Many Rolex owners look down at their watches and see what appears to be a Mercedes Benz logo in the hour hands of their timepiece. This feature, now a ubiquitous characteristic found on watches from a myriad of different manufacturers, first made an appearance on Rolex sport watches in the mid 1950s.
The actual Mercedes Benz logo is a three-pointed star, with each point representing a different method of transportation: land, sea, and air. Some believe that Rolex chose a similar motif for the hour hands of their sport watches to represent the different environments that their sport lines were intended to conquer: Explorer (land), Submariner (sea), GMT-Master (air).
2014 Sea-Dweller 4000 Dial
Others believe that the Mercedes hour hand is an allegorical reference to British professional swimmer, Mercedes Gleitze. During her famous 1927 swim of the English Channel, Gleitze wore a Rolex Oyster on her wrist, which remained in perfect working order throughout the entire ten-hour long venture.
Rolex used Mercedes Gleitze’s attempt of the English Channel as the center of an advertising campaign that showcased the superior water-resistance of their Oyster case. At the time, many watch manufacturers made claims of water resistance; however, Gleitze’s swim provided the public with well-documented and irrefutable proof of the Oyster case’s ability to protect against water intrusion.
Mercedes Gleitze swam the English Channel and her watch was in perfect working condition after her accomplishment. (credit: Rolex)
To this day, Rolex continues to use Gleitze’s name among the marketing materials for their watches, and there are some that believe that the Mercedes-shaped hour hand on Rolex sport models is the company’s subtle way of honoring the British swimmer that holds such an important place in Rolex’s history.
Nothing Is Certain
Rolex has yet to confirm any of these theories; and in all likelihood, the shape of the hour hand is simply a functional design element. The divides that the “Mercedes” star makes in the open space of the hour hand creates a more stable area in which luminescent paint can be applied. Additionally, the three-pointed star within the hour hand helps visually distinguish it from the other hands and hour markers in low-light settings.
Mercedes hands allow for an easier way to determine the time in the dark. (Credit: Rolex)
It is very likely that the “Mercedes” style of hands found on Rolex sport models is actually the natural evolution models is actually the natural evolution of an earlier, but similar style of hands, known as cathedral hands. Cathedral hands can be found on a wide variety of timepieces from different manufacturers that significantly pre-date Rolex’s introduction of the Mercedes hour hand. It is quite possible that a cathedral handset was altered for legibility purposes, and in doing so, Rolex found themselves with what we have come to know as the “Mercedes” hour hand.
Given that Rolex has not released any official information in regards to the shape of the hour hand and its history of origin, various theories will continue. Regardless, the Mercedes hour hand is a cornerstone feature among Rolex sport watches, and its practical yet visually appealing design has proliferated throughout the entire watch industry.