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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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Sapphire Crystal

Synthetic sapphire crystal is a virtually scratchproof material with a hardness of 9 on the Mohs scale which means only a diamond is harder. The material is known to gemmologists as aluminium oxide or corundum, can be colourless (corundum), red (ruby), blue (sapphire) or green (green sapphire). It is “grown” using a method invented by Auguste Victor Louis Verneuil in 1902 whereby a process that usually takes a thousand years to complete is accelerated to just a few hours, hence the use of the term synthetic. Unsurprisingly, sapphire crystal has become the material of choice to protect the dials of all high end modern wristwatches including all Christopher Ward timepieces.




Graduation on a measuring instrument, showing the divisions of a whole of values, especially on a dial, bezel. The scales mostly used in horology are related to the following measuring devices: tachometer (indicating the average speed), telemeter (indicating the distance of a simultaneously luminous and acoustic source, e.g. a cannon-shot or a thunder and related lightning), pulsometer (to calculate the total number of heartbeats per minute by counting only a certain quantity of them). For all of these scales, measuring starts at the beginning of the event concerned and stops at its end; the reading refers directly to the chronograph second hand, without requiring further calculations.



Screw Balance

Before the invention of the perfectly weighted balance by use of a smooth ring, balances were fitted with weighted screws to get the exact impetus desired. Today a screw balance is a subtle sign of quality in a movement due to its costly construction.



Second Time-Zone Indicator

An additional dial that can be set to the time in another time zone. It lets the wearer keep track of local time and the time in another country simultaneously. See also GMT and world time.

(Left) A rare 1945 Asassiz world time vintage watch made by Louis Cottier which includes an original three-piece dial with moveable world time ring. (Right) The C900 Worldtimer features a rotating disc which has the time zones indicated by individual airport codes in a window at 24 o’clock. The airport abbreviation makes the location much easier to read than if it were spelled out in full amongst many other place names at the edge of the dial, as is usually the case. In another unique modification, the same disc simultaneously indicates the geographic location on the C900’s magnificent 3-dimensional world map dial.

Second Time-Zone indicator




A circular sector, also known as a “pie piece”, is the portion of a circle (or dial) enclosed by two radii.




A watch whose mechanical movement is wound automatically. A rotor makes short oscillations due to the movements of the wrist. Through a series of gears, oscillations transmit motion to the barrel, thus winding the mainspring progressively.



Shockproof or Shock-Resistant

Watches provided with shock-absorber systems (e.g. Incabloc) help prevent damage from shocks to the balance pivots. Thanks to a retaining spring system, it assures an elastic play of both jewels, thus absorbing the movements of the balance-staff pivots when the watch receives strong shocks. The return to the previous position is due to the return effect of the spring. If such a system is lacking, the shock forces exert an impact on the balance-staff pivots, often causing bending or even breakage.




Part of a mechanism moving with friction on a slide-bar or guide.



Small Second

Time display in which the second hand is placed in a small subdial.



Solar Time

The time standard referred to the relative motion of the Earth and the Sun governing the length of day and night. The true solar day is the period measured after the Sun appears again in the same position from our point of observation. Due to the non-uniform rotation of the Earth around the Sun, this measure is not regular. As an invariable measure unit, the mean solar day corresponds to the average duration of all the days of the year.




The time when the sun is farthest from the equator, i.e. or the Northern Hemisphere on June 21st (Summer solstice) and December 21st (Winter solstice).



Split-Second Chronograph

Also known in the watch industry by its French name, the rattrapante. A watch with two second hands, one of which can be blocked with a special dial train lever to indicate an intermediate time while the other continues to run. When released, the split-seconds hand jumps ahead to the position of the other second hand. Both the C3 Malvern (pictured below) and C4 Peregrine have this useful function.

The C3 Malvern Split Second Chronograph



Spring Barrel

The spring barrel contains the mainspring. It turns freely on an arbor, pulled along by the toothed wheel generally doubling as its lid. This wheel interacts with the first pinion of the movement’s gear train. Some movements contain two or more spring barrels for added power reserve.




A watch with a seconds hand that measures intervals of time. When a stopwatch is incorporated into a standard watch, both the stopwatch function and the timepiece are referred to as a chronograph.




Traditional device (now obsolete) provided with a finger piece fixed to the barrel arbor and a small wheel in the shape of a Maltese cross mounted on the barrel cover, limiting the extent to which the barrel can be wound.




Christopher Ward watches use Super-LumiNova, a photo-luminescent non-radioactive material with a long period of phosphorescence. It reaches up to 100 times the brightness of Tritium. Tritium was the original, radioactive, substance used to coat hands, numerals and hour markers on watch dials to make reading the time in the dark possible.

Below: Super-LumiNova chart showing the phosphorescent pigments. LumiNova® is a registered trademark of Nemoto and Co. Ltd.

Super-Luminova Pigment



Sweep Second Hand

A centre second hand, i.e. a second hand mounted on the centre of the main dial.


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