By Samantha Wittwer
Updated December 09, 2014
© Need Supply Co.

Whether purchasing a one as a gift this holiday season or finally investing in a statement piece for yourself, it’s time you learned about watches.

This piece originally appeared on

If you came of age in the era of diamond encrusted behemoths, you could be forgiven for a lack of horological knowledge. Your phone, your microwave, your car stereo and that huge LED sign you drive past on your way to work are all in collusion to subvert the traditional wristwatch.

Horlogerie, or the art of fine watch making, has been the arena in which craftsman of the highest caliber have been able to exercise their precise art since the early 16th century. The wristwatch has become both a symbol of the well to do and an essential tool in every profession from banking to baking – an object imbued with both the loving attention of it’s craftsman and the poetic weight of time itself. This significance is what has allowed the popularity of the wristwatch to endure. As any Pulp Fiction fan would have you know – Bruce Willis wouldn’t have put himself through hell for anything less than his Great-Granddaddy’s war watch.

Whether you are looking to invest in your first real wristwatch, or fix up your grandfather’s old piece which has neither ticked nor toc’d since Reagan was in office, there are a few terms you are going to need to know:


A Movement is the engine of the watch, quite literally what ‘make’s it tick’. There are two categories of Movements, Mechanical and Electronic.

Mechanical movements have been in production since the 16th century, making them both the most traditional and sought after type of Movement. Mechanical Movements derive kinetic energy from a tightly wound coil, or Mainspring, which is either wound by hand or automatically via a pendulum that remains in motion while the watch is on the wearers wrist.

Electric Movements function by sending electrical signals from a battery to a small quartz crystal, which is why it is commonly known as a Quartz movement. The crystal vibrates at a consistent rate, making Quartz Movements highly accurate. However, a standard battery will need to be replaced every 3-5 years by a knowledgeable and steady hand.

(A common indication of a dying battery is the appearance of the hands ‘jumping’ ahead on the watchface every few seconds.)

Quartz Movements can also be powered by the kinetic energy of a wearer’s wrist movements, these are known as ‘Auto Quartz’ movements and require the least maintenance of any movement.


Any function performed by a watch, other than standard timekeeping, is known as a complication. These could be described as the ‘apps’ of the watch, but they really, really shouldn’t. Some common complications include a Calander, Moonphase Window, and Chronograph (otherwise known as a stopwatch)


If you do find yourself in the market for a luxury watch, or wistfully browsing eBay, you may come across a Reference in the description of watch. This is a 4-6 digit number that details different characteristics of the watch. Each number represents a different characteristic based on it’s placement in the order of the reference. Each watchmaker has a different Reference system, but a well educated dealer or well worded Google search could easily de-code the information.


Case This includes the Middle, Back and Bezel of the watch, and protects the movement within. While the standard round case remains an undisputed classic, variations on the shape of the case provide aesthetic variety.

Bezel This is the element within the case that often contains additional numerical markings engraved into it.

Crystal This is the glass protecting the wristwatch. It can be made of a variety of materials from hair-thin Sapphire on the high end, to polished Acrylic on the low. Most mid-range wristwatches use glass, which in horological terms is known as a Mineral Crystal. Pointing out this distinction will make you appear either well-informed or incredibly daft depending on the company. Dispense wisely.

Dial This is commonly known as the face of the watch.

Hands are the means by which the time is indicated. Standard watches have hour and minute hands, often with the addition of a seconds hand. Particularly useless watches have no hands at all.

Crown This is the small toothed-element that allows for the setting of time, as well as other functions, by being turned in either direction.

Pusher another external element that is pushed to operate certain functions, such as the Chronograph. Commonly known as, well, a button.

Lugs the points at which the bracelet or straps are attached to the watch. If there is no break between the watch and the bracelet, it is known as an ‘integral bracelet’.

Samantha Wittwer is a designer and conversationalist from the Golden State.