If you’re new to watches, or looking for a refresher on some of the terminology that’s commonly thrown around in watch enthusiast circles, this is the post for you.
No matter if you’re just starting out as an enthusiast or have been collecting watches your whole life, there are always new watch terms to learn and old ones to brush up on.
The watch industry has its own language and insider culture that can be difficult to pick up if you don’t know where to start.
This blog post will help give you a head start with over 100 common watch terms (along with their definitions) so that you’ll sound like a pro next time someone brings up some watch terminology.
Analog Watch– A watch that displays the time on a traditional clock face. Not in digital form. Spelt as Analogue in British English.
Annual Calendar – An annual calendar complication displays the day, date, and month. This complication requires you set the date at the end of February, once a year.
Arabic Numerals – Are the ten digits (0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9), used to display the time.
Ardillon Buckle – Like a traditional belt buckle, except used to secure your wristwatch. Also known as a Tang Buckle.
Atmosphere (atm) – A unit of measurement used to measure the pressure a watch can withstand. 1 atm = 10 meters. Learn more about watch water resistance.
Automatic Movement – Referred to as self-winding. It’s a mechanical watch that generates energy from the motion of the wearer’s wrist. Manual winding is not needed.
Balance Spring – Also known as a hairspring. Is used in the mechanism of mechanical watches. It’s the spring that attaches to the balance wheel. Both work together as regulating organs.
Balance Wheel – It acts like a pendulum inside of a mechanical watch. A weighted device that swings back and forth inside
Bar – A unit of measurement used to measure the pressure a watch can withstand. 1 bar = 10 meters. Used to display how water resistant a watch is. Learn more about watch water resistance.
Barrel – Used in mechanical watches. It’s a cylindrical metal box closed by a cover, that has a ring of gear teeth around it. It contains a spiral spring (the mainspring). This provides the power to power the watch. See the barrel in action in our watch parts guide.
Base Metal – The case metal of a watch, that is a non-precious metal alloy. Common base metals include; brass, zinc, and copper.
Bezel – The top ring that surrounds the crystal of a watch. Every watch has one. Some rotate while others remain stationary. Rotating bezels are unidirectional or bidirectional.
Bi-Compax – A chronograph that has a pair of subdials.
Bracelet – A band of leather, cloth, canvas, or metal links wrapped around your wrist and attached to a wristwatch. Other names include; strap, watchstrap, watchband, and wristband.
Bridge – The watch bridge attaches to the main plate. This helps form the frame for the watch movement.
Calibre – Another word for watch movement. A calibre is the finished mechanism of the individual watch. Excludes the case and dials.
Caseback – Refers to the back of the watch. It’s usually removable to allow for access to the watch movement. Often engraved and pressed or threaded into the watch case.
Ceramic – Ceramic is a material used in watches. It refers to any material that’s solid, nonmetallic, and inorganic. This is a high tech material, and not like the ceramic used in pottery.
Chronograph – Is a type of watch that is a combined analog watch and stopwatch. Learn more about a chronograph and how they work in our chronograph guide.
Chronometer – Today, a chronometer refers to a watch that has been tested and certified to meet top precision standards. A chronometer can measure time accurately despite changes in motion, temperature, humidity or air pressure.
Complication – Refers to any function a watch has other than telling the time.
Crown – It’s the knob on the side of the case. Considered part of the case. Used to set your watch and a variety of functions. Learn more about the crown and how the crown works.
Cushion-Shaped – Term used to describe a watch case style. That’s roughly a square shape, with rounded corners. Learn more here.
Deployant Clasp – A more secure clasp to keep your watch on your wrist, compared to the traditional buckle. They have a fold over and push button method. Invented by Louis Cartier in 1910. Other names include; deployment buckles, butterfly clasps, and strap deployments.
Dial – The part of the watch that displays the time. Also referred to as the face.
Digital Watch– A type of watch that displays the time in numerical digits. Instead of hands on a dial.
Dive Watch – A watch that is designed for underwater diving. Also referred to ask diving watch, or diver’s watch. These watches have a level of water resistance. Ranging from 10 atm up to 100 atm. Learn more about different watch styles.
DLC – Stands for Diamond-Like Coating or Diamond-Like Carbon. It’s used to coat watch’s base metal in a layer of extremely durable, scratch resistant carbon particles.
Double Chronograph – A type of chronograph that has two separate stopwatch mechanisms. Which can be used to time two separate events, both of different duration. Learn more about chronographs.
Dress Watch – A style of watch made to be worn with a suit or other formal attire. They’re the simplest and most elegant timepieces. Learn more about different watch styles.
Dual Time – A function of a that allows you to indicate the time in two different time zones. With the use of a two hands, one on a main dial and the other on a subdial.
