Deciphering Weird Watches

Get a weird watch, he said!

This site has advocated owning at least one weird watch – a timepiece with  an unconventional time display. I doubt I’ll ever own one. I’m too practical. I want to know the time without being puzzled. However, playing contemporary archaeologist – deciphering weird watches – is an irresistible, sometimes infuriating, challenge . . .

Trawl the bottom price rungs on Amazon or eBay and there is no shortage of digital variants on which to practice. It’s rarely explained how to read them, so they are free brainteasers.

Here’s eBay’s $4.97 Fashion Women Mens Boy Watch Futuristic Style Multicolor LED Sport Wrist Watch.

Deciphering weird watches challenge courtesy amazon

Normally these bedazzled illuminated arrays are rigidly  rectilinear, so this is a nice change. But the question is “So what’s the time?

That top arc goes from 1 to 12, so that must be the hour. We are at 12:XX. The next arc, in red, is 10 to 50 by increments of ten. Presumably  that would be minutes although not very precise. In true binary fashion, zero is represented by no light.*

The bottom blue arc is 1 to 9. I’m betting this is ersatz abacus style and we have to add the minutes up. 10+6 means 12:16. And it’s PM as shown by a dedicated red light.

The little date light is not lit, but the display does double duty for date at the push of a button. Despite the lack of a photo, bet that the month is shown in the 1 to 12 top arc, and the day is where the minutes were.

This layout reminds me of KITT’s tachometer. I think the red LED’s are the tach too? But they don’t agree with the 50 (5000?) RPM LCD. Never mind.

Getting into the groove of deciphering weird watches? Next up: eBay’s Luxury Mens Watch LED Mirror Circles Stainless Steel Digital Sports Watches F5 $5.96:

Deciphering weird watches doesn't get any easierThe trend continues: look for the hour first. Thanks to ample light bleed, the outer ring can be seen as 1 to 12, so (whoomp) there it is. The inner ring is 05 to 60, this time in increments of five. Well those are minutes, but we again are left with one-hander precision.

We have an extra photo showing a different time.  This reveals that the hour markers light up cumulatively, which aids legibility as well as offering a rotary phone dial look.

It took me too long to realize what those four squares represented. The clue here: no lights equals zero, so this is really 0-4. As minute resolution so far was only to five minute increments, we add the number of squares to the inner ring minute display for a grand total. Above is 9:39, and the previous image shows is 1:38.

AM or PM? I don’t know, and I’m stumped by the three circles under the four squares.  They seem to read D, W, and P in that top photo. I said this was sometimes infuriating. D may mean date, as this could also do the trick where hours become months and minutes become days (insert joke here). P could be PM, and unlit would be AM? But what am W?**

And now we have Amazon’s Binary Matrix Blue LED Digital Watch Mens Classic Creative Fashion Black Plated Wrist Watches $14.99

When it comes to deciphering weird watches, these things are the absolute worst. Even after being clued in on how to read them, you’re still staring at them too long time using conscious thought. I doubt people ever get to the point where they can tell time at a glance.

Screw that. This one gives directions and a time example. Otherwise, you’d scratch your head til it bled. Your head will still hurt afterward, but much less. Here’s the official rundown:

As always, start with hours. Geez, you have to count this stack because they didn’t put them in traditional clockwise position? Scan down and over to read the nearest number, 11?

The drill for the minutes is the tens then ones addition, again. Boy, the lights don’t line up with the digits very well. But we can see 20+08 is 28 minutes.

So it’s 11:28! But it’s PM. What? No PM light is on. Welcome to the world of unintuitive design. Every digi-time display I’ve ever seen assumes that it’s AM unless PM is displayed. But not with this thing. PM is the default unlit position, and the light goes on for AM. And again, hour/minute presumably shifts into month/day.

One more via Mr. Bezos’ market: Mens Binary Matrix Blue LED Digital Waterproof Watch with Black Rubber Band Boys Crab Shaped Wrist Watches $21.99

Deciphering weird watches makes your head hurt

This watch is intimidating – with that ugly early 80’s concept of high tech digital characters. But one quickly realizes that this watch has the good sense to run from the bottom up (insert joke here) instead of top down (insert other joke here). In a world with gravity, this Tetris style timepiece reads better.

Need I even say it? Read hours in red, add the minutes rounded to lowest five in yellow plus any exact minutes in green. We’re looking at 8:32.  PM, as they did it right and have the light active for PM.

Markings exist for day of the week, but date scheme leaves no correlating bars. They’re just red to denote the weekend. Are you smarter than me?  I peeked at the answers.

It’s just a separate screen altogether.

Is anyone tempted by these timepieces to make a game of deciphering weird watches? If you think they are fun conversation pieces, we disagree. You probably have to push a button to read the time, like it’s a 1972 Hamilton Pulsar. Want one, buy one. My only use for these is warding off Alzheimer’s dementia.

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* In case anyone is as dumb as I once was, a zero (0) is binary for “off” with one (1) being “on.” Old computer monitor rocker power switches used to perplex me as I thought they were marked with the letters I and O.  Nope, one and zero. Of course now that little symbol on shutdown screens usually looks like this

because off is not full off, but standby. Power is still getting to the unit. Read the power symbol wikipedia entry after you comment.

** The later watches make me think that the rotary dial’s W is for day of the week. But there seems to be nothing but numbers.  Are they doing 1=Sunday, 7=Saturday? These things are so wacky.


  1. I’m a big fan of the Mr. Jones number cruncher series. Somewhat unique jumping hour mechanical movement paired with a very unique dial for relatively small money.

    • Mechanical ones are usually more interesting, and I have more tolerance for the openly whimsical ones. I can’t take novelty displays too seriously. Does anyone really think that there will be an improvement on the perfected analog clock displays and that this is not all gimmick?
      I’m on the cheap beat and the digital ones are much cheaper, so that’s what this article was about.

    • There are styling issues on that one, but I actually like the concept. It’s a one hand watch with the bonus of the hand being on a planetary gear so it takes a loopy path allowing greater resolution. The geometry surely has a name that I can’t recall. Maybe I’m getting jaded to these things, but that one was really easy to figure out for me.

  2. What a great collection and creative range. Fun read. Better than jigsaw puzzles, and possibly on a par with suduko for aging parents.

    • This is only a virtual collection, as I get all the novelty free at home. I don’t get to baffle everyone that asks the time, but that never really happens anymore anyway so I don’t know who owns these or why. Some analog weird watches can make these look like child’s play.

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