June 24, 2022

The Watch Glossary: Key Terms for Watch Investors

Interested in investing in watches, but are put off by the terminology? Here's our handy guide to the basic terms of watch investment.

Written by

Dominic

Luxury watches are rapidly becoming one of the most in demand physical assets for investment, but for newcomers it can be daunting. In this article we detail some of the most commonly used terms in the watch investment markets and what they mean for your portfolio:

Types of Watch

Quartz: A quartz watch is a timepiece that uses a battery or solar cell in order to maintain its function. Inside the watch is a quartz crystal that keeps the time by vibrating at certain frequencies. This modern technique allows for generally more accurate timekeeping and can self-sustain for longer periods. Most luxury watches these days use quartz oscillators to keep the time. Also known as electric watches. 

Mechanical: Mechanical timepieces rely on the movement of the clockwork inside the watch, and must be wound manually. Despite potentially being less accurate than quartz watches, mechanical watches have their own charm. Mechanical watches are a timeless classic, beloved the world over for their clockwork heartbeat. 

Automatic: Also use clockwork like their mechanical brethren. However, they are wound simply by the movement of the wearer’s wrist rather than by winding the crown. 

Analog: Any watch that uses traditional hands to display the time. 

Digital: A watch that uses a screen or other electronic display 

Atomic Clock: The most accurate timekeeping device in the world, the atomic clock uses the vibrations of mercury atoms instead of quartz or mechanisms. This clock is so accurate that it loses 1 second every 1,400,000 years. The actual atomic clock is based in Boulder, Colorado and broadcasts its readings to devices through radio transmission, all you have to do is set the right timezone on your own reader. 

Styles of Watch

Beater: Your normal everyday timepiece, there are no special prerequisites to being a beater watch other than you do not worry as much about it getting damaged. Beater watches are usually chosen for their comfort and durability, they are also not normally on the radar of watch investors. 

Grail: The exact opposite of a beater watch, grail watches are so named due to their rarity. This makes them highly desirable to timepiece investors due to the high levels of collector demand. This demand might be due to the fact they were only released in limited numbers or that their construction is of extremely high quality. 

Dress: A style of watch that is to be worn to special occasions and to accompany formal wear. They tend to be simplistic yet stylish, with an air of elegance. Generally they lack the functions of their more rugged counterparts, thus allowing them to be on the smaller end of the scale. Dress watches are a must for any watch portfolio due to their popularity as both a timekeeping device and a beautiful accessory. 

Field: Field watches were originally conceived for use among soldiers, this necessitated the need for durability, waterproofing and luminescent dials. While they are not limited to this role now, these features form a core part of their identity. Of course NATO straps will forever be linked to field watches.  

Dive: In many ways similar to field watches, dive watches have one key difference: they have to have a 200+ water resistance rating. Due to their origins as timepieces for scuba diving, they tend to be bulkier in order to be more visible in low light conditions. They tend to be made of high quality materials such as stainless steel to avoid corrosion due to being immersed in saltwater. In recent years dive watches have become extremely popular, being worn outside of the context of diving. 

Chronograph: Any regular watch that includes a separate stopwatch complication, usually taking the form of one or more smaller dials. This type of watch is ideal for timing a lap or for precise timings. 

Racing: Building on top of a chronograph, a racing watch normally also includes a separate tachymeter, which measures the approximate speed of the wearer over a known distance. The busy faces of racing watches tend to imitate the dashboard of a racing car. 

Aviation: These timepieces, although being a similar size to diving watches, present far more complexity on the face. Often sporting a tachymeter, altimeter (for measuring altitude) as well as dual time zones, these watches were once a key part of a pilot’s equipment, helping to ensure that scheduled timings were kept. Meanwhile the large size of pilot watches meant that they could be worn and operated with gloves on. 

Skeleton Watch: A watch no dial allowing the wearer to see the movement within. 

Tonneau: Is a barrel shaped face, the sides bulge outwards almost like a rugby ball. 

Parts of a Watch

Balance Wheel: Similar to the pendulum on an old grandfather clock, the balance wheel is the part of the watch’s mechanism that regulates the time with each movement.

Bezel: The ring that encircles the watch face, it might be decorative with diamonds and precious metals, plain or have a function like the rotation on a diving watch. It acts to secure the crystal in the face. 

Case: The outer structure that houses the watch, its material can vary heavily. Beater watches might have their cases made of plastic, ceramic or cheaper metals. Meanwhile a high-end grail watch might have its case made of gold, silver or platinum. 

Crown: What many refer to as the ‘dial on the side’, the crown is the manual input to any watch. Whether its function is to set the time, such as to wind the mainspring on a mechanical watch or other activities depending on the style of watch. 

Crystal: The clear cover protecting the rest of the watch face from the elements. Similar to the case it can vary wildly in material from plastic or mineral glass and in higher end models the ‘scratch proof’ synthetic sapphire. The crystal is what allows the wearer to see into the rest of the watch.

Cyclops: A small magnified section of the crystal that highlights the date.

Dial: The part of the watch that displays the time. On a digital watch this will be the display screen, or on a traditional timepiece the hands and hour markers. Simply put this is the part you read in order to tell the time. Another name for the face. 

Escapement: Is the system of transfer between the power source and counting mechanism of a watch. It helps to maintain the oscillation of the balance wheel. 

