How many parts of a watch could you name? And could you describe their purpose or function? A watch is the practical stalwart of the jewellery world, offering a valuable and reliable service on our wrist, day in, day out. If you’ve been taking your watch for granted, it’s time to delve into its fascinating anatomy, exploring ten different parts of a watch that everyone should know about.
Understanding what makes a good watch tick will help you find the ultimate timepiece for your own collection or as a special gift to a loved one. It also means you’ll better understand what features you may like your watch to boast or what repairs are necessary when something goes wrong. Read our useful guide to the intricacies of the mechanical watch, gaining insight and a renewed admiration for this classic piece of jewellery.
The Timeless Timepiece
Humans have been “telling the time” for millennia, with the ancient Egyptians inventing the sundial some five thousand years ago. With a circular face, the sundial helped a community track the sun’s movement and work to the same timescale.
Water clocks and hourglasses followed, allowing us to tell the time without sunlight. In the 14th century, the balance wheel mechanism was invented, which plays the same role as a pendulum – the common clock mechanism at that time. The balance wheel allowed for more precise timekeeping and was featured in both large wall clocks and the smaller timepieces being worn on a chain and stored in the pocket (hence the name pocket watch).
It wasn’t until the early 19th century that the first wristwatch was invented. In 1812, Abraham-Louis Breguet crafted an ornate wristwatch for Napoleon’s sister, Queen Caroline Murat. This style of attaching a watch to the wrist became popular among women, with ribbons and chain straps used to create a feminine look.
Pocket watches remained popular with men until the 20th century when, for practical reasons, the so-called pilot watch was invented. This wristwatch allowed pilots to check the time without taking a hand off the controls to reach into their pockets. As wars became a defining feature of this century, hands-free timepieces soared in popularity. The unique design elements used in the watches worn by those at war are still featured in many modern designs, including luminous hands and scratch-resistant glass.
By the 1920s, an automatic, self-winding watch was available, and the quartz style of watch, which features a battery and doesn’t require winding, came onto the scene during the same decade. Fashion pieces started to become popular thanks to Cartier’s beautiful watches, and by the 1930s, the Art Deco movement played its part in producing desirable watches. While the pilot style of wristwatch was popular in the war-torn 1940s, come the 50s, the influence of Rolex made its mark. Sporty watches boomed, as well as formal timepieces, and this trend has continued to this day, with many men owning numerous watch styles to fit the occasion.
Next, you can learn all about the anatomy of a watch, exploring ten key parts of a watch, followed by a deep dive into the movement – the interior of a timepiece.
The Watch Exterior
Learn these ten different parts of a watch, and not only will you be able to better explain to a jeweller what’s gone wrong if your watch breaks, but you’ll also be able to know what features you like in a watch when you’re browsing for a snazzy new timepiece.
Home to the inner working of a watch, the function of the case is to contain and protect the watch’s movement. Most modern casings are made of sturdy and tarnish-free stainless steel. Some high-end watches feature cases made of precious metals such as platinum, gold, rhodium or silver.
The case metal may be highly polished, matte or a combination of the two, created to add design flair to the piece.
The dial, or the face of the watch, is the flat surface that lies beneath the protective crystal, and it features the hour markers (numbers) and any additional displays. From the colour of the dial itself to the typeface of the numbers, this part of a watch impacts the overall aesthetic.
Because the dial is what allows you to tell the time, it has to be thoughtfully designed to both serve this purpose and create an attractive piece. The dial will have a great influence on your feelings toward a watch. Perhaps a white dial with black Roman numerals is your style, or maybe you’d prefer something a little more modern with a salmon dial and copper hour markers.
The dial can house additions such as a date display and the lunar cycle, adding further practicality and character to the piece. It’s a part of the watch anatomy that makes or breaks the design.
Sitting on the dial, the hands are a part of the watch that serve the all-important function of indicating the time. They need to be cleverly crafted so that they’re easy to see without appearing too large and clumsy, with the hour hand usually being shorter to aid time reading.
Sitting over the dial and protecting it, the crystal makes sure all the dust and debris we encounter daily doesn’t build up on the watch face or its hands. And is the crystal made of crystal? Most commonly, it’s made of scratch-resistant glass, plastic or synthetic sapphire crystal – which is very durable. The crystal mustn’t be easy to mark, or else you won’t be able to view the dial clearly.
The bezel is the watch case’s outer ring, and it holds the crystal in place. It is often flat-faced but can be rounded and usually crafted from ceramic, the same metal as the case or a different metal to create contrast.
Some bezels are embellished with attractive markings or even gemstones to help make the watch more decorative.
The lugs of a watch are soldered onto the bezel and serve as the point of attachment for the wrist strap. They usually use little metal spring bars to allow the strap to be removed and replaced.
The crown is that little twizzle knob at the side of the watch that allows you to “spring forward” or “fall back” an hour when the clocks change each year. Sometimes featuring precious gems, the crown may serve other purposes besides setting the time. For example, watches whose dials bear additional windows often have a crown that is pulled down to adjust these windows.
Similar to the crown, the pusher is the other mechanism used to adjust the additional windows on a dial. For example, they may change an attractive lunar cycle dial or activate stopwatches.
Watch complications are any features on a dial in addition to the clock face, and as you know, these are worked by the crown or a pusher. Some watches offer no complications, while others have several.
Popular complications include:
A watch strap, like the dial, can be the driving force that sets the style tone of the piece. From metal bracelets (made popular by brands such as Rolex) to leather straps, these different watch partsallow you to exercise your personal taste. Whether it’s a glittering gold strap or lizard, or even crocodile leather, your strap can reflect your personal fashion preferences.
Many watches allow for interchangeable straps, allowing you to adapt the timepiece to suit your attire or the occasion.
The Inner Workings of a Watch
If you’ve ever owned or taken a look at a watch with a clear-backed case, you’ll know just how fascinating the inner parts of a watch are. The collective name for the mechanisms within a watch is the movement.
A complicated but elegant apparatus, the key parts of the movement in an automatic mechanical watch that you’ll want to know about are the following:
In a popular quartz watch, you’ll find some additional and alternative watch anatomy. A quartz watch features a battery as the movement power source in place of a mainspring. In place of the balance wheel, there is a quartz crystal which receives energy from the battery via an integrated circuit. This energy makes the crystal vibrate and creates a voltage, whose electrical pulses are sent to a stepping motor. The stepping motor sends electrical impulses to a dial train, which powers the hands.
High-Value Watch Parts
In luxury watches, you’ll find certain high-value parts of a watch that create a superior piece both in terms of functionality and appearance.
Look for watches with cases, bezels and straps made from precious metals. These increase and may even hold the value of the watch. In terms of embellishment, there is both an intrinsic value in diamonds used on a watch and an enduring popularity associated with this stone.
Watch parts and whole watches made in Switzerland or Japan have an excellent reputation as being particularly high quality. Popular high-end watch brands such as Rolex, Omega, Tag Heuer and Patek Philippe use the best materials and mechanisms to produce pieces that hold their value well.
Due to the traditional watchmaking skills required to craft a mechanical movement watch, this style also holds its value. Classic watch styles have remained popular, with special features such as moon phase dials crafted using gold or special edition models with unusual additions adding value. We hope you found our guide on the different parts of a watch useful. Whether you’ve purchased a high-value watch or have a timepiece steeped in sentimental value, consider taking out jewellery insurance to protect your watch. TH March can help curate the perfect policy for your collection, and with over 135 years of experience in the industry, you can feel confident that your watch is in safe hands.