Watch Terminology for Dummies, Part 1: A Glossary for Those Who Don’t Know Their Shit

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When friends text me with a question about watches before adding on the sentence, “Well, I figured I’d ask you because you’re the expert.” I laugh. No, seriously… I’ve been known to soil a couple of phone screens with wine coffee and once I even ruined a perfectly good Madewell blouse (not a sponsored sentence, but hey, Madewell, if you’re reading, call me). What all of this means is that no, dear people, I’m no watch expert nor have I ever claimed to be one. I’m about as far from that title as you can possibly imagine. There may or may not have even been a time where my eyes glazed over as Charris Yadigaroglou of MB&F explained the inner workings of the Legacy Machine Split Escapement before my mind drifted off to a daydream about my own “escape” to Split, Croatia with Charris, himself. (Shit, did I just admit that? I meant to think it.) Hell, I’m STILL trying to figure out why tourbillons have to fly or what the f*ck a 2.5Hz frequency is and why it matters to your everyday buyer, but even without knowing these mind-numbingly dull characteristics of a mechanical watch, I’m still able to tell their stories, because at the end of the day, the story is often what excites people about these timepieces, and if there’s one thing I know how to do and do well, it’s form even what I don’t know into a meaningful narrative that’s palatable to readers, knowledgeable about watches or not.

With that said, I decided it was time to create a glossary of watch terms for people like me. You know, those who are more “Watch Idiot” than “Watch Idiot Savant.” So I’ll be doing a multi-part series defining some of the more frequently-used watch-related words and terms in a way that speaks to the lay person, but whether you’re a “watch expert” or not, I hope you enjoy what you’re about to read. And if you’re the kind that’s easily offended by strong language or sexual innuendos, you may want to close your browser now. You’ve been warned.

Alarm

While you may have immediately thought of that Welsh alternative band from the 80s known for their high hair and hit, “Sixty Eight Guns”, this isn’t a glossary of rock-n-roll terms, but depending on how many times this post is read, maybe that’s one for the future.

There are many watches out there that have an alarm function which does pretty much exactly what the clock by your bed does, or what your iPhone does, meaning it beeps, chimes, or buzzes, letting you know when it’s time to take your Cialis vitamins.

Analog

My, oh my, there are so many ways I’d like to describe this term but rather than go with the X-rated definition, we’ll stick with a simple sentence. Analog watches are non-digital; they’re the type of watches that have hour and minute hands. But fear not, they can be worn comfortably without the use of lubrication. OKAY F*CK IT I WENT THERE.

Anti-Magnetic

It means not magnetic. Duh.

Aperture

Aperture, as drawn by @onehourwatch

While the word is defined by dictionary.com as an “opening, hole, slit, crack, or gap” (I mean, I’m being lobbed softballs in the form of innuendos here and I am really struggling not to take a swing at them), in the watch world, it refers to the cutout (often square, rectangular, or oval [let’s hope you at least know your basic geometry]) on the dial where *indications such as the date or month appear.

*See future definition of indications

ATM

The machine from which you’ll withdraw money – lots and lots of money – in order to buy the dive watch in which you’re interested. Also, with reference to terms about said expensive dive watch, “ATM”, in short, stands for “atmospheres” and represents the unit of pressure equivalent to the weight of the earth’s atmosphere at sea level. 3 ATM = 30 meters (100 ft) of depth, 5 ATM = 50 meters (160 ft) of depth, 10 ATM= 100 meters (330 ft) of depth, and so on. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can wear your dive watch in the ocean as far down as its ATM indicates, though since I’m deathly afraid of the water, I suggest you read anything by Jason Heaton to learn more about how far down you should go with your watch.

Automatic

Not just a 1984 catchy jam by The Pointer Sisters (which you can view here from their performance on Soul Train), but also a fairly common watch term referring to a mechanical watch that is wound automatically by the movement of the rotor as the wearer moves her arm. That rotor – or, oscillating weight to which it is often referred – tightens, or “winds” the mainspring, thus giving a steady source of energy to the watch.

Balance Spring

YAY! I made it to “B” without giving up! This is another one of those watch terms that makes me a little bleary-eyed, but I’ll do my best to explain it to you in the way I wish it would have been explained to me.

A balance spring (or, hairspring) and balance wheel combined make up the heart of a mechanical watch. The balance spring is a flat wired spring which is affixed to the balance cock (I swear I did not purposely use that word. It’s the legitimate term, but it still made me happy to type it) which coils and recoils in order to regulate time through the motion of the balance wheel. (I’m absolutely sure I f*cked up this explanation, but don’t @ me.)

Balance spring, as drawn by @onehourwatch

Balance Wheel

Honestly, writing the last definition was entirely too stressful so I’m just going to ask you to use Google for this one, m’kay?

Band

Strap.

Easiest. Definition. Ever.

Barrel

If you’re like I am, you immediately thought of scotch when you saw the above word, and if you did indeed do that, then you and I can be friends. But in watch speak, a barrel is way less fun, a lot more complex, and can’t make you wake up in an empty hotel bed with your Rolex missing and a racoon chewing on your Yeezys in the corner.

In a nutshell, the barrel is an etched cylinder inside of a mechanical watch which houses the watch’s mainspring (see future definition), in turn, housing its power reserve. The larger the barrel, the higher the power reserve, and watches with two barrels (referred to as a “double barrel”) will have an even higher reserve.

Bezel, as drawn by @onehourwatch

Bezel

Not to be confused with the city in Switzerland that boasts the most expensive sausages and Air BnBs in the world (that would be, “Basel”), the bezel of a watch can either be decorative or functional (whereas the city of Basel is mostly dysfunctional), depending on the watch’s purpose. The bezel is the ring around the watch’s face and crystal and often rotates counterclockwise, though some watches do have bidirectional bezels allowing them to turn forward as well as backward. Bezels are often made in precious metals, steel, or ceramic.

Stay tuned for more definitions in upcoming blog posts. And if you like the artwork seen here, it was provided by the extraordinary Lee Yuen-Rapati – aka – OneHourWatch. Find him on Instagram, @onehourwatch, or for inquiries, email him at leeyuenrapati@gmail.com.

7 thoughts on “Watch Terminology for Dummies, Part 1: A Glossary for Those Who Don’t Know Their Shit

    Carlos Torres said:
    July 24, 2019 at 6:07 PM

    Love It!!!

    Liked by 1 person

      Tim Jackson said:
      July 24, 2019 at 8:40 PM

      Brilliant, well played! Keep up the good work, looking forward to the rest of the definitions.

      Liked by 1 person

      Adornmentality responded:
      July 25, 2019 at 4:21 PM

      Thank you for reading!

      Like

    […] mentioned in the previous blog post (and if you haven’t read it, this one isn’t going to make a whole lot of sense to you, so go […]

    Like

    Joseph K. said:
    July 30, 2019 at 1:09 PM

    What an entertaining read. Looking forward to part 2.

    Like

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