The Ultimate Wristwatch Glossary: Demystifying the World of Watches

The Ultimate Wristwatch Glossary: Demystifying the World of Watches
March 1, 2023 8 min read
The Ultimate Wristwatch Glossary: Demystifying the World of Watches

Aperture: a small opening; in some watches, the dials have openings in which certain information is given such at the date or day of the week.

Applique: applied chapters; numerals or symbols cut out of a sheet of metal and fixed upon a dial.

Assembling: the process of fitting together the components of a movement. This used to be done entirely by hand but are now largely automated. However, a human watchmaker is crucial, especially for inspections and testing.

Assortiment: French term for the parts used to make an escapement.

Automatic Watch: a watch that has a mainspring that is wounds by the movements of the owner's arm during wear. Invented by Abraham-Louis Perrelet of Switzerland in the 1700s, the automatic watch is based on the principle of terrestrial attraction, where a rotor turns and transmits its energy to the spring by means of an appropriate mechanism.


Balance: a moving part that is usually circular, moving on its axis of rotation. Coupled with the Hairspring, the Balance swings back and forth, dividing time into exact, equal parts. These back-and-forth movements of the balance are called "oscillations" and one oscillation is composed of two vibrations

Barrel: a thin cylindrical box containing the mainspring of the watch. The toothed rim of the barrel drives the train.

Bezel: A bezel is a part of the watch that helps protect the watch face and holds the crystal in place. The bezel can have other functions depending on the specific watch.

Bridge: part fixed to the main plate to form the frame of a watch movement. Other parts of the watch are mounted inside fo the frame, which is part of the ébauche.


Calibre: originally used to mean the size of a watch movement, this terms now refers to a type of movement, such as men's calibre or automatic calibre. When a calibre number is accompanied by the manufacturer's mark, it will also serve as an indication of origin.

Case: container that protects the watch-movement from water, dust, and shocks.

Casing: process of inserting and fixing a movement into its case.

Chablon: French term for a watch movement where the components are not completely assembled.

Chronograph: a watch with two independent time systems; 1. indicates the time of day; 2. measures brief intervals of time. With a Chronograph, it is possible to measure the exact duration of a phenomenon but it is not to be confused with the chronometer, the stopwatch, or the timer.

Chronometer: a watch that has endured a series of precision tests in an official institute. The requirements of the tests are very demanding.

Complication: When referring to a wristwatch, a complication is described as any additional function the wristwatch performs beyond basic time telling (i.e. hour, minute and second). A common example of wristwatch complications are calendar models which display the day/date. Additional complications include chronograph models, whereas the watch performs like a basic "stop watch". Other complications worth mentioning are: second time zone, moonphase and alarms.

Crown: knob located on the outside of a watch case and is used for winding the mainspring. For some watches, the crown can also be used to set calendar indications.


Date: number referring to a day of the month and is shown through an aperture.

Dial: indicates the face or plate of material that bears the various markings to show the hours, minutes, and seconds. Dials can vary considerably in regards to shape, decoration, and material. The indications on a dial are given by means of numerals, divisions, or symbols or various types.

Direct-Drive: refers to a seconds-hand that moves forwards in a jarring movements.

Display: indicates time by either means of hands moving over a dial or by numerals appearing in one or more windows. These numerals may be completed by alphabetical indications or by signs of any other kind.

Double Quick-Set: A feature on the Rolex watch that allows the owner to change the date and the day without needing to move the hands.


Ébauche: French term for a movement blank, such as a incomplete watch movement which is sold as a set of loose parts. The main plate, bridges, train, winding and setting mechanism, and the regulator make up the ébuche. However, the timing system, the escapement, and the mainspring are not considered parts of the ébuche.

Engraved Rehaut: a design that is engraved on the inner bezel of the watch that encompasses the dial.

Escapement: a set of parts that converts the rotary motion of the train into the back-and-forth motion.

Etablissage: French term for the method of manufacturing watches and/or movements by assembling their various components in a specific order.

Etablisseur: French term for a watch factory that engages only in assembling watches by buying the components from suppliers.


Fly-back Hand: In a chronograph with analogue display, the additional second hand can remain superposed on the other one as it moves and can be stopped independently so that it can then be made to "fly back" to catch up with the other hand. It can also be stopped and reset to zero with the other hand.


