Why Photographs of Watches and Clocks Show the Time 10:10


Have you ever noticed that the watches and clocks found in product photographs and advertisements usually show the time 10:10? If you haven’t, pay attention the next time you’re flipping through a publication and come across a watch ad—the rule is almost always true.

If you have noticed this, do you know why 10:10 is the default time for watch photographers?

According to the New York Times, the main reason is quite simple and obvious: aesthetics. There are a number of visual advantages to having the hands set at the 10:10 positions.

One is that the hands are kept from overlapping. Having them on both sides of the watch face ensures that the hands themselves are visible and can be appreciated.

The position also allows the hands to look nice on the face of the timepiece. The 10:10 position is symmetrical, and the human brain tends to appreciate symmetry and orderliness.

Some product photos of watches foun

Some product photos of watches foun

Another reason is that key details on the face of the watch or clock usually remain visible at 10:10. The logo of the manufacturer is usually found under the 12, and sometimes next to the 3-, 6-, and 9-o’-clock positions. Logos found under the 12 are nicely framed by 10:10 hands.

Finally, the 10:10 hands look “happy” due to the fact that the hands look like a smile (or like a “V” as in “victory”). The NYTimes reports that Timex used to use the time 8:20 in their product photos, but eventually decided to turn that “frown” upside-down.

There are a number of urban legends regarding the 10:10 time floating around in the world. Many of them attribute it to a historic event (e.g. Lincoln/JFK assassinations, the dropping of the atomic bombs), but there isn’t any truth behind those explanations.

  • Zack

    Hands at 10 and 2, just like my driving instructor used to tell me.

  • jake

    ok, knew it. but did u know that most of the watch-ads arent photograped anymore? its all cgi

  • Matt

    Careful with the 10 and 2 on the steering wheel. Air bags can break your arms in those positions. They now teach a lower hand position.

  • Larry

    the one and only reason of 10:10 is because in the middle of the hands you see the brand logo.

  • Crabby Umbo

    Have to laugh, when I was a young pup in the advertising photo studio world (think early 1970’s), an old photographer told me it was done that way as a homage to Lincoln, it was the time he died…I believed it for about a week!

  • 4dmaze

    I thought it was a homage to the first dog that wore a watch.. :)

  • Zack

    That’s also interesting, did not know that. But no worries, I don’t think I’ve actually used 10 and 2 since shortly after driver’s ed. ;)

    What’s the official recommended hand position now, more like 9 and 3?

  • Ayden Gotzmer

    More like 4 and 8, according to my instructor. It allows your hands/arms to fall to the sides more easily when the airbags go off.

  • Zack

    Good to know, thanks!

  • Joey Duncan

    I don’t know how much “truth” there is to the idea of doing it this way for physiological reasons. It almost feels like it’s just done that way because well everybody else does it that way, in a sense tradition. You can paint it happy go lucky this and visualization that but I just don’t see it being anything more than smoke by marketing groups and photographers. I have also noticed that MOST watches are this way but not all. I noticed this before because a lot of the time the hands at 10/2 are obnoxiously in the way of the smaller dials blocking titles and detail.

  • Yoni Mayeri

    10/10 in Taiwan China is a very special date. Also know as Double Ten, it is a national holiday and commemorates the uprising that lead to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in China. This revolution established the Republic of China, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the placement of the hands on a timepieces in photos. Just a tidbit of 10-10 information!

  • Joey Duncan

    In Ca. it’s 10 and 2. This isn’t the 1970’s we don’t really need to worry as much about airbags, it use to be a problem when the deployed too quickly and people would break wrists or thumbs because the airbags would push their arms upward into the steering wheel. Or the arms would come back smacking the person in the face. These days ‘smarter” airbags don’t have as much of an issue. You shouldn’t drive 11-1 or 12-12 though, you’d probably hurt yourself.

    That being said, you shouldn’t use 10-2 for driving safety, if you have to quickly rotate the wheel three things happen at 10-2: 1: as your trailing arm rotates over the other side you lose power in that arm and can’t turn the wheel is quickly, 2: your arms bind because you can potentially cross them and it take longer to properly move them around to new positions. 3: when you’re not paying attention and you relax you tend to lean to one side causing your arms to do the same and the wheel will fall that way potentially causing your to drift. I use to have a HUGE problem with this when I was young, but changing my habits and position helped.

    9-3ish is probably the best, the wheel is a circle, your aren’t.

  • Loo

    Geometrically speaking, the space between the two hands it’s 1/3 of the area of the entire dial circle, thus it’s balanced.

  • Jake

    I just keep my left hand on 12, my right hand around my girl’s shoulder, my seat leaning back, and my headlights facing the sunset, at all times.

  • mzphoto

    Back in the “old days” the “rule” was that in the US & Euro it was 10:10 and in Asia it was 1:50, which was similar looking, with the hands reversed.

  • Tracy

    My photo teacher said to set the clocks to 1:50 vs 10:10 for the same look. 10:10 meant the work day was young – 1:50 was closer to quitting time and therefore more appealing! I could argue this til I was blue in the face with a catalogue studio manager. Thank heavens I don’t shoot clocks and watches in the photo factories anymore!

  • Prasad

    There is a photographic approach as well. This combination follows the rule of thirds.

  • ms

    I just shot a bunch of watches for a catalog and figured this out on my own. Interesting “Timing” with this article ha.

  • Wilba

    10:10 makes the hands form a tick shape (whereas 1:50 is back-to-front).

  • ScarlettFeverr

    Because 4:20 would make certain people think it has a secret compartment.

  • keets

    makes sense for all the above reasons…regarding symmetry…basic rules in visual merchandising follow a pyramid rule, as it draws the human eye through the product… whether its an upwards facing, downwards facing, convex or concave pyramid/triangle shape, this is what i follow when merching.

  • Horst Wrabetz

    9 and 3 is like racedrivers hold their steering wheels, i guess they do it for a reason, so i go with that :)

  • Horst Wrabetz

    yeah, because you can’t properly steer a car like that when you have to react quickly. with 9 and 3 there wouldn’t be a reason for the airbag to go off ;)

  • Paul

    In my money it’s called the rule of thirds..

  • Wodan74

    Yep, they usually already exist in CAD design so no need to model it from scratch… and it’s easier to maintain same lighting style and reflections throughout the catalog.

  • Nate Carrasco

    The hands look more like eyebrows. Therefore it looks angry >:(

  • Colleen

    Why not 2:50?

  • Jennet

    Refer Wilba and Tracy above

  • BenMesser

    came from numberphile lol

  • Vin Weathermon

    10:10 – break time’s over!