The thrill I felt when first unwrapping the package is one that will resonate with any lifelong reader of braille. It was Christmas 2017, and my daughter was especially excited about one particular gift as she placed it in my hands. A rectangular box, about eight inches long and two inches wide, it had a certain heft that signaled something elegant might rest within. The possibility was confirmed when, as the gift-wrap fell away, my fingers touched lovely, Grade 2 braille on the top of the box.
"The Bradley Timepiece," the top line announced. And beneath it: "Designed to touch and see."
In this month of celebrating braille and all things tactile, I am exploring with you whether or not this Bradley Timepiece is a welcome innovation for readers of braille everywhere—as well as for those who know nothing at all about the six-dot literacy system.
A Short History of the Bradley Timepiece
When Hyungsoo Kim was a student at MIT, it troubled him that a friend and classmate who happened to be blind had to ask others for the time. The blind student had a talking watch, but also had enough social savvy not to press its button and thus bark the time (and the fact that he was monitoring it) to everyone within hearing. A blind person, it seemed to Hyungsoo Kim, had as much right to check the time discreetly as anyone else. Not only did he—and others who joined his pursuit—want to develop a way of telling time that was functional and discreet, but he also wanted to develop a watch that was different in a positive way, a watch that was, as the company logo says today: "beautiful, functional, and inclusive." Moreover, he wanted a watch that wasn't exclusively designed for blind people, but rather, a watch that everyone, including blind people, could enjoy.
Meeting the Bradley
After I removed the welcoming sleeve announcing in print and beautiful braille that this is a Bradley Timepiece, the rectangular jewelry box opened with a flip-up lid and greeted me with even more braille. A booklet, formed exactly to fit the shape of the rectangular container, relates the tale of the Bradley Timepiece. Again, this information is presented in lovely contracted braille. The Bradley timepiece was nestled in its container, below the booklet.
Here is a personal note about my own experience with telling time: I have never been a fan (or even been marginally interested) in watches that blare the time announcement for all to hear. I have, however, had braille watches of one sort or another since the second grade. Traditionally, these have a hinged crystal that lifts up, allowing the wearer to touch the hands and face of the watch. Dots indicate the 1 through 12 positions on the analog face, and one can quickly learn to discern by touch where the small and large hands of the watch are pointing. While this is definitely a discreet way of accessing the time, braille watches have been more functional than stylish.
The Bradley has neither a crystal nor moving hands. It does have a "face," similar to an analog clock, with raised markings to indicate the positions of 1 through 12. Each of these is a simple line, radiating to the outer edge of the face, with the exception of the indicator at the 12 o'clock position, which is a triangle. The time is displayed by noting the positions of two magnetized ball bearings. On the front of the timepiece, one ball bearing moves to indicate the minutes. Around the edge or side circumference of the timepiece, a second ball bearing rolls in a groove and indicates the hour. Each of these ball bearings moves along a recessed track. The track for the ball bearing indicating the hour is cut into the rim of the watch, while the track on the face, for the minutes indicator, is between the raised markings and a dime-sized flat surface in the center of the face. At the three o-clock position near the back or bottom of the timepiece, closest to your wrist, is a small knob-like protrusion the company refers to as the crown. To adjust the time, you pull out the crown, turn it counterclockwise, and observe the time progressing clockwise on the watch. When the desired time is reached, press the crown in to lock it into place.
The Bradley comes in a variety of materials and colors. Gold, silver, bronze, black, brown, are colors listed on the site for watches; the strap, as well, is available in various shades, and is available as stainless steel or leather.
The Bradley Timepiece runs on a Renata 371 button cell battery, which lasts for about two years. As with any watch, the company recommends taking the Bradley to a jeweler or watch repair establishment when the battery needs replacing.
Using the Bradley Timepiece
It takes a bit of practice to tell time successfully and efficiently with the Bradley, but once you have acclimated, it is quick and easy to touch the watch and know the time. If you move one of the ball bearings accidentally, a quick shake of the wrist will pull them back into alignment. Although the watch is not completely water resistant, it can withstand small amounts of water such as a rain shower or water splashed while washing hands.
The Bradley is promoted as a watch for both blind and sighted people, and indeed, one of the most rewarding things about owning one is the high number of compliments I received. It is a striking piece of jewelry that can be worn by both women and men, evidenced by my own experience of hearing frequent comments from both sexes. People want to touch it and, fortunately, since the ball bearings readily shake back into place, it is a wish that can be accommodated without harm. It is fun wearing a watch that others find beautiful, and there is some satisfaction in wearing a watch that has a story that is compelling and patriotic.
The Bradley gets its name, incidentally, from its spokesperson, Brad Snyder, a former Naval officer turned gold medalist Paralympian who lost his sight in 2011 while deployed as a bomb diffuser in Afghanistan.
Is this product, as its promotional materials proclaim, beautiful, functional, and inclusive? The Bradley Timepiece is a unique and lovely piece of jewelry that presents a tactile alternative for discreetly checking the time. It is produced by a company that presents its product as being appropriate for everyone, blind or sighted, and presents blindness with absolute dignity and respect. It does, in other words, deliver.
Prices range from $260 to $310, and free shipping is available in the United States and United Kingdom.
For more information or to order a Bradley Timepiece, visit the company's website.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
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