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Watchmaking Terms

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Term Definition

A movement finishing technique whereby the edges of the component is filed and smoothened at a 45-degree angle. Often found in high-end movements.


Annual Calendar 

An issue with watches showing dates is that one has to make date adjustments every other month because of the varied 30/31 day length of the months. An annual calendar is smart enough to factor for this automatically, requiring only one adjustment for February. See also: Perpetual Calendar.


A mechanical watch's timekeeping precision can be affected by interference from gadgets emitting magnetic sources, such as microwave equipment or mobile phones. To counter this, some brands house their mechanical movements inside a soft iron protective layer to repel magnetic fields.


Watches with a stopwatch function. Besides regular chronographs, there are also flyback chronographs that allow for quick timings of successive events; and rattrapante or split seconds chronographs for recording lap times.


In terms of accuracy, it’s normal for mechanical watches to deviate between 10 to 20 seconds, out of 86,400 seconds in a day. Watches that bear the label “COSC certified chronometer” means the movement has passed COSC standard for accuracy, deviating within -4/+6 seconds a day. Digital watches generally deviate by a second a day, or less.


Refers to a feature or function in a watch, beyond telling time. Relatively simple complications include date display, moon phase; ‘higher’ complications of greater complexity include chronograph, tourbillon, perpetual calendar and minute repeater.


The Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres is the institute tasked with testing and certifying Swiss watches for accuracy. Those that pass, are referred to as “chronometers”. 


Part of the Swatch Group, ETA SA Manufacture Horlogère Suisse is the largest movement manufacturer in Switzerland, supplying an overwhelming portion of Swiss brands. Watches over a broad spread of price range could have fundamentally the same movement beating within them, with movements in higher value watches being better finished, or modified for better performance and reliability. 


An intricate decorative technique comprising patterns made up of tiny repetitive lines, made using an engine lathe.   


In English this is often used as a verb, to refer to the act of making something. In watchmaking, it’s also a habit lifted from the French to use it as a noun, to refer to a company that manufactures watches. As opposed to many companies that assemble watches with movements sourced externally, a ‘manufacture’ is one that creates its own movements to be used in its own watches. See also: In-House.

Minute Repeater

A watch that chimes the time upon demand, usually by activating a pusher or slider. A minute repeater chimes the hours, quarter hours, and the minutes, using separate tones for each. It is considered to be one of the most difficult and sophisticated watches in the complication category.

Perpetual Calendar

Even cleverer than the annual calendar, a perpetual calendar watch will correctly display the date for all months, and even factor for leap years. See also: Annual Calendar

Quartz Movement

An electronically powered movement that uses a battery as a power source and a synthetic quartz oscillator to regulate the timing of the watch via electrical pulses. It was invented in the late 1970s. Being far cheaper to produce and boasting greater precision than mechanical watches, quartz movements infamously almost wiped out mechanical watch production in the 1980s.


A feature sometimes used on the displays of complication watches, a retrograde display has a start and end point, typically fanning over s scale and indicated by a hand. When the hand reaches the end point of the retrograde, it snaps back to the starting point.

Shock Resistance

The beating heart of a mechanical watch is a spring-mounted balance wheel making several oscillations every second at a constant rate, delicately poised on a wire-thin staff. This complex assembly should be safely boxed and placed somewhere undisturbed, but is instead worn on the wrist, exposed to the full range of the wearer’s physical activities. Shock resistance refers to various systems built into the movement to protect the balance from disruptive forces and impact, to deliver consistent oscillations without breaking.