You’re looking to buy your first watch, and have narrowed your search down to a few final contenders. You turn to the product descriptions for help with your final decision, but suddenly you’re confused. “What does this all mean?!”
Most retailers include specific details in their listings so that customers can make well-informed decisions. However, it seems that these retailers overlook a simple fact: many of us have limited watch knowledge, and technical watch terms look like gibberish!
Before I started working at Burrells, I knew almost nothing about watch parts. Sure, I knew what watch hands were but did I understand what a tachymeter or a moonphase was? Certainly not!
For those of us who aren’t experts, watch descriptions can be confusing. Plus, checking for dictionary definitions can be incredibly time-consuming.
So, today we’ve gathered some basic watch terms and their definitions in one place, in the hope that your search can be as stress-free as possible. Burrells have been watch specialists for decades, so we know how important it is to find your ultimate accessory.
A watch dial, otherwise known as a watch face, is the general watch display.
If a description labels the dial as being a particular colour, then take a closer look: this description could refer to the dial and its features or just the background dial colour.
Many of us first learn about watch hands when we are children, reading clocks in school. Here's an explanation of what they are: watch hands are indicators that signal the time.
On an analogue watch, the hands typically move around the clock face in a circular motion. You can also find hands on subdials, but we’ll take a look at those later.
When someone refers to watch indexes, they are describing the hour markers attached to the dial. Sometimes called indices, these markers can be various shapes or numbers, and some watches have no indexes at all!
A date window, otherwise called a date display, is probably the second most useful watch function (after showing the time, of course!). Simply put, a date window shows us the current date, and watchmakers integrate this into the dial. Plus, many watchmakers include a magnifying lens over the top of a date window for easier reading.
Additionally, a date window is not the only ‘window’ that exists. Some other standard windows include a day of the week display and a month display.
The term ‘Bezel’ refers to the ring of metal (or other material) that surrounds both the dial and the protective glass. Many watch brands describe the bezel in detail, as it can be altered to match the requirements of that specific watch.
Some common words associated with a bezel are ‘unidirectional’ (moving one way) and ‘bidirectional’ (moving both ways). Some bezels are even interchangeable, and some include scales (see Tachymeter, further down).
Usually made from metal or ceramic, a watch case encloses and protects the delicate watch interior. We can think of the case as the outer layer, or shell, of a watch.
The crown is a small feature which extends from the case, and its general purpose is to set the time. Sometimes, the crown can also be used to change the date or to wind the watch (if necessary).
A watch strap is an adjustable piece of material that fixes your watch onto your wrist. The term ‘strap’ generally implies a fabric base such as leather or rubber, whereas the term ‘bracelet’ implies a metal base.
Watches have four lugs incorporated into the case: two above the dial, and two below. The lugs are essentially the ‘feet’ of the watch.
The term ‘pusher’ refers a push-button. We can locate pushers next to the crown, and these typically allow you to control a stopwatch function.
Subdials, or ‘subsidiary dials’, are smaller dials incorporated into the main watch face. These can display a variety of information, for several purposes.
One of the most common subdials tracks fractions of a second - a feature key for those who require precision timing. Another common subdial shows a dual-time time zone, which is especially useful for those who frequently travel to different countries.
A ‘Moonphase’ is a specific type of subdial which demonstrates the phase of the moon (any position from new moon to full moon).
Side Note: The Moonphase subdial is included in this list to demonstrate that not all Subdials are round!
If you're interested in finding out more about moonphase dials, I've found a helpful article on Gear Patrol which tells you how a moonphase watch works.
A Tachymetre is a type of scale. Often found on the bezel of sport or racing-inspired timepieces, this function measures speed.
The definition of a caseback is quite literal: it is the back part of the case! A caseback can either be transparent or opaque. If the caseback is transparent, then this allows us to view the movement inside, but if the caseback is opaque, we cannot. This is the part of the watch that watchmakers often engrave.
A ‘movement’ is part of a watch’s internal mechanism: this is what powers the watch and the watch’s functions. Currently, there are various watch movements available on the market, and all have slight variations in how they work (and how they make the rest of the watch work too!).
There are two main movement types: quartz and mechanical. A quartz watch is powered by an electric charge that passes through a quartz crystal, whereas a mechanical watch uses its mechanisms to measure the passing of time and to run the timepiece.
Within the quartz and mechanical categories, you can find other movement variations: automatic and manual. An automatic movement (also known as a self-winding movement), is powered by activity, which means that just wearing your watch keeps it charged. A manual movement, on the other hand, requires a person to wind it.
If you would learn to find out more about watch movements, I recommend reading A Simple Guide to the 3 Main Watch Movements.
Thanks for Reading
We hope that our parts guide has provided you with a little more clarity. As they say, knowledge is power!
We think you might also be interested in reading one of these articles our experts have written: