The Beginner’s Guide to Watch Anatomy

Discover some watchmaking vocabulary that will help you navigate our website and better understand the timepieces featured on The Watch Pages. If you don’t find what you are looking for just ask us.

Watch Movements

A movement is the engine of the watch, which actually makes the functions of the watch, such as the hour and minute hand turn. A lot of watch companies buy their movements from specialized movement makers. Some brands will adapt and personalize these movements. Then there are the brands that will make their own movements without using any outside sources, these are called Manufacture movements or in-house movements.

Automatic Movement

An automatic movement is a mechanical movement made of parts like gears and balance wheels. A watch with an automatic movement is often called self-winding as this type of watch has a rotor, or oscillating mass, that rotates when you move your wrist, winding the watch. The rotor is a half-circle weight in metal, attached to the movement that can swing 360 degrees freely. With the movement of your wrist, it turns, which winds the mainspring giving the watch energy. Once the mainspring is fully wound the rotor will stop winding the watch. If you do not wear your watch for some time, the watch will stop and you will need to manually wind it to get it started again.

How Does an Automatic Movement Work?

  1. When you move your wrist the rotor turns, which will wind the mainspring.
  2. The gear train transfers this energy to the escapement.
  3. The escapement distributes this energy to regulated parts.
  4. This energy is used by the balance wheel which beats back and forth at a constant rate.
  5. Every certain number of beats the dial train will transfer the energy to the hands of your watch.
Rolex Automatic Movement 4161, automatic watches explained
Rolex Automatic Movement 4161

Manual Movement

A manual movement is often called a hand-wound movement, as it needs you to manually turn the crown to wind it. The crown replaces the function of the rotor in an automatic or self-winding watch. The time between winding will depend on the power reserve of that specific movement and normally ranges anywhere between 35 and 70 hours. It is important to stop winding as soon as you feel the slightest tension or you can damage the movement. It is also advised to take your manual watch off before winding the crown.

How does a Manual Movement Work?

  1. When you turn the crown it winds the mainspring which results in stored energy.
  2. The gear train transfers this energy to the escapement.
  3. The escapement distributes this energy to regulated parts.
  4. This energy is used by the balance wheel which beats back and forth at a constant rate.
  5. Every certain number of beats the dial train will transfer the energy to the hands of your watch.


Manual Watch Movement
Manual Movement – winding using the crown

Quartz Movement

A quartz watch uses a battery and does not need winding as a mechanical timepiece does. The battery supplies electricity to the quartz crystal, causing the quartz to vibrate and generate voltage to power the watch. The battery on a quartz watch typically lasts between one to two years and is easily replaced in most watch stores. It is important to take the battery out of your quartz watch as soon as it dies or you run the risk of the battery leaking and damaging the movement.  The quartz movement is the most precise movement available on the market.

How Does a Quartz Movement Work?

  1. Electricity is carried from the battery to the quartz crystal via the integrated circuit.
  2. The electricity makes the quartz crystal vibrate at a rate of 32,768 per second.
  3. These electrical pulses are sent via the integrated circuit to the stepping motor.
  4. The stepping motor sends every 32,768th electrical pulse to the dial train.
  5. The dial train makes the hands on the watch advance.


Longines Flagship Heritage
Longines Flagship Heritage


A window in the dial that showcases something (date, power reserve, day/night indicator, etc.).


The ring encircling the dial. In diving watches, the bezel has a scale on it so you can track how long you have been underwater.


The box that holds the watch together, with the movement inside. The most common case shapes are:


The backplate of the case that can be either open or closed. Open means that you can see the movement through the glass covering the caseback, also referred to as an exhibition caseback. Closed refers to a solid screwed-down caseback.


A piece that juts out from the side of the case, usually on the right-hand side, allowing you to wind and set the time or other complications. Watches with the crown on the left side were common for pilots in WWII allowing them to operate their chronographs whilst wearing heavy mittens, and strapped into a tight space. Some watch brands still feature the crown on the left.

Deployant buckle

A folding metal buckle that holds the watch securely on the wrist.


The “face” of the watch, where the hands and other indications are displayed.


Also called indices, these are raised numbers or batons attached to the dial via adhesion or pegs. They are used to indicate hour and minute marks (e.g. five minutes, ten minutes, etc. and double as hour indicators).


These are the link between the case and the strap. There are four lugs on a watch and they are the protrusions from the case that allow the strap to be connected to the case.

Minute scale

This scale details the minutes on the dial of a watch. It is also called a railway track because it looks a little bit like one.

Pin buckle

A pin buckle is a traditional method of closing the strap, where the pin on one side of the strap is inserted through the holes of the other side of the strap. It is also referred to as an ardillion buckle.


A pusher is a sort of button on the side of the case which actuates a function (the start and stop of a chronograph, the starting of a minute repeater, the change of a time zone, etc.)