Escape Valve – Go to Helium Escape Valve.
ETA – ETA is a Swiss manufacturer that makes a range of ETA movements. Their movements are used in many watches today. They’re owned by the largest Swiss watch group; the Swatch Group. Learn more about the Swatch Group.
Face – The part of the watch that displays the time. Often referred to as the dial.
Field Watch – A style of watch, which is a simple military watch. Originally called trench watches. Designed to be accurate and easy to read while in the trenches. Learn more about different watch styles.
Flyback Chronograph – Refers to a special type of chronograph that allows you to reset and restart the stopwatch function, by pushing a single button.
GMT – A function that allows you to display two or three time zones. This is done though a 24 hour format. To ensure no confusion between day or night. Here’s a helpful video explaining how a GMT watch works.
Grande Complication – Refers to a portable watch that includes the following; a perpetual calendar, a minute repeater, moon phases, split-second chronograph, along with a grande and petite sonnerie. There is debate around this definition. However, everyone agrees that these are watch masterpieces.
Guilloché – A decoration technique done on a watch dial, case or caseback. It involves precise, intricate, and repetitive pattern mechanically engraved.
Hairspring – Go to balance spring.
Hands – The markers on the dial that indicate the time.
Hand-Wound Movement – Refers to a watch movement that must be wound manually on a regular basis by the wearer. This is usually done by twisting the crown. Sometimes referred to as manual-wind movement.
Helium Escape Valve – A feature found on some dive watches used for saturation diving (dives that need helium gas to complete). Also referred to as an escape valve.
Hertz (Hz) – Hertz is used to measure the frequency of a watch’s movement. Specifically Hertz refers to the number of oscillations that a balance wheel of a watch movement makes in 1 second.
Horology – Has two definitions; (1) the study and measurement of time, (2) the art of making watches and clocks.
Incabloc Shock Protection System – A branded shock protection system used to protect a mechanical movement. Invented by Swiss engineers; Georges Braunschweig and Fritz Marti, in 1934.
Index – A device that is used to adjust the watch’s rate by reducing or increasing the length of the balance spring.
In-House – Doing something within an organization, with no outside assistance.
Jewels – Refer to synthetic rubies that are used within a watch’s movement.
Jumping Hours – A complication used to display the hour. By jumping to the hour every 60 minutes, instead of sweeping there gradually.
Knurling – Is a finishing process used to create combinations of vertical, horizontal, and crossing lines on an object. A knurled object ensures it’s easier to grip.
LED – Meaning light-emitting diode. This display was popularized in early digital quartz watches. Lit up the watch at a push, usually lit up red.
Lubrication – Is essential to maintain mechanical watches, to reduce the friction between its parts within the movement.
Lugs – Projections on a watch’s case that are used to secure the watch’s strap to the watch’s case. Often referred to as horns.
Luminous – Watch’s that have dials and hands that illuminate and glow in the dark.
Mainspring – Is a spiral torsion spring of metal ribbon. Used as the power source within the movement of a mechanical watch. See the mainspring in action, in our watch parts guide.
Manual-Wind Movement – Go to hand-wound movement for explanation.
Mechanical Watch – A watch that has a complex clockwork mechanism to power the watch and record time. See how a mechanical watch works.
Milanese Bracelet – A popular style of watch band usually made from stainless steel intertwined loops. Also referred to as Milanese Mesh.
Military Time – A method of time measurement using the full twenty-four hours of a day.
Mineral Glass – Common tempered glass made from silica. A synthetic sapphire glass.
Minute Repeater – A complication used in mechanical watches. When you activate a pusher the watch will chime down the time to the minute. It does this through the use of different sounds for hours, quarter-hours, and minutes. They’re useful watches for those who are visually impaired. Watches that have this complication are considered masterpieces due to how complicated they are.
Moonphase Watch – A watch that displays the phase of the moon. That is the 29.5 day lunar cycle. Displaying where the moon is currently in that cycle, in an opening on the dial.
Monopusher – A specific type of chronograph. That uses one button to start the timing, stop it, and reset it.
Mother-of-Pearl – A luxury material sometimes used to form dials for luxury watches. This material is formed from the outer coating of pearls.
Movement – A watch movement is the whole individual mechanism contained inside the case of the watch. Excluding the case and dials.
Oscillation – In a watch, oscillation is the back and forth movement of the balance wheel. Like, the back and forth movement of a pendulum in a clock. Oscillation is measured in Hertz (Hz).
Open Heart – An Open Heart watch is a mechanical watch with a hole on the dial which allows displays the balance wheel of the watch’s movement. This is like the beating heart of your watch, hence why is called Open Heart.
