Posted by Jason Swire on June 29, 2020
Time can be a difficult thing to keep track of when working from home, despite being surrounded on all sides by digital clocks. Days of the week tend to blur together, a work-life balance becomes increasingly ephemeral, and daily rituals that once took place in clearly defined timeslots are now cut adrift like loose flotsam in our schedules.
Take shaving, for instance. Once upon a time pre-COVID, I seem to dimly recall doing this every morning (okay, okay, most mornings), while now I only take the time to shave when I need to go out, before a work video conference, or when my partner fails to appreciate the free exfoliation when I try to kiss her.
Precision timekeeping in such an environment seems to be less valuable than it once was. Therefore, in the words of comedy legend John Cleese, “and now for something completely different!”
The MeisterSinger No. 1 is definitely not your ordinary wristwatch. Gone are the hours, minutes, and seconds hand we’re all accustomed to using to tell the time, replaced with a single hand that instead provides an approximation of the time. Each marker along the dial circumference represents a 5-minute interval, with the slightly elongated and bolder markers indicating 15 minutes have passed since the previous hour.
This allows for the wearer to tell the time in an imprecise but also very colloquial way at a glance. In the image above the time being displayed is 10:30, but if asked for the time we’d usually reply “it’s about half-past ten”, a conversational informality that the No.1 is uniquely suited to.
MeisterSinger watches defy the broad categorizations that we normally apply to wristwatches. The No. 1 is not really a dress watch in the traditional sense with its bold double-digit Arabic numerals, although it would do such a role justice. Nor is it a sports watch, although with 5 ATM water resistance it is quite capable of surviving a dip in the pool or a day on the beach.
It’s certainly not a pilot’s watch, although it bears a passing resemblance to one thanks to strong legibility and use of negative space on the dial. It features no complications, no luminescent hands or markers, and it’s not even automatically wound; the No. 1 uses a Sellita SW 210 hand-wound movement that the wearer will need to manually rewind every other day.
Despite all this, or perhaps because of it, the MeisterSinger No. 1 has been decorated with numerous accolades, including the Red Dot Design Award, the iF Product Design Award, and the Goldene Unruh (“Golden Balance” in English), an annual competition run by German watch magazine Uhrenmagazin. Glancing at the dial it is easy to see why, once we conquer our immediate instincts of trying to figure out precisely what time it is.
The use of double-digit numerals here is an inspired choice, making every hour indicator equal in size and dial presence. There are no awkwardly-placed date windows to disrupt the harmony of the design, and lacking a traditional handset means there is no need to make the hour and minute hand visually distinguishable (and consequentially unbalanced).
A good example of this is Tudor’s “Snowflake” hands, which were designed for maximum legibility in poor-visibility diving environments. They meet this criterion with aplomb, but that hour hand ends up dominating the aesthetic as a result and looks a tad unwieldy next to its slender minute and seconds hand siblings.
The brand name MeisterSinger (German for “master singer”) draws inspiration from a guild of lyric poets and composers from the 15th and 16th centuries whose art was particularly popular with the middle classes. The No. 1 definitely seems to be an artifact of such a period of history, when tower clocks would announce the time to the nearest quarter-hour with a single hand, clearly visible at a distance throughout the town.
The MeisterSinger logo is based on a sheet music notation called a fermata, used to indicate a pause of unspecified length on a note, with the exact duration left to the discretion of the performer. These concepts are easy to see embodied in the No. 1, a watch that makes you view time more casually and encourages a decelerated pace to daily life, no longer counting the seconds or minutes each task takes and instead, pausing to take your own time and doing things at your own pace.
The No.1 is available in two different case sizes, with the larger version measuring 43mm in diameter and the smaller version measuring 40mm. Both share the same thickness at 11.5mm, and feature 20mm lug spacing for easy aftermarket strap replacement should the owner so desire. Four different colors are available across these two versions.
It should be noted that the 40mm versions also feature a sapphire case-back, displaying the well-finished Swiss Sellita SW 210 calibre without any winding rotor to obstruct the view.
Aesthetics aside, I would opt for the 40mm version as a purely practical consideration to make it easier to tell if the watch is wound; lacking a second hand ticking away I want some sort of visual indicator that the thing is working, and a quick glance at a display case-back to see the hairspring oscillating will serve that purpose and give me a good excuse to admire the movement finishing at the same time.
Pricing for the No.1 is about $1,700 USD recommended retail, but according to WatchCharts analytics, it can be purchased between $487-$909 on the used market.
An argument could certainly be made that a grand is a lot of money for something that is certainly not a tool watch in any sense of the word. You cannot easily justify this expense by telling yourself it will serve as a capable timekeeper; by its very nature the No.1 is imprecise, and the general arguments against mechanical watches in favor of quartz or digital clocks are amplified when you’ve only got one hand to tell the time with.
You don’t get a date display, you don’t get a chronograph, or a dive watch bezel, or crazy water resistance. What you do get is a deliberately anachronistic product, recalling its owner to an earlier era and encouraging a more relaxed view of time and how it’s spent.
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