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Why the Heck Are These Watch Dials Crooked?

Every car enthusiast should know about this unique style of timepiece.

hodinkee vacheron constatine historiques american 1921 in rose gold
Hodinkee Shop

Behind the wheel, there are times that require intense concentration and your hands firmly at ten and two. If you're a race car driver, you might not even want to turn your wrist to check the time. It's this specific situation that justifies the somewhat odd-looking but very purposeful design of what's known as a driver's watch, and which has led to some of the funkiest watch designs ever made.

Chronographs made for motorsports timing and watches with racing themes for car enthusiasts are plentiful, but most don't qualify as "driver's watches" in the stricter sense. What defines this niche genre is a dial that, in some way or another, is oriented to face the wearer while his or her hands remain on the steering wheel. However, there are multiple approaches to accomplishing this:

The first is via a watch with a rotated dial orientation, so that the 12 o'clock marker is where 1:30 or 3 o'clock would normally be — resulting in a quirky asymmetric look compared to that of most watches. Taking the concept even further, however, there are driver's watches in which, rather than being parallel to the case, the dial's plane is actually tilted up at the 12 o'clock side for easier viewing. There are even watches with the dial situated more or less parallel to the side of the wrist.

Despite their seemingly eccentric design, these watches' offbeat looks makes them purposeful and interesting. Driver's watches were more common decades ago, and some were intended to be worn under the wrist (an example is the Omega Chronostop). They are rare today, but there have been reissues as part of the general trend of vintage-inspired styles, and some brands even offer a modern take on this largely forgotten concept. Take a look at some below.


Seiko x Giugiaro Speed Master


The Seiko x Giugiaro collab watches are all automotive-themed, and over the years many have used the driver's watch concept. They're some of the funkiest ever from Seiko (and that's saying something), but somehow very cool, and this most recently reissued Speed Master model from 2018 is a good example.

Diameter: 39.4mm
Movement: Quartz
Price: ~$370
Manufacturer info: seikowatches.com



Bolido Pure


You probably wouldn't know from looking at a Bolido watch head-on that its case is thicker toward 12 o'clock and that its dial tilts down toward the wearer. Bolido is a young, independent brand specializing in watches of this style, and offers one of the few such examples that are relatively affordable considering their Swiss Made designation and automatic movements.

Diameter: 43mm+
Movement: STP 1-11 automatic
Price: $745+
Manufacturer info: bolido.rocks


The Longines Avigation Watch Type A-7 1935


Based on a watch made for the military in the 1930s, the Longines Avigation Watch Type A-7 1935 has a tilted dial for the same reason that your standard driver's watch has one: to make it easy to read with hands on controls. It's meant for pilots rather than automobiles, but we'll let it slide for our purposes cause it's neat.

Diameter: 41mm
Movement: ETA A08.261 automatic
Price: $3,500
Manufacturer info: longines.com



Sinn R500 Bullhead Chronograph


Like the Bolido watch above, the Sinn R500 dial slopes toward the user. As a chronograph with crown and pushers at 12 o'clock, however, it takes on an established form referred to as a "bullhead." Bullhead chronographs were once more popular, though some brands like Omega continue to produce modern versions.

Diameter: 42mm
Movement: Valjoux 7750 automatic
Price: $4,380
Manufacturer info: sinn.de


Azimuth Gran Turismo


A modern mechanical watch with this level of avant-garde design and the engineering it entails is typically quite a high-end proposition. That's where independent brand Azimuth stands out, however, offering funky horological concepts at relatively affordable prices. The Gran Turismo offers their own take on the driver's watch, with a dial that faces the wearer from the side of the wrist.

Diameter: 50mm
Movement: ETA 2671 automatic
Price: ~$5,000
Manufacturer info: azimuthwatch.com



Cartier Tank Asymétrique


The Cartier Tank Asymmetrique probably wasn't designed for driving, and was more likely intended as a playfully quirky take on the Tank's conservative elegance. But its dial rotated 30 degrees perhaps qualifies it as a driver's watch, and the Arabic numerals replacing the Parisian brand's signature Roman numerals might even be interpreted as (relatively) sporty.

Diameter: 26.22mm
Movement: Cartier MC 1917 manual
Price: $27,500+
Manufacturer info: cartier.com



Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921


The prestigious watchmaker Vacheron Constantin reinterpreted a driving watch it made back in 1921 — back when many cars themselves still looked like buggies without horses. (Checking your watch while driving might have been as dangerous as texting is now.) Its simple elegance contrasts interestingly with its cockeyed orientation, and inside it's powered by a highly refined and extensively hand-finished in-house movement.

Diameter: 40mm
Movement: Vacheron Constantin 4400 AS
Price: $35,900
Manufacturer info: vacheron-constantin.com





The independent Swiss company MB&F is known for totally off-the-wall designs that often don't even look like wristwatches — indeed, they are better understood as mechanical art. Among most modern watches, the wedge-shaped HM5 might fit that description, but in fact it has precedents among vintage watches. Many brands, including prominent Swiss names, made this type of driver's watch in the 1960s and '70s. A good number had LED displays, but some were even mechanical like the HM5 with its specially developed, high-end movement.

Diameter: 49mm
Movement: MB&F automatic
Price: $63,000
Manufacturer info: mbandf.com


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