The Original Single-Hand Watch
As a species, humans have been concerned with the notion of passing time for thousands of years. First, our ancestors turned to the sky to get an approximate idea of time—by way of observing the lunar phases, eclipses, and summer and winter solstices. These observations are at the origin of the creation of the Stonehenge and similar structures found in Northern Europe. And eventually, humans started crafting devices that would give them a more precise measurement of time. From water and sand clocks to the first mechanical timekeeping devices to the first clock towers and, finally, the pocket watches and wrist watches. Phew, that’s a huge evolution of timekeeping condensed in a few sentences. And in a non-scientific exposé at that.
You are most likely familiar with sundials that indicate the approximate hour of the day by casting the shadow of a needle or other object onto a disk. This device only worked, naturally, with clear skies. However, the notion of only having one needle (or hand) to indicate time persevered until the creation of the first pocket watches which, indeed, only had one hand. This is also why the first clock towers only indicated the hour. Way back when, people were not as obsessed knowing the precise time as we are today. And if you are reading this article, you know that things have changed a lot in the past century.
While 99.99% of watches today have three hands to indicate the hour, minute, and second, there still exist a handful of brands that make single-hand wrist watches. The first of them being Botta, a German watchmaker founded in 1986 and which reinvented a more organic way of tracking time using a single hand. (Contrary to what you may believe, Botta was the first brand to make modern single-hand watches.) In this article, therefore, we will take a closer look at their original model, the Uno, and its unique design which provides the wearer with a radically different horological experience.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what makes the Uno different, let’s talk about basic specifications. Because, after all, the Uno is a proper wristwatch and comes with some specifications that will definitely be of interest to you. As tradition would have it, let’s begin with the dimensions: 44mm in diameter, an effective lug-to-lug of 44mm (more on that later,) and a thickness of 8.8mm. By two of its measurements, it is a massive watch. However, and surprisingly, I was not intimidated by the 44mm diameter. While I tend to stick to sub-40mm watches, I already knew that to be legible, a single-hand watch must come with a larger dial opening, meaning a larger case. WIth that said, the Uno also comes in a 40mm quartz version.
And as I hinted above, the Uno basically has no lugs. It’s a perfect circle.
This version comes with Sellita SW200 caliber regulated in-house. The SW200 is a powerhouse movement from the Swiss manufacturer which beats at 28,800 BPH (4Hz) and comes with 26 jewels and 38 hours of power reserve. The Swiss movement can be admired thanks to a see-through case-back. Furthermore, the Uno Automatic comes with a discreet date aperture nestled above the 6 o’clock marker which, coupled with the single-hand approach, is truly all you need to keep track of time and stay organized everyday.
Although the Uno looks more dressier than sportier, it is a robust timepiece. Indeed, the crystal is of the double-domed variant with inner anti-reflective coating and the case is made of stainless steel. The small crown is thin and hugs the case so as to not press against your skin, a neat detail given the 44mm case diameter. I rarely come across a watch with a crown that digs into my wrist, and this type of incident can easily be avoided by making a crown small. Regardless of its smaller size, the crown is easy to grip and operate. Again, something necessary for an everyday watch.
Honestly, the design of the Uno is all I really want to talk about. When I first heard of the concept of a single-hand watch, I was worried. My precise and obsessive-compulsive self was worried that the Uno wouldn’t resonate with me. I like precision and legibility and typically gravitate toward three-hand watches with a date because it allows me to know the exact hour, minute, and second at a very—very—precise moment in time. (This might tell you more than you asked for about me!) But oh boy was I wrong. The intrinsic simplicity of the Uno is not revolutionary (as indicated in the introduction,) however it offers a more natural way of reading the time.
What does that mean?
The dial showcases small printed Arabic numerals all around and hash marks coming in four different heights. Under each numeral is the longest marker indicating the hours from 1 to 12. In between two hour indicators are the second to largest hash marks indicating half hours—in other words, 30 minutes. So if the hand hits the halfway point between 1 and 2 then the time reads 1:30 pm. The third types of hash marks—slightly shorter than the 30-minute indicators—show quarter of hours (15 minutes.) Lastly, the shortest hash marks indicate 5 minutes. Looking at the below photo in detail, the time reads approximately 10:25. Knowing that it’s daytime, therefore the time is 10:25am.
