53

Is it something related to tradition? Does wearing it on the left hand have benefits over wearing it on the right hand? I know that some people wear it on the right hand but not as many as people who wear it on the left hand.

Is it more usable to wear it on the left? Since I wear it on my right hand I find it easier to see the time. Does user experience affect the decision of which side is better to wear it?

  • 29
    These days, do "most of us" even wear wristwatches? I haven't since I was in the military, and that was a couple of wars ago... – jamesqf Nov 17 '16 at 17:52
  • 15
  • 34
    Because when you're writing with a pen/pencil, your watch won't drag along the desk – Neil McGuigan Nov 17 '16 at 19:32
  • 16
    Cause in the right hand you have a cup of coffee. – Jehof Nov 17 '16 at 20:24
  • 14
    When you've found out the answer to this, perhaps you can find out for us about those weirdos who wear their wristwatch with the face on the inside of their wrist ;-) – AakashM Nov 18 '16 at 10:29
20

It started getting popular in World War 1

Wearing watches on wrists became more prominent during World War 1 when soldiers and officers wanted to quickly know the time without going through the rigmarole of stopping to get a pocket watch out.

Wearing the watch on the left wrist allowed officers to consult their watch while writing/telegraphing with their dominant hand (their right).

Men quickly got used to the added convenience of the wrist-wear and it took to be fashionable in civilian life too.

Source

  • It took time for mechanics to get reliable enough in the smaller casing, not as much a convenience factor. Much like cell phones. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Nov 20 '16 at 5:06
  • 2
    The given source doesn't make any comments on handedness, nor on the convenience of being able to write/telegraph with the other hand. All it really states is that wrist watches becamse popular due to WW1. It also states wrist watches were mainly fashion items for women before then, so it raises the question of what handedness those tended to be (if any preference existed). – Chan-Ho Suh Nov 20 '16 at 21:50
  • Actually, Alberto Santos-Dumond is credited by some as the guy that made the wristwatch popular. – Cesar Canassa Nov 21 '16 at 11:35
93

It is a matter of:

  • Usability
  • Comfortability

We wear it on our less skillful arm.

It makes sense for right-handed people to wear it on the left wrist because it is easier and gives more precision to manage it (set time, alarm, etc.) with the right hand while wearing it, and also more comfortable to leave the right hand free for anything else (and I guess to avoid damaging the watch too).


On a side note I remember when I was a kid wearing stickers preferably in the left hand so they got less damaged and could last longer (I am right-handed).


Edit: @AndrewMartin gives a link in the comments to left-handed watches.


Edit 2: I found this very interesting:

Wristwatches with analog displays generally have a small knob, called the crown, that can be used to adjust the time and, in mechanical watches, wind the spring. Almost always, the crown is located on the right-hand side of the watch. This makes it inconvenient to use if the watch is being worn on the right wrist. Usually, therefore, watches are worn on the left wrist, even if the wearer is left-handed.

In exceptional cases, the crown is on the left side of the watch. This is, for example, to prevent it from digging into the wrists of golf players.

Digital watches generally have push-buttons that can be used to make adjustments. These are usually equally easy to use on either wrist.

  • 17
    as I am right-handed, I prefer to wear it at right hand ! – Krebto Nov 17 '16 at 13:58
  • 5
    @Ra'adBin I prefer not wearing it at all, as it feels uncomfortable, and in the end either I have my phone or someone else has a watch. – Alvaro Nov 17 '16 at 14:06
  • 8
    Watches have a stem on the side. In the old days you'd wind your watch and set the time using that. These days it has other functions. But that stem is on the right, so wearing it on your left wrist puts the stem in position to be reached with your right fingers. – Ken Mohnkern Nov 17 '16 at 14:13
  • 7
    To confirm the theory about the stem - There are stores that sell left-handed watches where the stem is on the left of the watch making it easier for left-handed users to manipulate: anythinglefthanded.co.uk/acatalog/mens-left-handed-watch.html – Andrew Martin Nov 17 '16 at 14:17
  • 3
    as I am right-handed, I prefer to wear it on my left hand. My left hand is incapable of clicking the buttons on digital watches or turning the knobs on analog watches reliably. More importantly I have no ability to put on/take off the watch by left hand. It's very counterintuitive and difficult – phuclv Nov 18 '16 at 2:57
30

There are a number of reasons.

Firstly: Your dominant hand can manipulate things easier than your non-dominant hand, e.g.

  • To put on/take off the watch
  • To use the crown (the thing to wind it up and change the date/time)

As more people are right-handed than left-handed, watchmakers had to pick a side to place the crown, so for right-handed people this means the crown goes on the right because this makes it much easier to manipulate with your right-hand fingers. There are watches specifically for left-handed people where the crown is on the other side.

