An article I recently discovered on the BBC website (here) caught my attention with its depiction of a wristwatch for blind people. The watch pictured in the article is the Bradley Timepiece, named after a Paralympic gold medalist, Brad Snyder, who lost his sight in Afghanistan.
To be honest, when I first saw the picture of the watch first (before I clicked on the link to the article) I thought it was a “design” timepiece. It turns out I wasn’t far off, as it has been nominated for the Designs of the Year contest at London’s Design Museum and this year won Germany’s Red Dot Award.
However, the watch’s most important task is to tell time for those with limited – or no – vision. That started me thinking about other alternatives – ones that were still wristwatches – to tell time when one doesn’t have enough vision to use a normal watch. I found watches that had a crystal that could flip open so the wearer could actually feel the hands to tell time, but those were from long ago. I also know about a Breitling Aerospace watch that has a (digital) minute repeater that can be used either in the dark or when the wearer has limited or no vision. There are also watches that will literally “tell” you the time in an electronic voice. Not too long ago, I walked past a bus station in the village where I live and saw a man who was probably in his late 80s carrying a nightstand clock and holding it very close to his eyes so he could read the time. It reminded me a bit of Flavor Flav’s giant-clock gimmick from the 1980s and ’90s.
Briefly mentioned in the introduction, the Bradley is a tactile timepiece designed and produced by EONE using Kickstarter for (crowd)funding. It is a titanium watch (with stainless steel caseback) that uses a Swiss quartz movement. This watch measures 40 mm in diameter and is 11.5 mm thick. It comes either on a stainless steel mesh bracelet or one of several colorful fabric straps. The wearer of the watch can read the time by feeling the position of the two ball rings: one for the hours and one for the minutes. The hour markers are raised so you can exactly feel where the hour and minute ball rings are located. It’s an incredibly clever solution and a wonderful design. (Let’s face it; some of the timepieces on this list are hideous.) The Bradley is available for $195.
Most of the time, watches that allow you to “feel” the time have a crystal that can be opened and a pair of sturdy hands underneath that can be gently touched to read the time. A quick online search taught me that most of them are plain ugly. Being blind or visually impaired does not mean one does not care what his or her watch looks like. The same holds true for watches with a voice that tells time. Some of them look like Michael Knight’s watch from the 1980s TV series “Knight Rider.” To be honest, it seems that EONE filled a niche in the market with its watches for the blind. From what I understood, some people with perfect sight have ordered this watch simply because it looks nice and it enables one to subtly read the time without being rude while in a boring meeting or some similar situation.
The Aerospace by Breitling is also a good alternative, with its minute repeater functionality. In fact, any minute repeater would do the trick. However, keep in mind that circumstances are not always ideal to listen to the sound. What if you are in a crowded public place? Or a noisy train? On our blog, Fratellowatches.com, we had a contribution from Prof. Dr. Jan Adriaanse of the Leiden University in The Netherlands, discussing the market for smartwatches (click here). He talks about the smartwatch being a big opportunity for the Swiss manufacturers and writes, “Smartwatches are here to improve our lives. They are here to measure our well-being. In fact, they are here to extend and save our lives. They are here to monitor our heart rate, blood pressure, and to detect other potential health threats. “
Whether or not you agree with him, I can imagine the following:
– A smartwatch that is also of use for the blind (and perhaps supportive of other types of handicaps)
– A watch for the blind developed by Swiss watchmakers with the same quality and aesthetics as their traditional timepieces;
A combination of the above two, which probably will lead to an interesting watch for blind people but also for people who demand more functionality from their timepiece without having to make a concession in terms of quality and design. What do you think? Please feel free to share!
This article was originally published on January 12, 2015, and has been updated.