Sapphire Crystal

This transparent synthetic crystal protects the dial and is virtually scratchproof. Synthetic sapphire crystal is the second hardest material, after diamonds.


This is a luminous material that, when charged by the sun or another light source, emits a glow that allows the time to be read.


A complication in a watch is any feature that does more than simply show the time, even a date or a small second is considered a complication. Complications range from very simple such as a date function to highly complicated ones that take years to master and create.

Vacheron Les Cabinotiers
Vacheron Les Cabinotiers, one of the worlds most complicated watch

24-Hour display

A way to easily display 24-hour or military time.


This watch sounds at a time set by the wearer. Mechanical alarms usually use two barrels, one for the watch and one for the alarm.

Annual calendar

This watch will run for a full year (starting on March 1) without having to be reset. It will have to be reset at the end of February, the only month that varies in the number of days from year to year. It is also known as a complete calendar as it displays the day, date, and month. It does not take into account leap years.


An animation on the dial of the watch that follows a predetermined sequence of movements.


A complication that displays the date, day of the week, month, and sometimes the year.

Celestial chart

A detailed representation of the night sky, complete with stars and constellations.


This is a watch that allows for the independent timing of an event. Usually, a chronograph has two pushers on the side of the case to start, stop, and return the chronograph hand. Most chronographs have subdials that measure the minutes and hours. A chronometer, not to be confused with a chronograph, is a watch certified to an official precision standard.

Constant Force

A mechanism that ensures the unwinding of the main spring in a regular, “constant” manner. A regular main spring will have more force at the beginning of its unwinding than at the end.


There are four common date displays:


A complication that displays the day of the week in words, so Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc

Day/Night indicator

A display that shows whether the time in question is during the day or at night.

Dead-Beat Seconds

When the incremental movement of the second hand can be seen once each second. This is very common in quartz watches and much rarer in mechanical watches.

Decimal Repeater

A complication that strikes the hours, number of ten minute periods since the hour and minutes on command using a series of gongs.

Depth gauge

A display that shows how deep a watch has gone under the water on a given dive.

Double Axis Tourbillon

The tourbillon cage and escapement rotate through a second axis as well as through the normal first one.

Double Chronograph

Often referred to as a split-second chronograph, a double chronograph complication uses two second hands simultaneously to measure split times.

Equation of time

This is one of the most revered calendar complications. It includes all the features of a perpetual calendar with one extra feature – the Equation of Time – which is the difference between solar time (the time it actually takes the Earth to revolve around the sun) and calendar time.

Five-Minute Repeater

A complication that strikes the hours and number of five minute periods since the hour on command using a series of gongs.

Flyback chronograph

This chronograph allows the instantaneous resetting of the chronograph hand, so it “flies back” to zero with just one push, instead of having to stop, reset and start again.

Flying Tourbillon

The tourbillon mechanism is supported by a cock (a cantilevered bridge) instead of the traditional spanning bridge.


A complication in chronographs that displays seconds in 1/8th segments.


This timepiece displays two times simultaneously, either through a GMT hand that points to the second time zone or a separate subdial for the second time zone.

Grande Sonnerie

A complication that strikes the hours on command, and also the number of hours and quarters every quarter, using a series of gongs.

Hacking seconds

A complication that allows the stopping of the seconds hand to set the watch more accurately.

Jumping hours

Instead of regular hands, a single-digit shows the hour and it jumps directly to the next hour, from three to four, for example.

Minute repeater

This is a watch that chimes out the time (hours, quarter-hours and minutes) when a lever is activated. The minute repeater is considered one of the most complicated watches to manufacture.

Monopusher Chronograph

There are chronographs that have only one pusher, which controls all the chronograph functions, and these are called monopusher chronographs. The first chronographs were all monopushers, as the first two pusher chronograph was not introduced until the 1920s. Contrary to the two pusher chronograph, the monopusher chronograph is unable to measure interrupted time spans.

Moon phase

These watches have a display that shows the phases of the moon (full, half, crescent, etc.).

Perpetual calendar

The ultimate calendar because it knows how long each year is, no matter if it is a leap year. Keep a quality perpetual calendar running and you won’t have to reset it until the year 2100.

Power reserve

This complication is an indicator somewhere on the watch (usually on the dial) that shows the state of wind for the watch. Like a fuel gauge in your car, it shows how much power is left in your mechanical timepiece.


This is a track on the dial that allows the easy measurement of a pulse.

Quarter Repeater

A complication that strikes the hours and number of quarters since the hour on command using a series of gongs.


This applies to a chronograph that uses two second hands simultaneously to measure split times.

Regatta Timer

A complication traditionally used by yachtsmen to count down the ten minutes before the start of a race.


A complication that strikes the time when you choose using one or more gongs.


This kind of display counts up (whether it is seconds, minutes, the date, etc.) then snaps back to zero.

