Cathedral hands and field watches

With the impending completion of the Field Standard, I thought I'd do a little write up on the field watch style and its history. I've had a surprising number of people remark along the lines of, "oh, those Alpinist hands.." referencing the Seiko Alpinist (a great watch) as a design influence for the Field Standard. These aren't Alpinist hands, these are Cathedral hands. And they date back quite far.

An early field watch. Photo by Nathan Bress

An early field watch. Photo by Nathan Bress

In World War I, watches, by style, were largely pocket watches for males and tiny wristwatches for females. The wristwatch style was seen as "feminine" until the war broke out. The pocket watch became cumbersome, simply relinquishing a hand to operate your watch while in the gnarly trenches was costly and time consuming. Pocket watches soon became retrofitted with straps and thrown on the wrists of soldiers and officers, timing was essential for effective attacks. It was around this time, the wristwatch was seen as a legitimate style for males. Converted pocket watches became more common, as the war raged on more reasonably sized wristwatches were produced for combat.

A 1917 trench watch with a shrapnel guard. 

A 1917 trench watch with a shrapnel guard. 

One of the hallmarks of this watch style are the large, legible numerals, the addition of 24hr time being added a bit later. While there were many hand styles at the time, Cathedral hands were one of the innocuous choices for these watches, the large hour hand and slender minutes hand are easy to pick out and provide ample space for the addition of luminous material.

Looking back at Cathedral hands now, they could be described as classical, especially for the field watch style.

The Seiko Alpinist (engraved).

The hands on the Seiko Alpinist (Sarb017) could very easily be categorized as Cathedral hands, though I would make the argument that stylistically they have a bit of Seiko's re-imagination imbued within, a more modern and stylized take on the hand style. 

The Field Standard

The Field Standard has a very classically designed version of Cathedral hands, though with modern manufacturing they are able to have much more crisp and defined edges and a sharper overall look. Comparing with the Alpinist, you can see they are actually quite different, the Field Standard's hands actually sharing more in common with the early trench watches, from which the Field Standard draws from (as does the Alpinist).

Cathedral hands have seen themselves on many watches and watch styles over the decades, not just field watches. To me, the Cathedral hand is a hallmark of early field watches and is ultimately why it was chosen for the Field Standard.