of the hour hand between the hour markings, it is possible to tell on the one-hand watch whether it is “shortly after ten” for example, or already “almost eleven”.

Figure 3: The UNO one-hand watch showing different times

Telling the time exactly on a one-hand watch

For more precise orientation, the UNO scale has three different types of line between each of the full hour markings: a thicker line to indicate the half hours, two thinner lines for the quarter hours, and a total of eight even thinner markings to represent each five-minute period.

Figure 4: The UNO scale with its subdivisions

These markings can be used to tell the time on a one-hand watch to within a minute. By contrast, a watch with an hour, minute and second hand presents three different pieces of information on a single dial. This allows the time to be told with a very high level of accuracy, if that is what is needed.

The motivation behind the modern one-hand watch

We describe the UNO as the “modern” one-hand watch because one-hand watches already existed in the past. Early church clocks also had just one hand. There were two reasons for this: firstly, such clocks were fairly imprecise in any case, and secondly, nobody needed to know the time exactly. It was quite enough to know that it was roughly five o’clock in the afternoon and therefore time to go home after a day’s work in the fields.

The growing technicization of our world is resulting in ever smaller subdivisions of time. As time-keeping becomes increasingly precise and absolute, people in the modern world are being forced to subjugate themselves to smaller and smaller units of time.

“UNO – humans as the yardstick for presenting the time”

Of course, there are certain situations in which it is necessary to know the precise time – like the departure time of a train, for example. However, in most situations in everyday life it is sufficient to know the approximate time. This idea was my starting point when I developed the UNO in 1986 – to use humans as the yardstick for presenting the time. Because the watch functions on a one-dimensional basis, it is much easier to understand.

As a concession to those situations in life when a more precise idea of the time makes all the difference, I developed a special scale for my one-hand watch – one that also shows the half hours, quarter hours and five-minute increments. With a bit of practice, this allows the time to be estimated to within a minute. This “optional precision” was not offered by those early church clocks.

For purists who take an even more global view of time, we developed the NOVA model a few years later. We call it the one-hand watch for “advanced users”. It features just 12 hour markings and intentionally does without this “optional precision”.

The reason for simplification

One good example of a simple indicator in everyday life is the speedometer in a car. And presumably nobody would ever consider adding a second hand to give an even more precise indication of the speed to the second place after the decimal point. On the contrary, a second hand on the speedometer would serve only to confuse and would make it harder to check one’s speed spontaneously.

In my opinion, it is just the same with a watch. Essentially, a single hand will always be easier and quicker to read than several. Why not give it a try! You will be surprised how quickly you get used to this simplified way of telling the time, and what a calming effect this reduced presentation of time will have on you.

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