Glossary & Terminology

The art of watchmaking has a rich history and tradition spanning centuries. With its blend of artistry, mechanics and technological innovation, horology has developed a unique vocabulary to describe the craft.

This glossary guides to common terminology used in the world of watches and watch manufacturing. For both watch enthusiasts and casual consumers, understanding these terms provides helpful context and allows one to appreciate better the complexity and details that go into modern timepieces.

From the intricate mechanics housed within the case to the myriad of material and design options for the exterior components, there are many characteristics that define a watch’s style, quality, and functionality. The specialized language used in horology also reflects the pioneering spirit and painstaking precision that makes watchmaking stand apart as a unique fusion between science and art.

The terminology listed here encompasses a wide range of technical, material, component, and functionality terms related to both modern and traditional watchmaking. By exploring these terms, one can gain a deeper appreciation for the nuances of watch design and engineering as well as relate the terminology to real-world aesthetics and usage. For any admirer of the ingenuity and appeal of watches, learning this vocabulary is an enlightening experience.

Table of Contents

Watch Case and Strap Terminology

Case: The metal housing that contains the parts of a watch, including the movement, dial, hands, etc. It consists of the case middle, bezel, and case back.

Case back: The back side of a watch case that lies against the skin. It can be transparent to display the movement or solid metal.

Case diameter: The size of the watch case, usually measured in mm. An important factor in selecting a watch.

Lugs: Projections on the watch case for attaching the watch strap or bracelet.

Lug width: Distance between the lugs, indicating the width of the strap.

Bracelet: A metal watch strap made of metal links. Stainless steel is commonly used.

Strap: A non-metal watch strap made of materials like leather, rubber, fabric, etc.

Buckle: The closing and fastening component attached to the strap.

Watch Dial and Hands Terminology

Dial: The face of the watch displaying time, brand name, graphics and other functions.

Hands: The moving parts that indicate the time, including hour, minute and second hands.

Hour hand: The hand that indicates the hour.

Minute hand: The hand that indicates the minute.

Second hand: The hand that indicates the second.

Sub-dial: A small secondary dial on the main watch face.

Index: Graduated markings on the dial indicating units of time.

Numeral: Numerical hour markers printed or engraved on the dial.

Pointer: General term for the hands.

Marker: Design elements printed or engraved on the dial.

Watch Functions and Complications Terminology

Date: A function that shows the date, often in a window on the dial.

Day: Shows the day of the week, often with the date.

Date-Day: Combines date and day display.

Chronograph: Stopwatch function that times short intervals.

Tachymeter: Measures speed based on travel time.

Timer/Countdown timer: Counts down a preset time period.

Moonphase: Shows the lunar phases.

Power reserve indicator: Displays remaining power of a mechanical watch.

GMT: Displays a second time zone on the watch.

Watch Material Terminology

Stainless steel: Corrosion resistant metal commonly used for watches.

Gold: Precious metal used for luxury watches.

Silver: Precious metal less durable than gold.

Platinum: Valuable high-end precious metal.

Titanium: Strong, lightweight metal used for sport watches.

Ceramic: Highly scratch-resistant ceramic material.

Sapphire crystal: Synthetic sapphire watch glass with high hardness.

Mineral crystal: Heat-treated and strengthened glass.

Acrylic crystal: Plastic crystal with optical clarity but prone to scratches.

Carbon fiber: Lightweight and strong material used for straps.

Mother of pearl: Iridescent material used for high-end watch dials.

Watch Craftsmanship Terminology

Polishing: Machine polishing process to create shiny metal finishes.

Brushing: Textured metal finish created by mechanical brushing.

Engraving: Creating patterns by engraving into metals.

Etching: Using chemicals to “eat away” material and leave recessed designs.

Embossing: Technique for creating raised surfaces and patterns.

Pad printing: Transferring 2D images onto 3D surfaces.

Electroplating: Coating conductors with metal layers using electricity.

PVD coating: Applying thin film coatings using physical vapor deposition.

Laser engraving: Engraving products using a precision laser beam.

Watch Movement and Technical Terminology

Movement: The inner mechanism of a watch that keeps time.

Quartz movement: Electronic quartz crystal regulated movement.

Automatic movement: Mechanical movement powered by a rotor.

Manual-wind movement: Mechanical movement wound by turning the crown.

Complication: Any function beyond basic timekeeping.

Calibre: The specific movement model or size.

Frequency: Number of vibrations per hour.

Jewels: Synthetic rubies acting as bearings to reduce friction.

Power reserve: How long a mechanical watch can run when wound.

Winding rotor: Component in an automatic watch that winds the mainspring.

Tourbillon: A mechanism aims to increase accuracy by negating gravity effects.

Limited edition: Watches produced in fixed small quantities, often numbered.

Prototype: Pre-production sample of a watch design.

After-sales service: Warranty, repair and maintenance services offered to buyers.

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