Why are most display watches set to ten past 10?
I have been thinking about buying a new watch over the last few weeks. With the ubiquity of mobile devices such as smart phones, there is something anachronistic about feeling you need something on your wrist for you to consult if you need to know what time it is. At my time of life, I hardly need the chronological precision that a decent watch gives me to regulate my activities. Sometimes I barely know what day it is.
But old habits die hard. For over half a century I have had a timepiece strapped to my left wrist and on the occasions I have not worn one, either because I have forgotten to put it on or it has broken, I somehow feel under-dressed. It is a kind of comfort blanket and wear one I will continue to do.
What struck me as I browsed at jewellers’ window displays and catalogues was that invariably those watches which had a conventional face as opposed to those digital abominations were invariably photographed as showing the time as ten past 10 or, for those manufacturers showing a rebellious streak, ten to 2. Why was that, I wondered?
It has not always been thus. Back in the 1920s and 30s watches were invariably set to 8:20. The Hamilton Watch Company bucked the trend in 1926 when their watches in advertisements showed the time as 10:10. Rolex followed suit in the 1940s and Timex, with their Marlin model in 1953, began to move their advertisements to the now accepted default time. Other manufacturers bowed to peer pressure and by the 1960s ten past 10 it was.
The reasons for the transition are quite easy to understand and it is all about presenting the watch to its best advantage. The hands are symmetrical, a look most people find more appealing than an asymmetrical one, and the two hands, as well as not overlapping so that they can be admired, allow the manufacturer’s logo, usually placed immediately below the figure of 12, to be seen clearly. The lower part of the face, where other features of the watch such as the date and day of the week are displayed, is unobstructed. The clincher is that the V-shape that the hands make represent a smile, a happy face, whereas the inverted V of 8:20 looks like a frown. And we all respond positively to a smile, don’t we?
Marketeers have long been associated with the dark arts, so is there a deeper, psychological reason behind the portrayal of watches? To answer this question we need to look at some research conducted by Ahmed Karim, Britta Lutzenkirchen, Eman Khedr, and Radwa Khalil, reported in the August 2017 edition of Frontiers in Psychology.
The first of their experiments involved showing a group of people pictures of twenty watches, with their faces set at one of the following settings, 10:10 (the happy face), 8:20 (the sad face) and 11:30, the latter selected because it was neutral and had no associations with human physiognomy. In what the uncharitable may view as a scientific demonstration of the bloomin’ obvious, the results showed that the happy face setting elicited greater feelings of pleasure amongst the viewers than the other two settings.
Perhaps of greater interest was the finding that the sad face setting did not affect feelings one way or the other. For those keen to understand the differences between the sexes, the research showed that the female participants registered stronger expressions of pleasure from the 10:10 setting than did their male counterparts. The researchers thought that this was in line with earlier studies in which women were shown to be better at recognising facial expressions and empathising with them than men.
Showing the watch faces alongside pictograms of happy and sad faces confirmed the assumption that the upturned V-shape was associated with a smile and the inverted V with a frown. However, the good vibes generated by the cheerful 10:10 setting were not strong enough to convince the participants to buy, although the inclination to buy was stronger than that generated by the other settings.
I think the case for any deeper psychological significance in the face display is unproven. In any event, if you are presented with a page of smiling watch faces on a page, the good feelings engendered by one are neutralised by the same feelings that come from the others, forcing you to make your selection based on other criteria.
So, the answer is simply a case of aesthetics, one that has clearly stood the test of time.
If you enjoyed this, check out Fifty Curious Questions by Martin Fone