An Introduction to Horology

“The way your dad looked at it, this watch was your birthright.” – Christopher Walken as Captain Koons, Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1994)

The watch is the ultimate heirloom. They are passed down from generation to generation and will always retain their relevance in society. In the age of smartphones and smart watches, the elegant mechanical watch is still seen as striking accessory on any man and adds refinement to any outfit without being ostentatious. Despite the convenience of having the time available on your smart phone, the watch is a far more subtle tool to use, and looking at ones wrist is simply more discreet than pulling out a smart phone. It is as much an accessory as it is a tool. Everyone young or old can be seen wearing a watch, some out of appreciation for the engineering behind it, some for its aesthetic pleasure.

Watchguide_Seiko5

(Above, a Seiko 5 SNKL07 with the Seiko 5 automatic movement)

Parts

The main parts of the watch consist of:

  • Crystal: the glass portion that covers the face of the watch
  • Dial: the face of the watch featuring numerals and/or text
  • Movement: the internals of the watch that make it work
  • Case: the outer part of the watch which houses the key parts, usually made out of metal or ceramic
  • Bezel: the part of the watch which sits on top of the case and goes around the dial and crystal. These commonly feature rotating timers or GMT time indicators
  • Strap: the part that goes around ones wrist to secure the watch. Often made out of leather or nylon. Metal ones are referred to as “bracelets”.
  • Lugs: the parts on the ends of the case which the strap connects to. Commonly measuring around 18-22mm
  • Crown: the metal cylinder protruding from the side of the case used to change the time and date as well as wind the watch on hand winding movements
  • Subdial(s): the miniature dials on the main dial of the watch. These are often chronograph features used to measure hours, seconds, and/or days. Subdials are also known as complications.
  • Spring bars: are the small, spring loaded pins that attach the strap to the lugs
Watchguide_Citizen

(Above: a 1970s Citizen 67-9119 fly-back chronograph with two subdials on a NATO strap)

Movements

The first mechanical watches were invented over 200 years ago, with hand winding movements. In present day the quartz watch (launched in 1969) has dominated the market, though avid enthusiasts and aficionados prefer mechanical watches. The mechanical watch allows for complicated, decorated movements which can be admired through clear case backs. These watches are either hand wound or self-winding (automatic). Hand wound watches require periodic winding of the crown (the rotating cylinder on the side of the watch also used to change the time/date) to retain energy. Automatic watches wind themselves by using the energy from the motion of ones wrist. These complicated internal mechanisms can be viewed at work through clear case backs, a feature on many watches. These internals are often decorated with engravings and colorized parts. These additions, with the already complicated movements housed inside, add to the case of watches as an art form. Quartz watches tend to be cheaper to manufacture and more accurate, driving their popularity among non-watch enthusiasts. These watches, with added practicality, sacrifice features and complications that can be commonly found in mechanical watches. These features include everything from a sweeping seconds hand to a fly-back chronograph. For these reasons, most luxury watches are mechanical.

Watchguide_Tissel

(Above, a Tisell 167 with the 6498 hand winding movement)

Features/Functions

Common features on watches include

  • Chronograph: A timing mechanism that allows the watch to keep track of time separate from its time keeping function. Like a stopwatch built into the watch. This time is kept track of on the subdials.
  • Day/date: This function shows the day of the week and the date. These are set when changing the time.
  • Moon phase: Tied in with the day/date function, this subdial has a changing picture of the moon. The moon changes based on how much of the moon is visible at night.
  • Perpetual calendar: Like the day/date function, but more complex. This feature keeps track of the day and date without having to manually change the date at the start of each new month/year.
  • GMT: this function adds an extra hand to the watch, showing the time in another timezone of the wearer’s choosing. This is useful when traveling through timezones.
Watchguide_Speedmaster0202

(Above, an Omega Speedmaster 3539.50 with a chronograph function)

Styles

The most common styles for watches today are:

  • Diver: a type of watch popularized by James Bond wearing a Rolex Submariner in Dr. No (Young, 1962), these watches are known for being durable and reliable as well as elegant. Made to withstand the depths of the ocean, it looks just as at home on a wet suit as it does a business suit.
  • Dress: dress watches often feature less busy dials and lighter colored faces, usually white or silver. They tend to look very simple while maintaining a classic, sophisticated look. It has been argued that all nice watches can be considered dress watches.
  • Pilot/aviation: often resembling instruments in a cockpit, these watches are made for pilots and typically present easily visible cardinal numerals around the face of the watch
  • Motorsport/sport: these watches are often born from some sort of racing heritage and sport a chronograph feature for timing.
Watchguide_Tisell0201

(Above: a Tisell Marine Dive divers watch with a Miyota 9015 movement. Seen here on a NATO strap)

Straps/Bands

  • Bracelet: the metal band that accompanies most watches when purchased. These are adjustable and only expand to allow the wearer to take off. They are the most durable form of watch coupling though are sometimes seen as ostentatious.
  • NATO strap: a long piece of nylon or leather that threads through the spring bars. These typically allow for the most adjustment and come in many different colors and patterns. They are fastened on the outside and protrude from the outside of the strap. A Zulu style NATO strap does not feature this extra length, thus it does not protrude from the rest of the strap.
  • Leather band: the common leather band, these come in many different styles and colors.
  • Perlon: these straps feature a nylon weave and are infinitely adjustable as the buckle penetrates the weave. They come in many different colors and thread through the spring bars a la a NATO strap.
Watchguide_Tisell0302

(Above: the Tisell 167 with a seconds subdial and day/night phase)

Common Brands

There are many common luxury brands whose lines range from sub $100 to well over $100,000. The best watch brands are solely watch brands. It is advisable to stay away from “typical
luxury brands such as Michael Kors, Hugo Boss or Armani. In recent years, spin off brands have been emerging offering watches that look nice but have the internals and materials of a watch worth less than a tenth of the price. Daniel Wellington is a fine example of this. A quality watch from a reputable brand will keep you satisfied for years.

Part 2: Buying a Watch and not Wasting Your Money- coming soon!

 

Connor Salerno

A native Texan and former fraternity man at the University of Missouri, Connor now works and resides in Missouri where he spends his free time golfing and drinking. He enjoys politics, economics, horology and aviation.

2 Responses to “An Introduction to Horology

  • I think you made a great point about why people wear watches when almost everyone is carrying a phone. Personally, I think I like watches so much because of my appreciation for the engineering more than just aesthetic pleasure. It’s really fascinating to see their inner workings in action. It would be fun to learn more about the history of horology. Maybe I can find a book on the subject.

  • Thank you so much for writing this post. I’ve just started looking at self-winding watches and this article is very helpful. Please let me know when Part 2 comes online!

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