Better Red Than Dead

When did watches start using red second hands? That should be easy enough to find out, right?

This question came up in a conversation with the Cruncher with the fewest opinions about watches, @Porthole . He was showing me this or that watch from the 1940's with red second hands. I told him that I use 1950 as the beginning point of the use of red second hands because I have never been able to confirm an earlier use.

To date a watch just by looking at a picture is usually inaccurate. Even the movement will only tell you so much. For example, an Adolph Schild 1287 was in use for two decades. I don't know enough about refinements to the movement to know either end of that spectrum. So, I also look for the shape of the indices, case shape, lettering, handset, and numbering.

Here is a Britix with syringe hands, Arabic numerals in a military style, and an A.S. 1287:

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Is this late 1940's or early 1950's? The move to red seconds appears to be concurrent with the move to center seconds which was largely driven by military spec watches.

The Swiss Federal Railways added a red second hand to its railway clocks in 1953. Red second hands were added in later railway systems. But, 1953 can't be the starting date. I know watches must have had red seconds before that.

I began to dig. Advertisements were mostly in black and white. They were of little use. I found that Omega put a red second hand on a Seamaster in 1950. Useful, but that just confirmed my priors. Some watch must have started this trend. The watch industry will always follow success (i.e. GMT's).

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(The dial, Dauphine hands, and the applied gold tone indices and 9, 12, 3, 6 tell me that this is 1950's.)

I found a Bulova Watertite that was dated 1949 on mybulova.com . Maybe, that is enough. But I can't find the beginning of the trend, which I assume is post WWII.

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(Dagger indices and even only Arabics place this in the 1950's.)

Most of @Porthole 's examples are more persuasive than mine as 1940's watches. This is off to get a new crystal:

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It has syringe hands and all of its Arabic numerals. My 1940's watches tend to have sub-seconds and gold or blued hands.

I haven't found the answer, so I put it to you Crunch Community. Which watch began the red second hand trend? Where is this esoteric knowledge?

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This is all very interesting to me, and I didn’t even know a red seconds hand was a thing before I read this!

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I like when you do these posts with lots of interesting information, then ask a question as if to crowd source an answer for some thorny problem. I just wanted you to know that we all realize you’re just trying to make us look dumb. We don’t mind, we love your posts, but we definitely know what you’re up to. 

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thekris

I like when you do these posts with lots of interesting information, then ask a question as if to crowd source an answer for some thorny problem. I just wanted you to know that we all realize you’re just trying to make us look dumb. We don’t mind, we love your posts, but we definitely know what you’re up to. 

I like to both ask and answer the question. This knowledge must be tucked in a book somewhere. I can’t find it.

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I would like to offer that the red hand could be a 1940s trope, but the problem is that I cannot prove it and I’m relying on both Dr Ranfft and the size of my watches as the logical explanation for the potential age. I’m happy should it be revealed that 1949 is the earliest we can go for red hands, so I’d be interested to know if the 28mm-30mm for a men’s watch extended further into the 1950s than I currently imagine. It would shift a couple of watches I own forward around 5 years in terms of age, which is ok. This is exciting stuff… 🥳

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cornfedksboy

This is all very interesting to me, and I didn’t even know a red seconds hand was a thing before I read this!

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This Tegra is the one we are kind of struggling with, it has an AS 1237 (17J version, and not the US import 7J, but could be for import into the US - go figure), but has the red painted on the arrow. Dr Ranfft on the movement had c.1950 for the movement example, but my seller said the watch was her grandfathers and he got it late 40s. This could be wrong…

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This Enicar I think is late 40s, and this Cyma with a cal.167ka I am almost certain is mid-late 40s. They have full red centre seconds, and I will confess I hadn’t really given it much thought until now, so yeah, this is quite fun as I offer nothing but what I know and the good faith of the sellers when I purchase. Most military styles around the 40s were still rocking sub-seconds; I know where I am with a sub-second, everything else is witchcraft. 

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Good read, thanks.

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This one might be from 1930. But who knows if the red hand is original?

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https://www.vintage-wristwatches.co.uk/watches-catalogue/archived-watches/rolex-watches-archive/1930-silver-cushion-vintage-rolex-watch/

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Well,  I wish I had 4 hands so I could 4 thumbs up to whoever it was that was first! 

Red Second hands are my Kryptonite!👍

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1926!  Or is it too good to be original?

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https://www.vintage-wristwatches.co.uk/watches-catalogue/archived-watches/rolex-watches-archive/1920s-9ct-rose-gold-cushion-vintage-rolex-oyster-watch-4372/

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I looked into the Rolex angle by combing through David Silver's "Vintage Rolex - The Largest Collection In The World". On page 123, there are two Oyster cased watches from 1929 with red seconds hands. So that would clearly show that Rolex was using the red seconds hand in the 1920s.

I also looked into vintage Vacheron pocket watches and it looks like certain of those used a red seconds hand as far back as 1900.

The earliest indications on wristwatches I could find from the 1900s used just the Red tip of the seconds hand, which it appears morphed into a full red seconds hand sometime later.

Still looking into my library for more images, but now it's time to go to bed...

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As a slight aside, the adoption for red or blue "12"s on early wristwatches is because they were often hunter movements in open cases, so when you opened the watch on the wrist the 12 wouldn't be where usually would be if you flipped it out as a pocket watch, and thus it helped to draw attention to it. 

Centre second hands would therefore (one would assume) be a different colour for similar reasons: here is something new, and now it is easy to read in difficult conditions depending on what you want the watch for? Before the 1940s, almost all watches had a running seconds hand located in a sub-dial, usually at 6:00, and this was due to the layout of a classic watch gear train - the fourth wheel; it's interesting to see Rolex with centre-seconds from the '20s and '30s, it's unusual. Anyway... I'm no further along than I was at 4am this morning.

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According to these fellas the first central seconds hand was the Zenith calibre 133 in 1947. So bare minimum red seconds hands are from 1947

https://grail-watch.com/2017/04/13/ever-ponder-history-purpose-seconds-hand-clock-watch/

Which is quite weird actually as I could have sworn some early Oyster Perpetuals had a central seconds hand

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Sinnguy

This one might be from 1930. But who knows if the red hand is original?

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https://www.vintage-wristwatches.co.uk/watches-catalogue/archived-watches/rolex-watches-archive/1930-silver-cushion-vintage-rolex-watch/

So, this may be something where Rolex is truly first and they don't take credit for it. Delicious irony that.

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ChronoGuy

I looked into the Rolex angle by combing through David Silver's "Vintage Rolex - The Largest Collection In The World". On page 123, there are two Oyster cased watches from 1929 with red seconds hands. So that would clearly show that Rolex was using the red seconds hand in the 1920s.

I also looked into vintage Vacheron pocket watches and it looks like certain of those used a red seconds hand as far back as 1900.

The earliest indications on wristwatches I could find from the 1900s used just the Red tip of the seconds hand, which it appears morphed into a full red seconds hand sometime later.

Still looking into my library for more images, but now it's time to go to bed...

I knew someone would have something more in books. We can't own all the watches, but books extend our knowledge.

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Scooby

According to these fellas the first central seconds hand was the Zenith calibre 133 in 1947. So bare minimum red seconds hands are from 1947

https://grail-watch.com/2017/04/13/ever-ponder-history-purpose-seconds-hand-clock-watch/

Which is quite weird actually as I could have sworn some early Oyster Perpetuals had a central seconds hand

That article is of dubious worth. It is as vague as I am. I think that they are saying that Zenith improved the second hand by moving it in the drive train. There were center seconds well before 1948.