A Breakdown Of Watches: Basic Terms You Need To Know
The world of luxury watches is an exhilarating, fast-paced, and constantly emerging industry to be a part of for watch experts and enthusiasts alike. For the less experienced, watch terminology can be pretty confusing and even somewhat intimidating. There is so much to know, and the learning curve is arguably steep for newcomers, with both experience and time within the industry aiding in one’s favor and knowledge base. As a newbie to the watch world myself, I can absolutely attest to how intimidated I initially felt when first entering this exciting yet highly complex industry. Different terms, names, verbiage, lingo, and the number of different luxury watch brand collections were just flying right over my head, as I scrambled to make sense of them all. Fortunately for me, my curiosity and inquisitive nature bodes well for me – plus the fact that I’m not at all shy to ask as many questions as I need to until I get it. Even more fortunate for me, I work with an amazing team of much more savvy and seasoned “watch heads” who have been patient enough to break it all down for me in time, little by little.
Having a very limited but rapidly expanding knowledge base of watches, I wanted to create an accessible and easy-to-understand glossary of must-know terms for myself and others who are new to the industry, or for those who simply want to expand their watch-related knowledge. They say the best way to learn is to teach. So as I’m still very much learning the watch biz myself, I thought I’d start with the basics and provide a baseline of knowledge for those in my same shoes. Below, you will find my most straightforward, simplified, layman’s termed breakdown of basic watch terminology that will surely help you know what you’re talking about next time you find yourself in a watch inspired discussion – or at the very least, help you seem like you do.
Watch Terminology on Watch Parts
A good place to start your journey into learning watch terminology is getting to know the different parts that make up a watch. Luxury watches are made up of hundreds of intricate parts that ultimately determine the watch’s accuracy, robustness, style, and overall quality. Since my aim here is to simplify, I have listed the most commonly referenced watch components below:
Dial: The “face” of the watch, just beneath the crystal.
Subdial: Some watches have subdials, smaller dials on the main dial that display additional information not indicated on the main dial. Watches with subdials can serve special functions – like as a stopwatch, or telling multiple time zones at once.
Subdials on the Audemars Piguet Royal Oaks
Crystal: The transparent “glass” cover that protects the dial. Crystals can actually be made of any of 3 materials (only 1 of which is actual glass): 1. plexiglass or acrylic crystal (a clear, lightweight type of plastic), 2. actual glass (usually referred to as “mineral glass” in the watch biz), or 3. synthetic sapphire glass (a durable synthetically produced crystal).
Bezel: The top ring that surrounds the dial and crystal; Generally speaking, bezels on older watches are made of aluminum inserts and newer watches have bezels made of ceramic inserts. Certain bezels even display additional information such as GMT time.
Insert: The numbered ring on the bezel. Some watches have removable inserts, while some watches just have the numbers engraved into the steel.
Crown: The little knob device on the side of the watch used to wind and set the time. The crown may also serve additional functions depending on the watch – like setting complications such as the date, and protecting the movement of the watch.
Bracelet: The metal band that keeps the watch in position by wrapping around the wrist Bracelets are made up of links that can be adjusted (links added or removed) to custom fit the wearer’s wrist.
Strap: A leather or rubber band that wraps around the wrist and keeps the watch in position. Straps can often be swapped out for the bracelet, and vice versa, to accessorize or customize a watch to a wearer’s personal preference and style.
Case: The metal case making up the body of the watch and enclosing the works of it. The case protects the watch movement from dust, moisture, and shock.
Lugs: The metal bars that secure the bracelet or strap to the watch case. They are sometimes referred to as horns.
Hands: Just like the hands on a clock, they indicate the time of day on the dial with an hour, minute, and seconds hand.
Aperture: A small opening, that’s usually cut/carved from the dial, that displays info such as the date, month, and year. Some watches are even elaborate enough to display the moon phase through its aperture.
Types Of Luxury Watches
Also important to know about luxury watches are the different types and classifications that categorize certain watches from others. For me personally, knowing the different types of luxury watches really helped me to differentiate them in my own head. Luxury watches can most easily be broken down into 4 categories:
Dress Watches: The perfect accessory to business suits, evening wear, or other sophisticated formal attire. Elegant, sleek, and minimalist in style, dress watches usually don’t include any complications – at most, a second hand and a date window. Dress watches are generally more focused on looks and aesthetics over functionality. A popular dress watch that is well-liked by both men and women alike, is the Rolex Datejust.
(Left) Rose gold Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore (Middle) Rolex Datejust II (Right) Stainless Steel AP Royal Oak
Sports Watches: Robust, highly functional, and usually water-resistant, sports watches can endure rugged conditions while still maintaining precise timekeeping. They typically have sturdy cases, should be easily legible, somewhat shockproof and very resistant to scratches and physical contact. Sports watches commonly include special features such as a stopwatch, alarm, compass, heart rate monitor, and thermometer, to name a few.
Diving Watches: Also known as a diver’s or dive watches, diving watches are designed for underwater diving, as well as other water activities. The ultimate timekeeping device for divers, these watches have sturdy waterproof cases that can withstand deep sea depths at a minimum of 100m (330 ft), although modern technology allows many newer diving watches to go much deeper. They also often include complications that allow divers to time their oxygen supply while diving.