The second reason relates to when your dominant hand is typically busy doing something (e.g. holding something, or working on/with something, etc.) your non-dominant hand is often not engaged in the same activity. This means you can view the time on your non-dominant hand without interfering with whatever your dominant hand is currently manipulating, for example, a chef stirring something with their dominant hand can now easily time how long they need to keep stirring for.

Finally to save your expensive time piece from accidental damage, you wear it on your non-dominant hand. This is because your dominant hand is used more than your non-dominant hand, so the risk of accidental damage goes up.

  • 1
    I'm not convinced about the risk of damage, based on self inflicted injuries to my hands. If the tool is in the dominant hands, the non-dominant hand may be holding the workpiece. A watch on that wrist is more likely to be hit by chips (drill, hammer and cold chisel). But I agree with the rest (+1) – Chris H Nov 17 '16 at 20:05
  • 7
    My brother happens to be left-handed and wears his watch on the left wrist. He also happens to be a carpenter, and his watches never last more than five years (even expensive ones) - they all eventually stop working - due to repetitive and violent "vibrational" stress, I assume. – 500 - Internal Server Error Nov 18 '16 at 1:42
  • Your first point here is not really true as such. Your dominant hand can in many cases learn certain types of manipulation more easily than your non-dominant hand, but once the manipulation is learnt and mastered, it doesn’t matter whether the hand you use for it is your dominant one or not. Compare cutlery: there is no more or less manipulatory skill required in using a fork than a knife, but if you switch them around, you fumble and look like an idiot. I do the same if I try to put on/take off a watch with my dominant hand, because my dominant hand just hasn’t acquired that motoric skill. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 20 '16 at 0:11
  • The position of the crown might have been historically important but in these days of analogue-electronic watches, I doubt it's relevant. I use it only every two months to adjust the date for short months (cheap watch!) Does the position of the crown bother any left-handed folks reading this? – nigel222 Nov 22 '16 at 9:48
  • @Chris_H On the other hand your dominant hand is the one most likely to be in close proximity to live wires (electrician) or rotating machinery (many sorts of engineer). A watch on this hand would be a greater safety hazard (but best practice is not to wear a watch at all while engaged in this sort of work). – nigel222 Nov 22 '16 at 9:51
11

Further reasons. Right-handedness is assumed in this answer, because it was historically enforced.

Handwriting is easier without a watch on the wrist of your writing hand to snag on the edges of the paper.

You can check the time while still using your good hand (e.g. riding a bike one-handed is easier with the right hand; making a note of the time or date on a form you can glance at your watch without the pen leaving the paper).

  • These are good examples and make all kinds of sense. I almost always take my watch off when I'm using a computer because the watchband catches on the edge of the keyboard. It's especially bad with a laptop. So it totally makes sense that people avoided wearing watches on their right wrist to avoid snagging it on things while working with their dominant hand. – Craig Nov 21 '16 at 4:31
  • If you're riding a bike and want to know the time, why don't you just use the bike computer? – jamesqf Nov 21 '16 at 6:11
  • 1
    @jamesqf Not everyone have that. I never seen one myself and I have to google it to understand what you mean. – Martheen Nov 21 '16 at 6:16
  • @jamesqf, in the context of the answer - because they may not have been invented. In my case I don't always have a bike computer (these days I use my phone but the time display is rather small to read while going along; the phone may also be recording the trip from inside a pocket/pannier on my commute) – Chris H Nov 21 '16 at 6:53
  • "riding a bike one-handed is easier with the right hand" - depends on the country. In Australia (to my unpleasant discovery) the brake for the front wheel is on the right. So you'll stop the front wheel, go over the handlebars, land with your hands outstretched, hyper-extend both elbows and end up with "bilateral fractures of the radial heads". Or, that's what happened to me. Apparently the idea is that you're cycling on the left there so you need to signal with your right, so the left brake should be the safe one to hit hard. – Joel Nov 22 '16 at 10:13
9

I know this already has an accepted answer, but as a watch-wearing leftie, I discovered the answer to this one by unintentional experimentation: Its to protect the watch.

Until my mid 20's I used to always wear my watch on my left arm, because that's what most everyone else did. I also never had a watch in my life last more than a year and a half. The most common problem was smashed crystals.

I mentioned this to someone after I'd smashed yet another watch, and in a stupefied voice they asked why I didn't just switch to wearing it on my non-dominant arm. It took some getting used to, but I haven't broken a crystal since. Now my watches tend to die only after 5 or more years, and its usually because the electronics have fritzed out.

I don't think people who aren't used to wearing a delicate machine on that arm realize quite how much you use your dominant arm to balance, protect yourself, fling objects, absent-mindedly swing it into things, etc.

