Thursday, 7 August 2014

Hunter, Half-Hunter or Open Faced?

The choice between the three types of watch is one that should be made for aesthetic reasons, not because of any perception that the Hunter type is more robust, in fact in some ways it is not. This post explores why and gives some of the pro's and con's of the different types.

First what are they?
  • The Hunter has a solid one piece cover or lid over the "crystal" and watch dial, normally by pressing the crown the cover should pop open by itself - if you don't get your thumb in the way of the hinge!
  • The Half Hunter (a.k.a. Demi Hunter, very occasionally a "Napoleon" and referred to by the Lancashire Watch Company and presumably by others as a "Sight Hunter")  also has the cover but there is a small window in it so that the time can be read reasonably well without opening the lid, the hour hand should be distinguishable from the minute hand when looking at it through the window, this is usually achieved by having two large swells on it - see the picture below.
  • The Open Faced watch just has the "crystal" which normally was glass. Later various types of plastic was used, which often changed a nasty yellow or green colour over time. A modern replacement will usually be acrylic and looks much like a glass one, it is essentially unbreakable and makes an open faced watch perfectly strong enough for normal use. Acrylic is more susceptible to scratching but a replacement costs only a few pounds (plus fitting). 

A Waltham "Hunter"
The Hunter is so named because with a lid covering the glass it was more suitable to wear when riding a horse (to hounds - hence it is known as a "Hunter") than an open faced watch as there was always the chance of being thrown against the pommel of the saddle and crushing the watch. This was a significant issue when, before about the mid 19th century, watches  had a hugely domed "bulls eye" glass front, it became less of an issue however when the glass became significantly flatter and was less susceptible to damage. A secondary advantage was that the front cover protected the glass from being scratched although the front window of a half hunter was at least as susceptible.

  • They can look good and there is a certain ceremony, which many people enjoy, of taking out the watch and popping it open to tell the time.
  • The crystal is protected from scratching.
  • You have to open it to tell the time and if worn in the breast pocket of a jacket (how I normally wear mine when wearing a Tweed jacket without a waistcoat) that is not easy.
  • They are rarer, particularly silver ones, and to many are more desirable and so are more expensive than an open faced watch.
  • The hinge for the front lid is vulnerable to wear and to accidently being bent or in severe cases torn off.
  • The springs that open them can break and replacing them, particularly on English watches, can be problematical, however replacements for "standard" watch cases, particularly those by Dennison can usually be found.
An English Half Hunter by
J.W. Benson
The Half Hunter is in my view preferable to the Hunter:

  • The time can be read without opening them which is more convenient.
  • They look very good.
  • As for the Hunter except as mentioned above.
  • They are much sought after and so are more expensive again than the Hunter.

The Open Face Watch was for years the standard type and is my personal preference.

An English open faced watch by
  • Easy to use.
  • Cheaper.
  • More choice.
  • Lighter in weight and slimmer than the others and so makes less of a bulge in the pocket.
  • No significant ones.


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