Watch Indices Explained

When it comes to choosing a watch, there are several things you need to consider. From the material the watch is made from, the style of the hands, the movement of the watch, and how many jewels are used as bearings. But one thing that a lot of us don’t play very close attention to are the watch indices.

But when you think about it, the indices are some of the most important features as they’re incredibly visible on the watchface. As such, they can massively alter the appearance of a watch.

Watch designers will often use 2 or even 3 different indices on a watch to achieve the look they are going for.

A lot of people aren’t aware that watch indices come in several different forms. Usually higher end watches have indices that are applied or attached whereas budget options usually have the indices printed onto the face of the watch.

In this guide to watch indices, we will cover everything you need to know about this important feature of your timepiece.

What Are Watch Indices?

Buying a watch is fraught with jargon and many people find themselves recoiling in horror as they just don’t know what any of these terms mean.

Watch indices is simply the phrase used to describe the markings on a watch that denote the time. For example, Roman Numerals, numbers used at 3, 6, 9, and 12 and even diamonds.

Without watch indices, telling the time would be much trickier. When coupled with the hands of your watch, they represent the time making the watch easy to use.

Watch Indices Explained
Arabic Numeral Indices at 12/3/6/9, with Baton Indices elsewhere

As we have mentioned, there is a huge array of watch indices but probably the most common type is the Arabic numeral. In layman’s terms, that’s simple 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. The design of the watch will vary, meaning that some display all of the numbers one through twelve, whereas others only display at 3, 6, 9, and 12. There are also Arabic numeral indices where the only marking is at the 12 o’clock position.

Other Types Of Watch Indices

While the Arabic numeral is the most popular type of watch indices, there are many others. Which you choose will depend on how easily you want to be able to tell the time as well as which appeals most aesthetically to you. If you’re in the market for a new watch and aren’t sure on the best indices for you, let us help you learn a little more about each type.

Origin of the Watch
Origin of the Watch
Arrow Indices

Watch Indices Explained
Rolex Arrow Indices at the 12 o’clock position

If you purchase a watch by Rolex, such as the Submariner, then there’s a very good chance that it will feature arrow indices. These markings appear at the 12 o’clock position and are triangular in shape with the ‘arrow’ portion of the triangle pointing downwards.

It is not common for these markings to appeal elsewhere on the dial and, as such, are usually mixed with other designs for the other markers around the watchface. The most popular indices to use alongside the arrow are the baton and round styles, which we will learn more about in the coming sections.

Baton Indices

Watch Indices Explained
Arabic Numeral Indices at 12/3/6/9, with Baton Indices elsewhere

The baton indices is a rectangular marking that’s quite thick. Compared to stick indexes, batons have a more robust and strong appearance. They are ideal for watches where the importance of visible indices cannot be understated.

What’s wonderful about this type of indices is that there is enough space for the watchmaker to add other features. For example, if the watch needs to be read in low light, luminosity can be easily included.

Normally, baton indices are used on tools or sports watches because of how highly functional they are. Something like the IWC Aquatimer is a great example of this style.

Breguet Indices

Watch Indices Explained - Breguet indices
Breguet Indices

You might be forgiven for thinking that Breguet indices were the same as the popular Arabic numbers. However, these are a modified version of this and have only been around since the beginning of the French Revolution back in the late 1700s.

Instead of the blocky, straight appearance of the Arabic numeral, the Breguet indices are more like calligraphy. They give a softer look to a timepiece and while they’re not as common, you’ll certainly start noticing a lot of them when you take the time to look, especially on watches that have an enamel face.

Dagger Indices

Watch Indices Explained - Baton indices
Rolex Dagger Indices

Take a look at some of the classic or vintage Rolex timepieces and you might find dagger indices. These are similar to the arrow markers in that they have an arrow like point at one end and they generally point into the center of the watch face.

Diamond Indices

Diamond Watch Indices
Diamond Indices

Pretty much all types of watch indices are there for a purely functional purpose. However, diamond markers are used to improve the aesthetic appearance of the watch. These indices are made from precious gems which are placed at the hour markers.

It is much more common for watchmakers to use diamond indices in ladies watches as it helps to create a much more feminine style. That said, there are some guy’s watches out there that feature this particular type of indices.

Roman Numeral Indices

Roman Numeral and Dagger Watch Indices
Roman Numeral Indices at 12 and 6 o’clock with Dagger elsewhere

Right up until the Middle Ages, it was far more common for numbers to be displayed in the classic Roman numeral style. It was only after this that Arabic numbers became commonplace in the western world.

It isn’t as common these days for watchmakers to use Roman numerals as they’re not seen as very modern. However, in the manufacture of classic watches, there are still plenty of those that use Roman numeral indices.

Sometimes, they will appear all around the dial of the watch whereas in other cases, the numerals are placed only at 3, 6, 9, and 12.

Round Indices

Round Indices
Round Indices with Arrow at 12 o’clock and Baton at 6 and 9 o’clock

One of the major benefits of the round watch indices is that they are very easy to see, much in the same way as the baton indices. As such, they’re ideal in highly functional watches where luminosity is required.

Usually, round indices are used alongside other types such as the baton or the arrow indices. They’re incredibly common on sports watches as well as tool watches. A great example of this is the OMEGA Seamaster.

Stick Indices

Watch Stick Indices
Stick Indices with Roman Numeral at 12 o’clock

The last type of watch indices that we will look at in this guide is the stick indices. These are quite similar to the baton but are not as thick and so have a more slim, elegant appearance.

Sometimes, just like the baton indices, stick indices may be used with luminosity. Although this is less common, watchmakers will typically apply the indices directly to the face of the timepiece.

It is far more common for this type of indices to be used on a dress watch in both men’s and women’s designs.

Luminous Indices

Luminous Indices
Luminous Stick and Arabic Numeral Indices

Luminous indices are very popular. Luminosity can be added to most types of indices and can greatly aid in telling time in the dark. Dive watches, pilot watches, and military watches are oven luminescent.

Prior to 1970 the luminosity was created with Radium, a very dangerous radioactive material. Today, safe materials such as Super-LumiNova are used for glow in the dark watch indices.

No Indices

No indices
Citizen Eco-Drive with Dagger at 12 o’clock and No Indices elsewhere

Some dress watches with a minimalist fashion sense have no indices at all, or perhaps just one at the 12 o’clock position. It can make telling the time a bit more difficult, but it certainly achieves a “less is more” look!

Conclusion

Watch indices can really switch up the appearance of a timepiece but when purchasing a watch, many of us don’t give them a second thought. Once you realize the sheer number of choices in terms of watch indices, you’ll be sure to pay more attention next time you’re choosing a timepiece.