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Basic Watch Features Explained – A Beginners Guide

Wristwatches have a variety of different functions and components that can sound complicated at first. So, today I thought I’d go over some basic watch features, explained in simple English! This watch glossary will help you feel more clued in, next time you’re chatting about wristwatches.

Acrylic glass/crystal: A type of plastic sometimes used as the glass covering for watch dials. This is less scratch resistant than mineral glass or sapphire, though is more malleable and cheaper to produce. Often found in low-end watches.

Analogue display: A watch dial that displays the time using hands.

Automatic movement: A type of mechanical wristwatch that utilises physical movement from the user; typically via a weighted rotor, positioned at the bottom of the mechanism. The motion of this rotor winds the mainspring ‘automatically’, without the user having to manually wind the watch using the crown. This energy helps the watch to keep accurate time. These movements will require servicing every few years, to maintain the watch.

Backlight: A light, manually activated by the user, that illuminates the watch dial. Popular implementations include Timex’s Indiglo and Casio’s ‘illuminator’ backlights.

Bezel: The ring surrounding the dial and glass. This can be plain or can offer functionality, in the form of a tachymeter or dive watch bezel; the latter of which rotates. These can be made out of various types of metal or ceramic.

Bracelet: A watch strap/band constructed of metal.

Buckle: The fastening method typically used to connect two ends of a standard watch strap.

Calibre: A synonym for movement, this term is often used when naming specific movements; rather than simply saying ‘movement’.

Case: The main body of the watch, containing the movement inside and the dial on top. These are typically made of stainless-steel; though other case materials include lower quality alloys and plastic.

Case-back: The plate forming the rear of the watch case. These come in a variety of styles, secured in place by different methods. Some simply snap on, whereas others are screw on – providing increased water resistance.

Clasp: The section of a strap/metal bracelet, that locks it in place around your wrist.

Complication: A watch function, such as a chronograph or moon phase.

Crown: The device used to adjust various aspects of your watch. Typically situated at the 3 o’clock position, these can be popped out and rotated to alter things such as the time and date; in order to achieve an accurate reading.

Dial: The flat watch surface beneath the glass, featuring the hands, time markers and logo etc.

Digital display: A watch that displays the time using numbers, rather than by hands.

Face: A synonym for dial. Describes the flat surface beneath the glass.

Glass/crystal: The type of material protecting the dial, allowing the user to see the time. This can be flat or domed, depending on the watch. These are typically made of acrylic, mineral or sapphire crystal.

Hand-wound mechanical movement: Considered the precursor to automatic movements, these are mechanical watches, utilising gears and springs to tell the time. This type of watch requires the user to manually wind the watch, using the crown, to give the watch it’s power. Will require servicing every few years, to maintain the watch.

Lugs: The area where you can attach straps to your watch. These extend out from the main watch case and have a specified width, determining the size of strap that can be used with the piece. 

Lume: Short for luminous. This is a section of a watch dial that has some form of luminous paint applied, allowing those areas to glow in dark conditions for a limited amount of time. This paint absorbs light and re-emits it in low light. This is often either painted on the hands and hour markers, allowing the wearer to tell the time accurately at night.

Mineral glass/crystal: The most common type of glass used in affordable watches. This provides some limited scratch resistance, though isn’t as scratch resistant as sapphire glass. It is more shatterproof and cheaper to produce.

Moon phase: Some watches may have this extra display. When set accurately, this cut-out window will give you an approximate guide to the current phase of the moon. Why you would ever need to know this? Nobody knows…apart from werewolves.

Movement: A watch movement is the mechanism used to power the watch. Many lower cost watches will contain a quartz movement, meaning they’re battery powered. Other watches may contain a fully mechanical movement, relying on gears and springs to keep the watch working.

Pushers: Used for operating different watch functions. This includes stopwatch functionality on chronograph watches. These are usually positioned at the 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock position for analogue watches, either side of the crown. Digital watches, such as popular Casio models, may have these in different positions and to assist you in different functions.

Quartz movement: A battery powered movement, utilising a vibrating quartz crystal and an electronic circuit to tell the time very accurately. These are generally inexpensive to produce and are prevalent in lower end watches. Will require a battery change every few years, unless solar powered.

Sapphire glass/crystal: Often the go-to option for premium watch brands, sapphire glass is the most scratch-resistant covering for a watch dial. It’s the most expensive to produce and is my personal favourite crystal.

Screw-down crown: A watch crown that is screwed into place, to provide water resistance. This type of crown has to be unscrewed in order to be used for time adjustments.

Solar powered/Eco Drive: A type of watch technology that uses sunlight to charge the battery of your watch.

Strap: A watch band, holding the watch to your wrist. Usually made of leather or rubber.

Sub-dial: A small, usually circular, analogue display that features on the main dial of a watch. This may be present as the main second hand or some other watch function. Multiple sub-dials are present on some types of watches including chronograph and multifunction watches.

Water Resistance: Water resistance is a feature that is often misunderstood. While 30m of water resistance may sound like a lot, in fact, a watch with such a rating would be nothing more than splash-proof. Water resistance is measured in static conditions, meaning if you are moving the watch through water, it may be exposed to far greater levels of water pressure; compromising the water seals. Water resistance is measured in metres or ATM (atmospheres).