A Unique Tactile Watch from Tissot
Several years ago, I became aware that the Swiss watchmaker Tissot was manufacturing a high-quality tactile watch that could be used by blind folks like me. Some companies that specialize in products for the blind were selling this timepiece. I started seeing them at conventions of the National federation of the Blind, my employer, as well as other blindness and disability conferences.
Tactile watches, sometimes called Braille watches (although they do not technically use Braille numbers), have been around for a long time. The traditional tactile watch for the blind has a crystal that flips up so that the face is exposed. Dots around the face indicate the locations of the numbers, with two or three dots at the twelve, three, six, and nine o’clock positions, and single dots at all other positions. By touching the dots and the hands of the watch, which are kept in place by a reinforced post, a blind user can tell the time. The problem with these watches is that the crystal is regularly being flipped up and snapped back down, and the normally protected face is exposed both to skin oils and possibly other residue from the individual’s hands and to other environmental elements. This makes for lots of wear and tear on the watch and a face that eventually appears grimy, and most blind people go through several of such timepieces in a lifetime. It’s usually easier to buy a new one than to have one cleaned and repaired. There are also talking watches, but these have the disadvantage of disturbing others. I have been at gatherings of blind people where several of these watches, having been set to automatically announce the hour, go off at once.
Tissot decided to take a different approach. The company’s SilenT watch has the tactile dots around the bezel, not on the face itself. The position of the hands is indicated by vibrations. This is possible because of advanced touch-screen technology. The user presses the stem of the watch, then runs a finger around the edge of the face, touching both the bezel and the sapphire crystal. The position of the hour hand is indicated by a long, steady vibration when the user’s finger reaches it; the minutes are indicated by shorter pulses. The vibrations are calibrated so that they correspond specifically to the actual position of the hands. The watch can also be set independently by a blind user by pulling out the stem and touching the screen to indicate first the correct hour, then the minutes. This actually causes the hands to move, which looks neat when a friend is watching. Vibrations tell the user when the watch is set to the desired time. The watch also has a handy silent alarm; the watch vibrates instead of beeping or chiming, so those around you are not disturbed. The watch still has to be touched, of course, but cleaning, to the extent it’s needed, is easily accomplished by a soft lint-free cloth.
I decided to buy one of these watches, both because I am a certified gadget freak and because I wanted a handsome watch that might last for years. I did worry about learning the watch’s vibration system for telling the time, but I found that it quickly became second nature. Tissot helpfully included an audio CD to explain how to read and operate the watch – a thoughtful touch considering that blind people cannot read a printed manual. Interestingly, the watch’s marketing materials also suggested it for business professionals who wanted to check the time discreetly, not just for the blind.
Sadly, I did not heed the advice of the watch manufacturer, which was to have it serviced only through Tissot. Surely, I thought, the batteries could be replaced by someone else. I quickly learned that having the average jeweler replace the batteries didn’t cut it, and certainly not the fellow who replaced watch batteries at the local flea market near where my mother lives. I thought I was going to be stuck with a very expensive watch that would no longer function, with only myself to blame. I did not know that my local barbershop, of all places, would come to my rescue.
When the Quinntessential Gentleman, which is of course now much more than a barbershop, announced that it would be selling Tissot watches, I showed up at the inaugural event to meet the Tissot representative and see if I could get the watch repaired. Andrea, the Tissot representative, immediately recognized the product, which I was not sure was even still in production, and I was back in business. I have learned my lesson and will in future take all of Tissot’s advice on the care and feeding of this fine timepiece.
As far as I know, Tissot was the first company to create a vibrating tactile watch, although some other companies have now followed suit with similar concepts. But for style as well as functionality, I don’t think it’s possible to beat the Tissot SilenT. The watch isn’t for everyone; like other Tissot timepieces, it’s a high-end product. But now that I know where and how to get it serviced, I’m hopeful that it will yet last me for years to come.
Christopher S. Danielsen, J.D.
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind