Do you know your minute repeater from your hairspring? And what would you do with a power reserve? A true watch connoisseur must not only wear the right watches, but also speak the right language. This is a guide to some of the most commonly heard terms in high-quality watchmaking
Any timepiece that is used both for keeping time and as a stopwatch. Depending on how the functions are integrated, chronographs may function using single or multiple dials or displays.
Often confused with a chronograph, a chronometer is a timepiece of very high accuracy. Initially chronometers were used by sailors who required high accuracy while navigating using celestial measurements. Today, the term is used for watches of high precision and in Switzerland brands are allowed to use the term chronometer only if certified by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres.
When a timepiece is used to do something more than just tell the time, then this extra function is called a complication. Normally, the term is not used to refer to features such as chronographs or day or date displays. Instead, complications would include features such as signs of the Zodiac or minute repeaters.
An escapement is the heart of a mechanical watch. It performs many critical functions, including translating the spring’s rotational movement into the measured, controlled movement of the second hand. There are many different types of escapements, and in many cases it this escapement that gives watches and clocks the satisfying tick-tock sound.
A grand complication watch consists of multiple complications. Expensive and usually valued by collectors, some grand complications can comprise dozens of complications and are more works of art than timepieces.
The hairspring, a coiled spring, is what makes a balance wheel swing back and forth with regularity. Manufacturing a hairspring is a challenge and modern hairsprings are made with proprietary alloys and even, in the case of Breguet’s Tradition 7047 Fusee Tourbillon, with silicium.
A minute repeater, or any repeater, is a mechanical solution to telling the time when there is no light. On pulling a lever, a hammer strikes against a gong sounding the time. Minute repeaters are, therefore, complicated to manufacture and very valuable.
A power reserve indicator tells the owner of a watch how much tension is left in the main spring. Considered a complication, power reserves are found on both manually and self-wound watches.
A retrograde movement is essentially one that moves back and forth. For instance, a second hand that moves along an arc, instead of a circle, from 0 to 60, and then swings back. This is a complication.
Here the watch is wound by the movement of the owner’s wrist. A rotor inside the watch moves when the wearer moves, and this motion is translated through a system of gears into winding the spring. Some automatics also allow you to wind the spring manually using the crown. This is useful when the watch has not been worn for some time.
Considered an example of the highest watchmaking craftsmanship, tourbillon assemblies involve the balance wheel and escapement being built into a cage that rotates. This was used to counter the impact of gravity on the traditional watch mechanism. The tourbillon was invented by Abraham-Louis Breguet around 1795.