On the one hand

 

The last of the five elements is the indicator, the part of the clock or watch that conveys the time.

Early clocks and watches typically only had a single, hour, hand.  This was more than adequate for indicating the time as these foliot-controlled timekeepers would typically lose or gain at least  quarter of an hour in a day.  Minute and seconds hands only became truly useful with the vast improvement in timekeeping that came with introduction of the pendulum in 1657 and the balance spring 1675.

Tambour cased timepiece, Germany, ca. 1550 - 1570 (British Museum No. 1958,1201.2203).  Note the touch pins at the hours, allowing the time to be read unsighted, perhaps in darkness or perhaps under the tactfulness of one’s robes

Tambour cased timepiece, Germany, ca. 1550 – 1570 (British Museum No. 1958,1201.2203). Note the touch pins at the hours, allowing the time to be read unsighted, perhaps in darkness or perhaps under the tactfulness of one’s robes

 

However, the familiarity, simplicity and economy of the single hand meant they never became obsolete.  Throughout the 18th century, pendulum-controlled longcase clocks with single hands were very popular in the provinces of England.

Dial of a thirty-hour longcase clock, Henry Payton, Bromsgrove 1754 (British Museum No. 2010,8029.62)

Dial of a thirty-hour longcase clock, Henry Payton, Bromsgrove 1754 (British Museum No. 2010,8029.62)

 

There were also some more interesting implementations of the single hand.  This balance spring watch has a six-hour dial, instead of the usual twelve-hour dial.  With only six hours dividing the circle it offers twice the resolution of a standard twelve-hour dial, thus going some way to making up for the lack of a minute hand.

A silver and tortoiseshell pair-case verge watch with six-hour dial, Francis Stamper, London, 1690-1700 (British Museum No. 1958,1201.481).  The dial requires the user to know which quarter of the day they are present in.  However, the basic concept is not unfamiliar - we all accept the standard twelve-hour dial which requires us to know the half of the day

A silver and tortoiseshell pair-case verge watch with six-hour dial, Francis Stamper, London, 1690-1700 (British Museum No. 1958,1201.481). The dial requires the user to know which quarter of the day they are present in. However, the basic concept is not unfamiliar – we all accept the standard twelve-hour dial which requires us to know the half of the day

 

 

Next, a single hand with a difference – it is telescopic.  The hand extends and retracts to follow the contour of the oval dial, allowing the time to be read clearly.  A fixed hand would fall short at the “XII” or “VI” positions, making it harder to read with accuracy.

Leather-covered silver pair-cased verge watch with extending hand by Bernard van der Cloesen, Hague, c.1700 (British Museum No. 1958,1201.56)

Leather-covered silver pair-cased verge watch with extending hand by Bernard van der Cloesen, Hague, c.1700 (British Museum No. 1958,1201.56)

The same watch, indicating a time neaer 12 o'clock

The same watch, indicating a time neaer 12 o’clock

 

 

Another form of single hand can be found on this Japanese pillar clock.  The pendulum controlled movement is at the top of the clock.  Below it, the single, hour, hand is directly attached to the driving weight  through a slot in the case.  As the weight descends over the course of a day, it indicates the time against the linear scale of numeral plaques on the case.  The plaques can slide, which allows their positions to be adjusted for the Japanese system of unequal hours.

Weight-driven pillar clock, Japan, 19th century (British Museum No. 1975,1202.1)

Weight-driven pillar clock, Japan, 19th century (British Museum No. 1975,1202.1)

 

Single handed watches continue to made by several manufacturers, such as this example owned by myself.  In practice, the time can only easily be read to the nearest five minutes (which is well within the capabilities of its modern movement).  However, I find that this is good enough (at the the weekends at least!) and it is a most leisurely way to follow the time.

Wristwatch with single hand, Luch, Belarus, c.2012

Wristwatch with single hand, Luch, Belarus, c.2012

 

 

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One Response to On the one hand

  1. Kevin Birth says:

    Interesting blog and one that makes the important point that the single indicator did not go away with increasing precision and accuracy in clocks. Another clock that makes this point, in a rather extraordinary way, is a French Revolution decimal clock made by Abraham-Louis Breguet that is in the Frick Museum in New York City. Breguet adopted a single indicator for both hours and minutes on his clock, but did so in a very unusual way by having a ring that marked the hours move relative to the indicator and a stationary ring that marked the minutes. In fact, every five decimal minutes, the hour ring moved one five minute notch in a counter-clockwise direction relative to the indicator and the minute ring. So as the clock ran, the indicator moved clockwise around the minute ring and the hour ring gradually moved counterclockwise. This clock is currently on display until March 9 as part of its “Precision and Splendor” clock exhibit. It can also be seen on the Frick’s website at http://www.frick.org/collection/collections/clocks. Browse the clock collection–the Breguet decimal is on the second page.

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