Unfortunately, there aren't many options available for the visually impaired when it comes to timepieces. While a number of talking watches and braille wristwatches with removable covers are already on the market, those often draw attention to a person's disability. That's why watchmaker Eone's debut timepiece, the Bradley, indicates the time with magnetic ball bearings that can be read subtly by touch.

Bradley Snyder, a naval officer turned paralympic swimmer who lost his eyesight after an explosion in Afghanistan, provided the inspiration and namesake for the tactile watch. The design team built the first prototype of the watch mechanism from Lego pieces and worked extensively with visually impaired testers to manufacture a functional and appealing timepiece.

Instead of the usual analog watch hands, which can lose their setting if touched, the Bradley measures the time using two ball bearings contained within special channels: one on the front for the minute and one on the side for the hour. Each bearing is held in place with a magnet connected to a precise Swiss quartz watch movement inside the body. Like most other watches, the time is set by turning the crown on the side.

To read the time, the wearer feels where the balls are located in relation to the notches on the face, which are distinguishable through different shapes and textures. Even if a person accidentally nudges the ball bearings out of place when touching them, a quick shake of the wrist will lock them back to the correct time. As an added bonus, the watch is waterproof up to 50 m (164 ft), so users can still keep track of time while showering and swimming.

The Bradley has been crafted with a minimalist design so it can be worn in almost any situation and with any outfit. The 40 mm x 11.5 mm (1.6 in x 0.5 in) body of the watch is made of durable titanium and designed to be easy to clean – an important feature for something that will be handled all day. Users will have a choice of watch bands made of either a stainless steel mesh or a combination of fabric and leather colored mustard yellow, olive green, or silver blue.

As the designers have pointed out, the Bradley was made with the visually impaired in mind, but people with full eyesight could get just as much use from a watch that can be read by hand. Aside from a distinctive style, the watch makes it easier to surreptitiously check the time in a dark movie theater or boring business meeting, for example.

Eone recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring the Bradley into mass production, which received more than double its original US$40,000 goal from backers in less than a day. The first batch of watches has already sold out, but anyone who contributes $128 or more will receive a watch from the second batch that is due to ship in December.

For now, though, check out the video below to see how the designers developed the tactile Bradley wristwatch.

Sources: Eone, Kickstarter

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