Hubert Burda Media

Watch terms you need to know as a budding collector


The world of timepieces and watchmaking may seem daunting to someone looking to leave the era of G-Shocks behind, but trust us, it’s got an oldschool sort of simplicty and charm about it.

Whether you’re turning into a sincere watch nut or just don’t want to be caught in a baldfaced lie about how much you dig watches (you just wear ’em, right?), we’ve got the perfect guide for you.

Parts of a Watch

You can’t begin collecting if you can’t point out or identify which parts of a watch’s anatomy gets you going (or dislike). Fortunately, most of the terms are common sense.

Band (also strap) – That strip of leather, metal links, cloth, rubber or other material that goes around your wrist. Not sure which to bring? Check our handy guide.

Navitimer 8 B01 with black dial and black alligator leather strap. (PPR/Breitling)

Bezel – The ring that sits on top of the case. Almost washer-like in shape. Sometimes adjustable.

Case – The case is just that – the container that holds the workings of the watch, that’s attached to the band.

Caseback – As implied, the back of the case. Usually engraved if metal, and if clear, made from durable sapphire glass so you can see the beautiful workings within.

Very visible from this caseback: the rotor and jewels.

Clasp – The mechanism that fastens the band on your wrist. Often a folding clasp on metal watches.

Crown – The spinnable nub that’s typically on the right side of the watch face. The most basic crowns allow you to adjust the time and date.

Crystal – You could substitute this with ‘glass face of the case’ and you’d be right 98% of the time.

Dial – It’s somewhat inaccurate to just say ‘watch face’ as that includes all the hands and displays – so the ‘dial’ refers specifically to the ‘baseplate’ of the face. Mostly metal, sometimes meteorite or mother-of-pearl. Sometimes even wood.

2018 was the year of the “panda dial”.

Lugs – The parts of a case that stretch out like short limbs to house connectors to the band or strap.

Indices – The markings on the watch face (or any of the complications) that help measure or track something. Most commonly this refers to the hour indices.

Jewels – Literal stones, precious or otherwise, that sit in the inner workings of the watch. They function as durable ball bearings, reducing friction and wear.

Movement – The core of the watch (see next picture) that houses the whizzing gears, springs and other parts that make your watch tick.

Rotor – Your wrist movements swing this ‘blade’ in automatic watches, which in turn helps to wind up the mainspring. Visible if you have a clear caseback – otherwise shake the watch a little and you should be able to feel the swinging mass within.

Functions

Right, so you’ve got the basics down, but that doesn’t help understand these impossibly long watch names. They can appear almost as bad as chemistry nomenclature to the beginner – but here’s how to break down the most common.

Automatic – You can loosely equate this to ‘self-winding’ watch. Remember back in the day you had to actually wind your watch through twisting the crown. Most high-end watches are automatic – the intricate mechanisms are what delight.

The automatic watch movement is the beating heart of haute horlogerie – digital watches fascinate far fewer people.

Complication – What sounds like a bad thing for any piece of hardware to have actually just means (again, loosely) ‘additional feature’ on an automatic watch; for example, a day and date display is a complication. Imagine all the extra gears and engineering required!

Tourbillon – That spinny-looking complication that’s often on prominent display in skeleton watches or through an opening in the dial. Originally conceived to combat the effects of gravity on the clockwork, but not strictly required these days.

TEST YOURSELF: On this watch, from 3 o’clock to 9 o’clock: power reserve indicator, tourbillon, and date indicator.

Moonphase – A complication that shows you the current (expected) shape of the moon in the night sky. Fancy, and often breathtaking.

Perpetual Calendar – A step up from the regular day-date, these watches actually keep track of aberrations in the month cycle – for example, it accounts for February 29th every 4 years.

Power Reserve – How long can your watch go before requiring a full winding? Often not a concern as most collector’s watches are automatic – but once your collection grows, you’re going to have to juggle around this number if you don’t want to adjust or wind them every day.

(Or you could get a watch winder.)

Power Reserve Indicator – That’s right, another complication. A fuel gauge, if you will, showing how much there’s left in the ‘tank’.

Check out the moonphase indicator on this one (the starred disc).

Repeaters and Sonneries – These lovely watches have the ability to chime – often with angelic ‘tings’ – at predetermined intervals (sonneries) or user-set intervals (repeaters). Sometimes considered the pinnacle of complications.

SuperLuminova – Industry-favoured glow-in-the-dark paint. It’s really high performance, though – diving watches need to be readable in the darkness of the depths, after all.

Industry terms

Technicality is just half of the mysticism of the watchmaking world. Here are the few terms you may hear tossed about in an earnest conversation about timepieces.

Haute Horlogerie – ‘High watchmaking’ – and that should tell you all you need to know about this oft-bandied term. Do note it’s spelled different from ‘horology’.

Manufacture – Any entity or factory that designs and produces its own timepieces, as opposed to outsourcing the job.

Frederique Constant Hybrid Manufacture
Riddle: How do you know a watch is of its own manufacture? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

SIHH / Baselworld – These are names for the two largest annual watch shows, where most high- to mid-end brands reveal their creations for the year. Both are held in Switzerland, naturally.

The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie takes place in Geneva around mid-January. Baselworld is held in Basel, this year in the last half of March.

Swissmade – Self-explanatory label that watch makers tout as a mark of assurance. However, this doesn’t mean 100% of the components are of Swiss origin, just the majority. It does have to be inspected in Switzerland, however. On that note:

Geneva Seal / COSC certified – further marks of assurance that subject the watches to tests, such as accuracy and fidelity in timekeeping and how well it holds up to vigorous tests.

 

And that’s it! You should be able to hold your own during conversation now – or at least segue into something you can discuss at length. Keep checking back for additions to this list.

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