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Watch Words


The following pages are a glossary of terms associated with horology, watches and watchmaking. Please click on one of the links or glossary terms below to learn more about them. Most of the terms are enhanced with detailed imagery. If you would like us to list any other words that you think may be helpful, please contact me direct We will update the glossary frequently.


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The mainspring, located in the spring barrel, stores energy when tensioned and passes it on to the escapement via the gear train as the tension releases. Today, mainsprings are usually made of Nivaflex, an alloy invented by Swiss engineer Max Straumann in the early 1950’s. This alloy basically comprises of iron, nickel, chrome, cobalt and beryllium.

Below: Illustration showing the mainspring and mainspring barrel of an automatic winding watch.




A mechanical movement that is wound by hand using the winding crown. The motion transmitted from the user’s fingers to the crown is forwarded to the movement through the winding stem, from this to the barrel through a series of gears and finally to the mainspring.



Most experts agree that the term, which is from Latin and means “made by hand”, should be used for a company that manufactures at least one calibre, or extremely important parts of it such as the base plate, on the premises. While ten years ago this constituted only a handful of companies in Switzerland and Germany today’s competitive market has forced a number of others to invest in developing their own movements. ETA is without doubt the largest manufacture (horologists prefer using French) and, at present, Christopher Ward uses them exclusively for all our automatic movements.


Marine Chronometer

A large-sized chronometer watch enclosed in a box (therefore also called box chronometer) mounted on gimbals and used on board ships, to determine the respective longitude.



The mean time of the meridian of the Greenwich Observatory, considered the universal meridian, is used as the standard of the civil time system, counted from midnight to midnight.


Mechanical Movement

A movement powered by a mainspring, working in conjunction with a balance wheel. Most watches today have electronically controlled quartz movements and are powered by a battery. However, mechanical watches are currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity. (see also Movement term below)


Military Time or 24hr Time

When time is measured in 24-hour segments. To convert 12-hour time into 24-hour time, simply add 12 to any p.m. time. To convert 24-hour time into 12-hour time, subtract 12 from any time from 13 to 24.


Mineral Crystal or Mineral Glass

Watch crystal that has been tempered (heat treated) to increase its hardness and scratch resistance.

Below: Christopher Ward watches are protected by top quality anti-scratch sapphire cyrstals, as seen on the C7 Bluebird chronograph watch.

Watch Crystal


Minute Repeater

Mechanism indicating time by acoustic sounds. Contrary to the watches provided with en-passant sonnerie devices, that strike the number of hours automatically, repeaters work on demand by actuating a slide or pusher positioned on the case side. Repeaters are normally provided with two hammers and two gongs: one gong for the minutes and one for the hours. The quarters are obtained by the almost simultaneous strike of both hammers. The mechanism of the striking work is among the most complex complications.

The minute repeater feature was very much in vogue before displays became common to allow people to know the time in the dark. They are also useful for the visually challenged. Today in many watches it is a feature that adds to the novelty of the watch.


Mono (Single) Pusher Chronograph

A chronograph watch that works by using a single button. The majority of stop watches need two buttons, one to start and stop and another one to reset. A Mono Pusher complication manages to do all three operations on the same button.

Below: CW’s C900 Single Pusher Chronograph with continuous seconds and 30 minute totaliser sub-dials operated through the central crown function.

Single Pusher



A function available in many watches, usually combined with calendar-related features. The moonphase disc advances one tooth every 24 hours. Normally, this wheel has 59 teeth and assures an almost perfect synchronization with the lunation period, i.e. 29.53 days (in fact, the disc shows the moonphases twice during a single revolution). However, the difference of 0.03 days, i.e. 44 minutes each month, implies the need for a manual adjustment every two and a half years to recover one day lost with respect to the real state of moonphase. In some rare cases, the transmission ratio between the gears controlling the moonphase are calculated with extreme accuracy so as to require manual correction only once in 100 years.


Mother of Pearl

Iridescent, milky interior shell of the fresh water mollusc that is sliced thinly and used on watch dials. While most have a milky white lustre, mother-of-pearl also comes in other colours such as silvery grey, grey blue, pink, and salmon.

Below: The ton-sur-ton art deco mother-of-pearl dial from CW’s Constance watch, and the iridescent shine of mother of pearl.

Mother of Pearl



The entire mechanism of a watch. Movements are divided into two great families: quartz and mechanical; the latter are available with manual or automatic winding devices. “Anatomically speaking”, the movement comprises the Ébauche, the regulating parts and other components (springs, jewels, pivots, pinions, screws, shock-absorbers, etc.).

Below: The 27 jewel ETA 251 Swiss quartz movement (Left) and the ETA 7750 Valjoux Swiss mechanical movement (Right).

Quartz and Mechanical Movement

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