The development of any watch calls for an approach tailored to the human body. These ergonomic rules apply to all aspects of watchmaking and play a determining role in the subsequent success of a model.
A watch is an aesthetic and technical object that is worn, experienced, read and handled day and night, whether at work or on vacation. It cannot forego a preliminary quest for ergonomics, meaning adjustments to human beings, their needs, their ways of operating, their respective sizes and even their weaknesses. This approach is a crucial factor in its success.
The main interface between a wearer and their watch is the strap or bracelet, the element that covers the largest surface and is in constant contact with the skin. One particular leather offers a wealth of advantages and Cordovan is indeed the only variety used by watch strap specialist Nomos. There is a strong trend for changing straps, but the fastenings have not followed. Hublot, Vacheron Constantin and Louis Vuitton have therefore created user-friendly fastening systems enabling changes at the press of a finger, without any risk of scratching. Metal bracelets involve even more stringent demands, since they must not pinch wrist hairs nor irritate the skin, but should on the other hand follow the curve of the bone and remain pleasingly supple. Audemars Piguet has achieved quasi-perfection in this respect : the inside of the Royal Oak bracelet is smooth and soft, its radius is suited to every wrist and its finishing is textbook stuff.
The case is the heart of the matter. Its aesthetic harmony depends on proportions that are largely determined by the movement inside. A 42mm-diameter Grand Complication model measuring 16mm thick will end up resembling a paving stone. Conversely, an ultra-thin watch just 5mm thick and 44mm in diameter will be saucer-like. Above and beyond how it looks when worn, the question of how it sits on the wrist must also be addressed, as Richard Mille has clearly grasped. Its often very thick and wide watches cling neatly to the wrist thanks to their arched profile that makes them eminently wearable.
Then comes readability. A broad dial opening is essential. A huge bezel and a substantial inner bezel ring reduce the legible space, which is tricky for customers who tend to become far-sighted with age. Other details detrimental to legibility include an excessive number of indications, overly bold fonts, poorly contrasting colors, undesirable glinting… In a nutshell, watch designers have their work cut out to provide clear information. A matt black dial with large white hands is as good as its gets in this respect.
HEART OF THE MATTER
One floor below, the movement also needs to be smartly adjusted to human requirements. The power reserve is an ergonomic factor and models with an autonomy of 72 hours and more can be easily worn for alternate periods without requiring time and date adjustments. These functions are handled via the crown, but the wearer has to consider how it should be positioned for the respective corrections. To avoid such issues, Richard Mille uses a function selector and H. Moser & Cie has devised the Double Pull Crown. However strongly it is pulled out, the sequence remains identical, beginning with the time-setting and followed by date-setting.
The crown must feature a diameter suited to the case, as well as to the human hand. If excessively small or smooth, it is hard to grip. If too large, it rubs against the wrist. Here too, the movement plays a role : a stiff mainspring can prove painful for fingers. With this in mind, Bulgari has endowed its BVL193 caliber with extremely soft winding. A long power reserve calls for dozens of rotations, which is why Bovet has devised a spherical differential that accelerates and smoothens the winding of its OttantaSei with its ten-day power reserve. The devil is in the details, and so too is the success of a watch.
The ergonomics of a watch need to be experienced on the wrist. Once that alluring photo has caught your eye, you need to check the watch out for yourself. How does it sit on your wrist ? Are there any annoying edges or angles that catch on your clothes or – worse – your bones (yes, it can happen !) ? Can you actually read the time ? At WorldTempus we test wear a number of watches each year in order to help you make informed choices on some of the latest models and this last point, the question of legibility, is the most important for me, since the primary function of a watch is, after all, to “tell” the time. Our tastes may differ, but comfort on the wrist is important to us all.