(Left) Tudor Pelagos Blue (Middle) Two-Tone Gold Rolex Submariner Date Ref. 116613LB (Right) Rolex Submariner Date “Hulk” Ref. 116610LV
Pilot Watches: Originally designed with the needs of aircraft pilots in mind, pilot watches usually have larger cases and easy-to-read dials. These features help aviators quickly and easily tell time at any time of the day, and in any weather conditions. Pilot watches typically include additional timekeeping complications, such as elapsed time and time-telling in multiple time zones at once. The Tudor Black Bay GMT is a popular go-to of pilot watches.
Complications are additional functions on a watch other than timekeeping. Watch complications enable special functions performed and/or displayed on the watch intended to simplify your life. Below are some of the more common and practical watch complications:
Chronograph: A stopwatch function for recording elapsed time with great accuracy
Date Window: An aperture found on the watch’s dial that displays the current date; The date window is most commonly found at either the 3 o’clock or 6 o’clock position on the dial.
Annual Calendar: A calendar mechanism on a watch that displays the hour, day, date and month, and is automatically adjusted following every month with 30 or 31 days (every month except February). A watch with an annual calendar must be manually set once a year.
Perpetual Calendar: Same as with an annual calendar, watches with a perpetual calendar also display the day, date, and month – while also accounting for leap years (something annual calendars do not). Unlike watches with an annual calendar, perpetual calendar watches do not need to be manually set annually.
Dual Time: Watches with a dual time complication have two hour hands in order to tell time in two different time zones – usually displaying the local time and an additional time zone. Dual time watches are popular with travelers, as they allow the wearer to see their local time plus their time back home for a quick reference.
GMT: GMT stands for Greenwich Mean Time and, like the dual time complication, tells time in more than one time zone. Watches with the GMT complication displays the time in 2 or more time zones.
(Left) Rolex GMT-Master II “Pepsi” Ref. 126710BLRO (Middle) Rolex GMT-Master II “Batgirl” Ref. 126710BLNR (Right) Tudor Black Bay GMT “Pepsi” Ref. 79830RB
World Time Zone: Watches with the world time zone complication display 24 time zones with corresponding major cities, enabling the wearer to tell the time from anywhere in the world.
Moon Phase: Displays the phases of the moon in a lunar cycle. This complication is highly coveted by most watch enthusiasts for its utility and technical prowess, while others like it simply for its aesthetics.
Power Reserve: Indicates the amount of power and remaining energy the watch has reserved before it needs to be wound again. Watches of today have evolved to provide typically around 40-50 hours of power (enough for about two days), while some watches like the Panerai Luminor 3-Days Reserve 312 [insert can hold up to 3 days worth of power.
Tachymeter: A scale that is used to measure the speed of the wearer over a fixed distance. It is commonly found on the watch’s bezel. This complication comes in handy for racing and tracking time, and can be found on watches like the Rolex Daytona and the Rolex Yacht-Master, commonly used for racecar driving and competitive yachting, respectively.
Another term that constantly flew over my head at first was “movements”. A watch movement, also referred to as a “caliber”, is the watch’s internal engine that operates the watch and its functions – moving the hands to tell time and powering any complications of the watch. It’s essentially what makes the watch tick (no pun intended). There are 3 major movements for luxury watches:
Manual/Mechanical: A mechanical movement that is powered by regularly winding the watch’s crown. Watches with manual movements require manual winding in order to operate.
Automatic: This movement is powered by the natural motion and kinetic energy of the wearer’s wrist, which transfers automatically to drive the inner mechanism of the watch. Watches with automatic movements are also known as “self-winding” watches.
Quartz: A battery powered movement that does not need to be wound to operate. Watches that are quartz powered are typically less expensive than manual and automatic watches.
Miscellaneous Watch Terminology
Box and Papers (B&P): When a watch is sold “with box and papers”, it means that it’s being sold in the original branded box, and with all original papers (including a warranty card) from the manufacturer. Having box & papers helps to verify the watch is 100% authentic and isn’t a counterfeit or replica.
Rolex watch box, warranty card, and booklet. Commonly referred to as “Box and Papers”
Full Set: A full set is considered the watch, with box and papers, as well as all accessories that were included when the watch was bought brand new
Accessories: Common watch accessories include interchangeable bracelets, watch bands or straps, watch winders, batteries, repair tools/kits,cleaning kits, and pocket-watch chains, to name a few.
Frequency: The speed at which a watch movement beats or ticks. Frequency is also commonly referred to a watch’s “vibrations an hour” (vph).
In-house movement: If a watch has an in-house movement, it means the watch’s movement/caliber was produced by the brand themselves. An example of an in-house movement is Tudor’s Manufacture calibre MT5602, their first in-house movement that was introduced with the launch of their Black Bay collection.
ETA movement: Watch movements produced by ETA (ETA Swiss Watch Manufacturer), the largest manufacturer of Swiss watch movements. Many watch brands place their names on modified ETA movements, since designing, developing, and producing in-house movements is expensive and time-consuming – therefore making ETA movements a sensible alternative.
Finish: The finish means the decoration of a movement. Most mechanical movements have some form of embellishments or finishing – including either machine-performed or hand-finished engravings, Côtes de Genève, stippling, bevelling, and blued screws.
Luxury Watch Terminology Knowledge
Like cars, computers, and just about anything else that’s very technical – watch terminology is almost as complex and intricate as the mechanics that drive them. For those less familiar with the world of watches, the wide array of vocabulary can definitely sound a lot like a foreign language. Hopefully this glossary of commonly used watch terminology will help lessen the confusion and intimidation factors for my fellow timekeeping newbies and potentially help with purchasing your next luxury watch. Familiarize yourself with these basic terms and, soon enough, you’ll be throwing around these terms as casually and confidently as any other watch enthusiast.