Perpetual Calendar – A complication that involves the displaying the correct date on the watch perpetually (i.e. constantly).
Pilot Watch – A watch tailored to the needs of an airplane pilot.
Plating – Refers to the thin surface covering of a metal, over an object made of metal. Plating often uses silver or gold.
Platinum – The heaviest precious metal, that has a white silver look. It’s dense and durable.
Power Reserve – The stored energy in a watch.
Power Reserve Indicator – A complication that shows the amount of stored energy remaining.
Pulsometer – A feature that is used to measure the wearer’s heart rate. Featured on chronographs or sports watches. They include a pulsometric scale on the dial that measures the rate of heartbeat’s per minute.
Pusher – A common control mechanism used to activate an internal function on a watch. Referred to as a button or a push piece.
PVD – Stands fir Physical Vapour Deposition. PVD coating involves covering your entire watch, and often the bracelet, in a thin layer of titanium nitride. Which is very hard metal that is extremely dense.
QP – Another word for perpetual calendar.
Quartz Watch – Watches that use an electronic oscillator regulated by a quartz crystal in order to keep the time. They’re more accurate than mechanical watches.
Regulateur Watch – A watch designed for the greatest accuracy. A watch that displays the hours, minutes and seconds on different parts of the watch’s dial. The minute hand usually takes the prime position on the watch.
Regulating Organs – They’re the pieces in a mechanical watch’s movement whose function is to count time, or regulate the flow of time. The balance wheel and balance spring are the two regulating organs at the heart of a mechanical watch.
Repeater – A complication in mechanical watches that chime the time on demand, by pushing a pusher. These can range from quarter repeaters to complicated minute repeaters. The watch chimes different sounds for hours, quarter-hours, and minutes.
Retrograde Dial – A display that doesn’t indicate anything in a circular fashion, i.e hands rotating on an axis. Instead retrograde hands sweep in a semi-circle before they spring back to the start again.
Roman Numerals – A way to indicate time on the dials. Often the four roman numeral; IV. Is replaced with; IIII. In order to be easier to read.
Rotor – A semi-circular weight that is mounted on an automatic watch movement. Also referred to as the oscillating weight. See a rotor in action inside a mechanical automatic watch.
Sapphire Glass – Is not actually a glass but a crystal and is made synthetically. Used to cover the dial of a watch.
Screw Down Crown – This feature aids with water resistance. Meaning the crown can be screwed tightly to reduce the risk of water or dust entering the case. Available in dive watches.
Sellita – A Swiss manufacturer of mechanical watch movements.
Servicing – Usually involves a watchmaking dissembling your watch. Then cleaning it, oiling it and polishing the watch. Also replacing any broken watch parts, and ensuring it’s in working order.
Silicon – A hard and light material that is resistant to changes in temperature or magnetism.
Skeleton Watch – A mechanical watch that has all of its moving parts on display. Either through the front of the case or back of the case.
Small Seconds – A complication where the watch indicates the seconds on a subdial on the watch.
Smartwatch – A wearable mobile device worn on the wrist.
Sonnerie – A quiet gong that strikes for each quarter of an hour.
Split-Second Chronograph – A chronograph that’s used to time different events that start at the same time. But end at different times.
Stainless Steel – A corrosion-resistant alloy of iron, chromium, or nickle, and other metals. Can be recycled infinitely.
Strap – The material that attaches your watch to your wrist.
Subdial – A small dial that’s placed within the main dial. Gives information that the main dial doesn’t give.
Tachymeter – A complication on a watch for measuring speed.
Tang Buckle – Go to ardillon buckle.
Tank Watch – The Tank Watch collection are line of watches that are produced by Cartier. Discover the top Tank watch collections over the last century.
Telemeter Scale – A method of measuring the distance between an event and the observer, that is based on the speed of sound.
Titanium – Is a material used to create the strongest and most durable watch material ever.
Tonneau Case – A rectangular-shaped case that has rounded corners. Tonneau is the French word for barrel. So the edges of these cases are often likened to a bowed-out barrel. Learn more about the tonneau case shape.
Tourbillon – This mechanism is most often exposed on the watch’s dial. It’s an addition to the mechanism of a watch’s escapement. It’s used to increase its accuracy.
Vibrations – Vibrations per hour (vph) is used to measure the frequency of a watch’s movement. An oscillation is equal to 1 vibration.
Waterproof – An illegal term that cannot be used to describe a watch. Watches only have a certain level of water resistance, and no watch is every 100% waterproof.
World Timer – A feature on a watch that displays 24 world cities, each of them representing a different time zone.
Learn more about watch parts, and watch mechanisms, in our other watch guides.