Sidereal Time

A method of timekeeping used by astronomers to keep track of the night sky’s orientation.

Split seconds chronograph

This chronograph has two chronograph hands instead of one, which split apart, allowing you to time different things. The French term for this complication is rattrapante, which means “recovering” or “catching again.”

Stop seconds

This is when the movement of a watch stops when the crown is pulled out so you can set the seconds precisely.

Sweeping Seconds

As the name implies the seconds smoothly sweep by in a continuous motion on a mechanical watch.


This scale allows you to compute land speed over a fixed distance. It indicates the speed of a moving object, such as a car, over a known distance. As the moving car passes the starting-point of the measured course, whose length corresponds with that used as the basis of calibration, the owner starts the chronograph hand and stops it as the car passes the finishing- point. The number indicated by the hand on the tachymeter scale represents the speed in kilometers or miles per hour.


A telemeter makes it possible to measure the distance of a phenomenon which is both visible and audible, like the lightning and thunder in a storm. The chronograph hand starts at the instant the phenomenon is seen (lightning) and is stopped when the sound is heard (thunder). The position on the scale shows the distance in kilometers separating the phenomenon from the observer (or the user from the storm, in this example) at a glance. Calibration is based on the speed of which sound travels through the air, which is approximately 340 meters per second or 1,115 feet per second.


A tourbillon is a complication designed to counteract the effect of gravity on the movement’s balance, thereby increasing the movement’s accuracy. The tourbillon features a cage that holds the balance and the escapement, and the cage turns independently of the watch, usually at a constant rate of once per minute. The tourbillon, which means “whirlwind” in French, is one of the watchmaking art’s most involved and elegant complications.

World timer

These timepieces provide a way to read the time in 24 (or more) time zones around the world.

Decorative Techniques

Dial design dates back to the 14th century when techniques such as sunray were used to further embellish the dial. Today there are numerous different decorative techniques when it comes to the dial, from quite common ones like Mother-of-Pearl to the old art of paillonnée enameling, seen below.

Jaquet Droz Petit Heure Minute Paillonnée
Jaquet Droz – the art of paillonnée enameling


An angled chamfer is added to the edges of the plates and bridges for both decorative and functional purposes.


The indexes, numerals, or decorations are cut out from sheets of metal and applied to the dial.


Spinning brushed wheels are used to achieve a brushed look with many fine scored lines.

Clous de Paris

A special type of guilloche or embossing on the dial which results in small square knobs.

Côtes de Genève

A decoration used on movement plates consisting of tightly engraved curved lines.


An opaque or semi-transparent colored glassy substance applied to metallic or other hard surfaces for ornamental purposes or as a protective coating.


Three-dimensional scenes are hand engraved on the dial.


Fumé or gradient dials are achieved by spraying the shadow onto a rotating dial that has already been through several coloring processes.


A mechanical method of engraving intricate patterns onto the metal surfaces of a watch using a rose engine machine.


The use of lacquer on the dial resulting in a very intense color, making for example white dials look like porcelain.


The process of creating a pattern, design, or picture on the dial using thin veneers or layers of other materials. The pieces are cut and fit together to form a decorative image.


The dial is made of thin slices of meteorite and no two dials will ever be the same.

Miniature Painting

The art of executing minuscule drawings on a dial. Most dials using this technique use synthetic paints. Miniature painting in enamel is still popular due to its intense color and durability.

Mother of Pearl

A thin layer of crushed oyster shells precisely machined into thin layers that are usually 0.2mm.


A thin layer of opaque or semiopaque whitish glass is applied to the dial surface.

Openworked or Skeleton

This is whereas much metal as possible is removed from the movement, to expose its inner workings.


Tiny precious metal spangles are punched out one at a time from gold or silver leaf and placed between layers of enamel on the dial. One of the oldest and rarest dial decoration techniques.


A decoration that comprises of repeated overlapped circular graining, usually on metal.


Sand is fired at high pressure resulting in a matt finish.


A dense row of microscopic parallel lines that gives metal a satin shine. Also referred to as satin finish or straight graining.

Sunray Brushing

A pattern of imperceptible lines, like the sun’s rays, intersecting at the same central point on the dial. It is created using a brush, usually with metal filaments.


A type of guilloche pattern that leaves lots of small squares on the surface of the dial, separated by thin channels. Sometimes called a “waffle dial”.


An engraving technique used on dials achieved by the use of burin, which is a custom-made tool, to make a series of pinprick marks.


About the Author

Susanne Samuelsson – Founder
Susanne Samuelsson

Susanne Samuelsson is from Sweden but has lived in Switzerland for most of her life. She has spent the last 20 years working for luxury watch publications in sales and marketing. She has worked for Europa Star, Revolution, Elite Traveler, Quintessentially and The Rake. She loves wearing men’s timepieces and since she started The Watch Pages has a list as long as your arm of new watches she would love to buy!

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