Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Case for Better Watch Typography

Liz Stinson, Hodinkee:

Hermès’ approach to watch typography is unusually poetic. In reality, only a small and decreasing number of watchmakers go to the trouble of creating custom lettering for their dials. More often, watch brands use off-the-rack fonts that are squished and squeezed onto the dial’s limited real estate. Patek Philippe, for example, has used ITC American Typewriter and Arial on its high-end watches. French brand Bell & Ross deploys the playful 1980 typeface Isonorm for the numerals on many of its timepieces. Rolex uses a slightly modified version of Garamond for its logo. And Audemars Piguet has replaced the custom lettering on its watches with a stretched version of Times Roman.

Picture this: you sit yourself into the leather armchair that has sunken into the plush carpet on the jewellery store’s floor. You sip your complementary sparkling water as a staff member passes you a soft-lined box, inside which lays your dream watch, a Patek Philippe 5207G Grand Complications. This is among the finest examples of watchmaking and you have convinced yourself that it is worth its seven-figure pricetag. You lift it up to your eye and there you see it: Arial.

I’m not even joking — look at it. This watch has a tourbillon because of course it does, and the word Tourbillon is set in Arial of all typefaces. The calendar’s numbers also appear to be set in Arial and, to make matters worse, it appears to have been stretched vertically to fit, though it could be Arial Narrow. (Update: The numbers actually appear to be in a stretched Helvetica, so this watch has Arial and Helvetica on its face. Neat.) It is the same story across the Patek lineup, and it is a miserable detail in some truly fine work. Noted watch collector and typography enthusiast John Mayer would not be pleased.