Pretty easy, right?
You know the expression “form follows function?” Well, I could honestly not think of a better watch than the Botta Uno to illustrate this statement. Everything else about the design of the Uno exists to support its function: telling time efficiently. As noted above, the watch is all dial and the minute track seems to extend to the furthest possible edges of the dial. The fixed bezel is extremely thin, and the integrated lug design means the watch is basically a perfect circle. The leather strap is attached to the underside of the case and seems to be more of an accessory than a visual detail.
To aid in the wearing comfort, the sides of the case are dramatically angled upward towards the bezel, meaning that the case follows the natural contour of the wrist which is especially important when flexing it. This is a nice design feature that guarantees that the Uno does wear comfortably, especially on my 6.25”/16cm wrist. Lastly, while the long single hand is polished and comes with an appropriately-sized counter-balance, everything else is printed in what seems to be silver paint. The latter guarantees high-contrast and therefore high legibility.
The Heart of the Matter
At the heart of the matter is the fact that Botta offers a radically different wrist-mounted timekeeping experience. Between you and I, before that I got into horology more than six years ago, I bought a $35 single-hand watch on eBay. While I fell in love with the minimalist philosophy of tracking time that this type of watch is imbued with, the poor thing didn’t last more than three months. So, in the past six years, I have been yearning to experience a proper single-hand watch and I have known of Botta for…the past six years. Therefore, today is a special day for me and I hope for you as well.
When looking up-close at the Uno and its dial layout, we are invited to truly see a day in two 12-hour blocks. While most wristwatches that come with three hands do indicate the time in 12-hour segments, we rarely think of it in this way. The fact that the single hand of the Uno indicates within a blip of a second exactly where I am in the day is highly useful. I only have to check that one hand to know what time it is instead of having to mentally add up where the hour and minute hands of a traditional watch are pointing. Although I have become a natural at it—and so have you—reading the time on the Uno truly is easier and faster.
The other point I would like to bring up is the fact that Botta designs and assembles all of its watches in Germany. The latter was once one of the major centers for horology in the world and it has been slowly regaining its glowing status in the past couple of decades thanks to the hard work of brands such as Botta. Germany has a deeply-routed horological tradition and was known for making practical and legible watches, not necessarily luxurious ones. Botta and the Uno inscribed themselves, therefore, into an old tradition of making pragmatic timekeeping devices.
Lastly, I would mention that Klaus Botta, the brand’s founder, wanted to bring back an ancestral way of telling the time and he did so elegantly. Although I have forgotten the most basic information about the Bauhaus school of design which I learned about in college, I would venture in saying that the Uno respects one of the school’s fundamental precepts: to make everyday objects utilitarian yet pleasing to look at and to use. There is nothing fancy about the Uno but it surely works. As mentioned more than once in this review, the Uno is a solid everyday watch and has a lot going for itself.
Although Botta currently has seven collections in its catalog—offering more traditional horological experiences with three-hand watches and GMTs—the Uno was the first model of the brand and remains its most significant release to date. The Uno comes in cases of 40 and 44mm diameters, with quartz or mechanical movements, and with stainless steel or titanium cases. There are different options for all tastes and even limited and special editions. The Uno presented here is their 44mm automatic variant with the all black color scheme—black dial, black case, and back leather strap. It’s as stealthy as it is bold.
As a watch enthusiast and journalist, I relish having new horological experiences. The Botta Uno provided me with a unique experience which I believe might be of interest to you as well. The Uno is the type of way that can be worn in many situations—desk diving, at a fancy cocktail party or cooking steaks on the weekends—thanks to having a stripped-down design and purposeful approach to timekeeping. To know more about Botta and the Uno, I suggest checking out the brand’s website here.
Thanks for reading.