Hand: indicator. Usually made of a thin, light piece of metal that is variable in form that moves over a graduated dial or scale. Most of the time, watches have three hands showing the hours, minutes, and seconds.


Jewel: bearing; end stone or pallet used for reducing friction. Jewels are generally made of synthetic material, except for precious or semi-precious stones that used in "de luxe" watches.


Main Plate: base plate where the rest of the watch movement is mounted.

Mainspring: the driving spring of a watch or clock and is contained in the barrel.

Marine Chronometer: the highly accurate mechanical or electronic timekeeper enclosed in a box and is used for determining the longitude on board a ship.

Microstella Balance: The timing balance system on the Rolex with micro timing screws that can be adjusted using a special tool called a microstella wrench.

Middle: the middle part of the watch case where the movement is fitted.

Movement: assembly consisting of the principal elements and mechanisms of a watch or clock, such as the winding and setting mechanism, the mainspring, the train, the escapement, and the regulating elements. The movement consists of the ébuche as well.


Quick-Set: A feature on the Rolex watch that allows the owner to change the date without needing to move the hands. The quick-set feature was introduced in the late 1970's and added to all Rolex models by 1983.


Regulating Elements: set of parts that makes up the regulating system and the escapement.

Rehaut: the inner bezel that encompasses the dial.

Repeater: a watch the strikes the hours by means of a mechanism operated by a bold or push-piece. There are various types of repeaters including the quarter-repeater, five-minute repeater, and minute repeater.

Rotor: a half-disc of heavy metal that is made to rotate inside the case of an automatic watch by the energy produced by the movement that is created while worn on the wrist. Its rotations continually wind the mainspring of the watch.


Second: a basic unit of time

Set: setting of time; the process of bringing the hands of a watch or clock to the position that corresponds to the exact time.

Shock Absorber: a resilient bearing that is intended to take up the shocks received by the balance staff and therefore protects its delicate pivots from damage.

Skeleton: where the case or other various parts of the watch are of transparent material.

Spring Bar: a thin metal rod fixed between the horns that attaches the wristband to the case.

Striking-Mechanism: automatic or hand-operated mechanism that strikes the hours, minutes, and so on.


Tachometer: instrument to measure speed; in watchmaking, it is a timer or chronograph with a graduated dial on which speed can be read off in another unit of time, such as kilometers.

Terminage: French term denoting the process of assembling watch parts for the account of a producer.

Termineur: French term for an independent watchmaker or workshop that assembles watches for a manufacturer.

Tourbillon: device invented to eliminate errors of rate in the vertical positions that consists of a mobile carriage or cage carrying all the parts of the escapement with the balance in the center. The escape pinion turns around the fixed fourth wheel and the case makes one revolution per minute, which nullifies errors of rate in the vertical positions.

Triplock Crown: A winding crown developed by Rolex featured on certain Oyster family professional models, notably the divers' models, identified by three dots located below the Rolex emblem.

Tritium: Tritium is a luminous material that makes hour markers and hands of the Rolex easier to read in the dark. Tritium is no longer used by Rolex on newer model watches.

Click here to learn more about Tritium.


Vibration: movement of a pendulum or other rotating movement that is limited by two consecutive positions. The balance of a mechanical watch makes about five or six vibrations per second but ones of high frequency may make up to 10 vibrations per second.


Watch Material: components for either producing watches or for repairing them.

Water Resistant: something made to prevent water from entering and damaging the watch.

Winding: operation consisting in the tightening of the mainspring of a watch. Winding can either occur manually by rotating the crown or automatically during the movements of a swinging arm while an owner wears their watch.

Previous article:
Next article:
Related posts
Copyright © 2002-present Watch Chest, LLC. All rights reserved. Watch Chest is an independent watch dealer and is not sponsored by, associated with and/or affiliated with Rolex, S.A, or any other brands advertised by Watch Chest. The brand names and associated model names of Rolex and other advertised brands are the trademarks of their respective owners. Regardless of physical condition, all watches sold by Watch Chest are pre-owned in terms of ownership status according to legal regulations. Watch Chest provides its own warranties for the products it sells, and watches sold with manufacturer warranties are generally recognized, though their guarantee is not absolute.