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It's just a matter of curiosity, but I find hard to justify why every single watch keep the hour hand below the minute one; from a user perspective, it seems a poorly design decision for those times when they overlap the hands.

Some manufacturers – notably Rolex with its Mercedes-like symbol – even added larger stuffs to the hour hand to be seen when such occurrences happen.

I suppose it may be done to simplify the internal gears, but I also suppose that by placing the hour-minute-seconds hands in a reverse order shouldn't be a problem…

IMO, a more reasonable user experience should show from top-to-bottom: seconds, hour, [GMT], minute hands. Isn't this achievable ?

Can someone satisfy my curiosity ? :)

Thanks in advance!

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  • $\begingroup$ The "user experience" is that all three hands are essentially in the same X-Y plane, so the actual stacking order is irrelevant. The overlap instances are handled either by having the hands' widths drastically different and/or different colors. $\endgroup$ Aug 13 '18 at 19:31
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At current time - probably only tradition.

The origin would be historical, when original single-hand clocks gained the minute hand. There would be existing, prior clockwork near the (back side of the) face of the clock, just where it was originally, and then new clockwork would be built, to propel the new hand, placed further back from the face.

And if you propel an axis-inside-axis transmission, the inner axis must extend further from both ends of the outer (tubular) axis and can be propelled on the extended part. So you have the tube reaching to the hour work, and the inner axis reaching into the new gear on top. And so, the hands on the opposite side follow, hour hand attached to the shorter tube axis, minute hand on top, on the longer inner axis.

Since there was never really any significant reason to challenge this, and the clockmaking industry is quite conservative and traditional, it wasn't changed. A minor argument might be the amount of friction (and so, frequency of need to wind the clock/watch) - the faster hand only moves against one surface, the slower is working between two - but that's a really minor issue.

Sure it could be done. It would most likely involve mirroring the clockwork against the plane of the clock face (or just moving the face to the opposite side) and switching the roles of the two axis (plus obvious minor diameter adjustments. At current time though... an LCD screen displays both hands on the same plane.

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  • $\begingroup$ For a pendulum clock, the current arrangement is the logical one with the pendulum and escapement at the back, and the reduction gearing working in stages from back to front. For a spring powered clock, the spring barrels are large, so again the only real places to put the escapement would be right at the back or right at the front of the clock case, and "at the front" doesn't work when you try to fit everything else in the design together. For example you can't have anything blocking the winding key from reaching the spring barrels. $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Jul 1 '20 at 18:53

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