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The Bluffer’s guide to haute horology

by Michael Weare
8 January, 2011
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About the author

Michael Weare has been a professional writer for 30 years, writing about Japanese technology, German and Italian cars, British tailoring and Swiss watches. Michael manages the editorial content of Click Tempus and will be keeping the magazine fresh and informative with regular features, as well as bringing great writers to the magazine. Email: michael@clicktempus.com

Bluffer's Guide

This may come as a surprise, but there are many people out there who think a watch is for telling the time and that horology is the study of a medical condition. There are men out there, some of whom may share your compartment on the 07:22 to Paddington, who wouldn’t know a tourbillon from a tachymetre.

When it comes to watches their thoughts are confined to quartz, yet it’s a gentleman’s duty to have a working knowledge of many subjects. Now, thanks to our 60 second bluffer’s guide to haute horology, there’s no need to glance nervously at your watch the next time the talk turns to timepieces.

Anchor

We’re not talking about ships; in horology it’s sometimes known as a Swiss anchor. It helps perform the final part of the mechanical process in a mechanical watch in order to divide the seconds and provide accurate timekeeping. Moving side to side, the anchor allows the final wheel (escape wheel) to rotate one cog at a time. This process produces the ticking sound of a mechanical watch.

Automatic

This refers to mechanical watches which wind themselves by means of a swinging mass or rotor (which rotates by arm movement) which through a series of gears, winds the mainspring which in turn powers the watch.

Bezel

The topmost ring of the watch, surrounding the dial. A bezel may be fixed or in the case of a diver’s watch, rotating. It can either be plain (usually fixed) or can be marked with, for example a 0-60 minute scale in the case of divers’ watches.

Chronograph

A mechanism for measuring short time spans independently of the normal timekeeping function.

Chronometer

Movements (see Movements) need to meet specific timekeeping criteria laid down by the Swiss Official Chronometer Control so as to be awarded a Chronometer Certificate. Movements are usually tested out of the case for 15 days and nights in various positions and at various temperatures.

Crown

The crown is used for winding the watch in the case of a non-automatic, for setting the hands to the correct time and often for setting the date in the case of calendar equipped watches. On diving/sports models, the crown may be screw down for superior water resistance.

Dial

Often referred to as the face is usually marked with numbers or batons to which the hands point in order for the wearer to tell the correct time. Dials can be simple with no markers or extremely complex as in the case of pilots’ chronographs.

Escapement

Nothing to do with escape. The escapement in a mechanical watch refers to a combination of parts including the anchor, pallets and balance wheel amongst others which translate the power of the mechanism into regular timekeeping. The escapement is responsible for the familiar ticking sound of a mechanical watch.

Flyback

It’s not a rugby position. This phrase is often used to describe two different functions of a chronograph watch. Some use it to describe the function of depressing a chronograph button which returns the seconds hand to zero but immediately starts the timing again.

Handwound

The big clue here is hand. You use your hand to wind a mechanical movement using the winding crown. This winds the mainspring which then releases its energy to power the watch.

Hack/Hacking

Describes the feature of a movement whereby the seconds hand can be stopped for exact setting of the time.

Jewels

In mechanical watches and some quartz watches, jewels (usually made from synthetic ruby) are used as bearings for those parts of the movement subject to constant motion. They are not valuable at all in a monetary sense but they are valuable in aiding the precise running of a watch over a long period and reducing wear. It is a fallacy that the more jewels the better the watch.

Lugs

Protrusions on the case of a watch to which the bracelet or strap is fitted. Various types of lugs can be found such as rounded lugs, teardrop lugs and hidden lugs.

Movement

Simply used to describe the workings or engine of a watch, be it mechanical or quartz. Often referred to as a calibre by manufacturers.

Rattrapante

A term used to describe the split seconds chronograph (see Flyback) which has two seconds hands sitting on top of one another. On depression of a third chronograph button (most have two), the flyback hand will stop in order to measure say, a lap time; repressing this button with cause the flyback hand to flyback to the other seconds hand which has remained in motion.

Rotor

A rotor most commonly is free to rotate in a full 360 degrees and may wind the watch when it is rotating in one direction only or indeed may wind in both directions through the use of reverser wheels and gears.

Tachymeter

A scale used to measure units per hour. Commonly found on the bezels of chronograph watches, an event is timed by using the chronograph seconds hand. The hand is stopped when the event ends and the hand will point to the number of units per hour that could be achieved.

Tourbillon

A complex piece of micro-engineering which results in the escapement of a watch rotating on its own axis; the object of the exercise is to cancel out the variations in running regularity which can be caused by the watch being in different positions; (a watch may gain in one position yet lose in another).

Zulu Time

Not to be confused with the movie starring Michael Caine. It’s another reference to GMT and UTC. The use of this phrase is prevalent in civil aviation and military; so called because Zulu is the phonetic for Z and the Z is for the Zero meridian, the meridian passing through Greenwich.

Of course this is a by no means exhaustive list, but that’s not the point. With assiduous use of the correct term slipped intelligently into the conversation at the appropriate moment you too can make it appear that you are hot on horology. Just remember not to ruin the effect by checking your Casio.

Michael Weare | Website

Michael Weare has been a professional writer for 30 years, writing about Japanese technology, German and Italian cars, British tailoring and Swiss watches. Michael manages the editorial content of Click Tempus and will be keeping the magazine fresh and informative with regular features, as well as bringing great writers to the magazine. Email: michael@clicktempus.com

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