  • Thanks @T.E.D, this is what I meant when I wrote "to avoid damaging the watch too" in the answer. – Alvaro Nov 18 '16 at 21:03
  • @Alvaro - Kind of hidden down there though in a parenthetical statement, with "I guess" in front of it. All its missing is the beware of leopard sign. I'm arguing that protecting the instrument is the root answer. A watch is no less or more comfortable on either arm (take it from someone who's worn one on both), and saying the controls were originally designed for use in a certain configuration just transfers the question to why that configuration was chosen. – T.E.D. Nov 18 '16 at 21:33
  • The point was that it is more comfortable to 'have the skilled hand free', this way: it is more comfortable for main activities, and gives less risk for the watch. That was the point of the "sticker" anecdote: that it gets less damaged so it lasts longer. – Alvaro Nov 18 '16 at 21:39
  • Well, again I wore mine that way for a good 15 years, and I don't remember it feeling significantly more comfortable when I switched. So I just don't think that's a factor. I didn't downvote you, but I do think that not damaging the watch was most likely the heart of the matter, and everything else has been built up around that. – T.E.D. Nov 18 '16 at 21:44
  • 1
    I went through exactly this process. For years I wore my watch on my right hand because my dad was left handed and I copied him. For years my watches would break quickly. It was only after switching hands to my less dominant side that the breakage stopped. I really don't believe it's a comfort thing - you can get used to having a watch on either wrist if you wear it for long enough. – LeoR Nov 21 '16 at 14:32
4

I would imagine that the crown position evolved from the standard watch wearer's position, rather than the other way around.

Traditionally, wristwatches had a leather strap and buckle - considering that ~90% of the world is right handed, it makes sense the most people would buckle their watch on their left hand with their dominant right hand. Try to buckle a watch on your left hand (if you're a righty), and see how unnatural it feels. The crown position would have evolved from this, as once worn on the left hand, it's far more convenient for the wearer to adjust a crown if it's on the outside (right side) of the wristwatch.

  • 2
    You learn pretty quickly to strap a watch onto the wrong wrist if your preferred hand is injured and strapped up. E.g. my right arm in plaster, I put the watch on the right (over the cast) instead of the left because my right forefinger+thumb couldn't meet. – Chris H Nov 17 '16 at 16:42
  • 1
    @ChrisH Quite true. When you first learn how to put a watch on, you will always have some trouble, but even with your non dominant hand, practice will make it easy. Despite me being right handed, Using my right hand to put my watch on my left is uncomfortable. As a child, putting the watch on my right hand just felt like the better decision, and now, over 15 years later, I have never experienced any of the problems people say having your watch on your dominant hand causes (or they were so trivial i worked around them without even thinking about it). – Ryan Nov 17 '16 at 19:01
  • 1
    @Ryan, yes and there's a whole interesting field of research on the degree of handedness. – Chris H Nov 17 '16 at 20:02
  • Hmmm. My watches typically have that (including the one I'm wearing now). I never found it that tough with either hand, but I understand right-handed folk are often much less dexterous with their off-hand than us lefties. – T.E.D. Nov 21 '16 at 14:49
0

The crown (or other controls) are typically on the right, which makes it awkward to manipulate if the watch is strapped to the right wrist--not because the left is the non-dominant hand for most people but because your left hand would have to cover the watch or bend around it.

Whether the crown on the right came before or after the left-wrist convention, I don't know.

And interesting tidbit is that watches were one of the first drivers of mass produced LCD displays. Since most people wore their watches on the left hand, the LCD displays were biased to give the best contrast when viewed from slightly below and to the left of center. Take, for example, an older digital watch with a dark grey on light gray display and try to read it from different points of view. The dark segments will be darkest not when you're looking straight on but when you're viewing from slightly below and the to the left. This is subtle, but it might reinforce the left-wrist convention as it make the display easier to read.

[I was surprised to learn that this LCD bias was so common, that many monochrome LCD displays have the same point-of-view bias, even when they are made for something other than a watch. Go try various viewing angles with an LCD wall clock or other older bit of electronics. Chances are, you'll find the same viewing position bias. This doesn't apply to modern color displays, as they've been engineered to have a much wider viewing angle than first generation LCD displays.]

  • Do you have any sources? – BDD Nov 20 '16 at 16:40
  • Oh so that's why my electricity meter is so hard to read! It's in a cupboard which forces one to read it from the "wrong" direction. – nigel222 Nov 22 '16 at 9:57
  • @BDD: Search "lcd bias angle" and read about it from LCD manufacturers. Most of them now let you select the bias angle direction. I first learned of this from an electrical engineer who demonstrated the issue with an LCD for a medical device we worked on. The LCD manufacturer for those panels didn't let you choose the direction of the bias angle; they were all biased to the 6 o'clock position. Since our device would typically be viewed from above, they inverted the graphics and installed the panels upsidedown to effectively switch the bias angle to the 12 o'clock position. – Adrian McCarthy Nov 22 '16 at 17:06

protected by JonW Nov 21 '16 at 11:34

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.