Watches should be accurate and legible. These principles underpin the most successful and familiar watch designs in history, but a purer expression exists in a type of watch known as a regulator. Today, regulator watches are uncommon but offer a unique alternative to standard time-telling that's simultaneously highly functional and rooted in horological history.
Before the availability of hyper-accurate timekeeping, watchmakers set and tested their watches against a regulator clock. Workshops would have a regulator positioned where all the watchmakers could easily reference it from their desks, and these were some of the most accurate clocks of their time — as specialized watchmaker tools, they even look a bit special compared to traditional clocks.
Regulator clocks (and watches) are immediately identifiable by their unique layout: One large hand in the center indicates the minutes, while the hours and seconds are measured on smaller subdials of their own. Separating the displays makes for quick and precise reading, and emphasizing the minutes was particularly important for watchmakers regulating their watches and clocks.
This design has been reinterpreted on modern wristwatches, and although uncommon, they remain easy to use and represent a link to the history of horology. They also offer a look and experience that stands apart from that of standard dial layouts without feeling eccentric. Below are some notable modern examples.
Xeric Regulator Automatic Silver Bullet
As a brand focused on retro-themed designs and alternative concepts, it's no surprise that Xeric would have its own interpretation of the regulator watch. It has the separated displays of a traditional regulator, but is characteristic for the brand's typically funky design style and also its affordable price point.
Movement: Miyota 82S7 automatic
Manufacturer info: xeric.com
Hamilton Jazzmaster Regulator Auto
Hamilton is great at offering classic styles with its own American-informed personality and reasonable pricing. Designed with generally traditional styling, the Regulator Auto doesn't look too conservative with its separated time displays featuring the hour and seconds hands positioned asymmetrically.
Movement: ETA 2825-2
Manufacturer info: hamiltonwatch.com
Louis Erard Excellence Régulateur
Louis Erard is one of very few brands that has made the regulator a central part of its identity. One of the most striking watches in recent memory was the brand's collaboration with designer Alain Silberstein on an exceptionally compelling and colorful regulator-style watch (now sold out), but the brand's wider collection and other collabs are some of the most interesting out there.
Manufacturer info: louiserard.com
Chronoswiss Regulator Classic
Chronoswiss is credited with pioneering the regulator as a wristwatch, starting back in 1988. Today, the majority of their collections remain focused on the concept, and most of them lean toward technical, modern, bold and sporty styling. The Classic is a conservative exception to its many colorful and skeletonized models, but it remains representative of Chronoswiss as one of the few watchmakers that has built a brand around the regulator concept.
Movement: Chronoswiss C. 295 automatic
Manufacturer info: chronoswiss.com
Sinn 6100 Classic B
A elegantly styled regulator seems unusual for Sinn, best known for its tough tool watches — but the German watchmaker can also offer a striking take on traditional designs. The simply named 6100 Classic B uses a modified pocket watch movement fitted into a 44mm case.
Movement: Unitas 6498 (base) manual
Manufacturer info: sinn.de
Glashütte Original Senator Regulator
Anything you get from Glashütte Original is going to offer high-end watchmaking with a refined in-house movement, and a G.O. regulator is no exception. In addition to the separate displays of the hours, minutes and seconds, the brand offers a power reserve display as well as its signature "big date" complication.
Movement: Glashütte Original 58-04 manual
Manufacturer info: glashuette-original.com
Patek Philippe 5235
At first glance, the Patek Philippe 5235 looks somewhat like a traditional regulator watch, but the brand simply doesn't make typical anything. In addition to its industry-topping level of refinement and finishing (the movement is visible through a case back window), annual calendar complications have been tastefully integrated with the day, date and month in subtle apertures.
Movement: Patek Philippe 31‑260 REG QA automatic
Manufacturer info: patek.com