Hairspring: No thicker than a strand of hair, it is a spring that triggers the balance wheel recoil. Also known as the balance spring. 

Hand: The rotating strips that travel across the dial on a traditional watch. They line up with hour markers in order to indicate the time. 

Helium Escape Valve: A necessary feature of deep water diving watches, the helium escape valve helps to release helium that can become trapped beneath the crystal during deep dives. This valve must be used, otherwise the build up of the gas can cause the crystal to rupture. 

Incabloc: Shock absorbers in the watch that try to mitigate damage if the watch is dropped or impacted. 

Jewel: Is either a real or synthetic gemstone which forms part of the gear train as a bearing, the material helps to reduce friction and thus keep a more accurate time. 

Lugs: The two pieces at either end of the watch face that are the attachment points for the watch strap.

Pusher: Resembling the aforementioned crown, the pusher is used for additional functions of the timepiece such as the stopwatch or changing the date. 

Rotor: A key part of any automatic watch, the rotor winds the mainspring according to the natural movements of the wearer’s wrist. 

Tourbillon: This mechanism constantly rotates the balance wheel, hairspring and escapement. This is done to ensure that the Earth’s gravity does not affect the accuracy of the timekeeping, although there is some debate on its efficacy. It is however a wonder of engineering and fascinating to watch. Tourbillon watches command a much higher price. 

Key Watch Terms

Adjusted: You might hear a salesperson refer to a watch as adjusted, this simply means the tests the watch underwent to ensure it works under certain conditions. It is a safeguard against changes in temperature, moisture and resilience, these tests are undergone by nearly all modern watches. 

Amplitude: The heartbeat of the watch, the balance wheel swings clockwise and anticlockwise, one swing either way equals one beat. This helps to keep the time of your watch and if the amplitude lowers then this can impact its timekeeping abilities. It is important to keep the watch lubricated and free of dirt as this will affect the amplitude. 

Anti-Magnetic: Another commonly touted feature by watch retailers, which is actually a simple feature present across most watches. Magnetism from background sources like electronic devices can affect the balance and cause the watch’s timekeeping to fall out of sync. Thus parts of the watch such as the balance wheel are normally made of alloys with anti-magnetic properties to counteract this. Due to their nature, quartz watches are immune from magnetic damage. 

Atmosphere: You might have heard this term in reference to submarines and diving. It is the amount of pressure underwater a watch can withstand. One atmosphere is the normal pressure at sea level, two atmospheres are double that figure with the pressure increasing per atmosphere. 

Band Width: The distance between the two lugs, it is important to know this when getting a new strap as otherwise it won’t fit the watch. 

Calibre: Originally used to describe the size of the movement in a watch, it is now a combination of numbers and letters used to identify the movement, manufacturer and origins of the timepiece. 

Complication: Any functions of a watch e.g. a stopwatch, tachymeter, altimeter. 

Dimaskeening: The practice of directly engraving decorative markings onto the watch movement. 

Ébauche: This is when the movement of the watch is assembled by a specialist manufacturer, purchased by a separate brand and then added into the rest of a watch. This is similar to how a car manufacturer might purchase a whole gearbox from a supplier to add to their latest model. This contrasts with ‘in-house’ movements, which create their own movements alongside the rest of the watch. This is controversial among collectors and investors, with some arguing that ébauche movements help to guarantee reliability, while ‘in-house’ fans prefer the custom nature of the movements. 

Engine Turned: A practice in which antique machinery is used to create fine detail engravings on the metal parts of the watch such as the dials and bezels. This method is highly popular among collectors for its nostalgic appeal. Also known as ‘Guilloche’.

Gold Filled: While not solid gold, it is the practice of bonding gold to another metal. This is a marked improvement on gold plating, since it provides better protection from tarnishing and is more valuable. 

Gold Plated: By putting a micron thin layer of gold over another metal to give the appearance of solid gold. This can lead to problems however as gold plating can quickly tarnish leading to a green hue appearing on the metal. 

Hallmark: A stamp or engraving that gives proof of the quality and origin of the metal.

Horology: The science of time. It also covers the craftsmanship of watchmaking. 

Movement: Is the engine of the watch, whatever keeps the timepiece correct in its display of the time. The movement can be either mechanical, automatic or quartz. 

Oscillate: Something that moves with regular rhythm, such as a pendulum or balance wheel. 

Shock Resistant: This guarantees the ability of a watch to retain its function after a fall of no more than three feet. It guarantees no more than this figure. 

Silveroid: While resembling silver it is a cheaper metal compound that is often used on lower end watches. 

Swiss Made: Seen as the absolute highest standard by many critics and collectors alike, it means that the entire movement was manufactured and inspected in Switzerland. Furthermore at least half of all its components have to have also been manufactured in the country. A watch cannot make this claim without filling these strict requirements.

Swiss Movement: Unlike Swiss Made, this simply means that the movement was assembled in Switzerland while the rest of the watch could have been made elsewhere. 

Waterproof: This term is misleading and should never be used to describe a watch due to the word being misleading. Any watch that makes this claim could be seen as advertising illegally. The correct term is water resistant.

There are many more keywords relating to timepieces that watch investors can learn about, but hopefully this will inform you of some of the basics. If you wish to find out more about the different watches, why not contact us and speak to one of our experts? 

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