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Horology Lingo: How to Sound Like an Expert

As much as you probably love the swashbuckling Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise, he’s not the sharpest sword in the armory when it comes to watch and clock terminology. Case in point, his brief exchange with the young Carina Smyth in Dead Men Tell No Tales:

Carina Smyth: My calculations are precise and true. I’m not just an astronomer. I’m also a horologist.

Captain Jack: No shame in that, dear. We all have to make a living, eh.

You don’t want to make that mistake at your next office party. Our watch repair pros decided to put together some must-know terms to keep handy when you talk to your friends about your favorite Omega wristwatch or happen to be in the company of other watch enthusiasts. For starters, horology is the study of time and timepieces. Captain Jack wasn’t even close.

Horology Lingo
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This is the mechanism that runs the clock or watch. It is the heart of the watch. Without it, your timepiece is just another pretty piece of jewelry. Mechanical movements come in various shapes and sizes to fit different case styles, and the gears, wheels, and other moving parts are held in place between the front and back plates, also called bridges, of the watch. There are two main categories of movements: mechanical and quartz. A mechanical movement sometimes has hundreds of moving parts that all work together to power the watch. These parts are put in motion by winding it manually, or in the case of an automatic watch, a self-winding mechanism that uses the kinetic energy created by the wearer’s activity. On the other hand, a quartz watch has significantly fewer parts and is powered by a battery that sends an electric current through a quartz stone.


A caliber is a number and letter designation that identifies a watch movement. It is located on the back of your watch and is engraved either in the center or on the edge. Chances are, when you first contact your watch repair shop to get your timepiece fixed, they’ll ask you for the caliber.

Balance Wheel

This is the part of a mechanical watch that oscillates or vibrates to power the timepiece. It divides the time into equal segments, like a pendulum of a clock.

Balance or Hair Spring

This is a flat, coiled spring attached to the balance wheel in a mechanical watch. It controls the vibration and speed of the balance to maintain time accuracy. It is as fine as a hair, thus the name.

Gear Train

This refers to the system of gears in a watch. Some are made of solid gold to avoid magnetism, which can affect watch accuracy.

Barrel, Mainspring, and Crown

These are the parts with which you might be most familiar, even though you may not realize it. When you wind a watch, your fingers turn what is called the crown, which in turn winds up the mainspring, a torsion spring. As the spring unwinds, it releases force to power the balance wheel. The mainspring is housed in a small drum called the barrel.


In this mechanism, the force generated by the unwinding mainspring is transferred to the watch’s second hand by driving the balance wheel at a steady rate. Except for a few, most watches and some clocks use the ‘lever escapement,’ with an escape wheel and two lever pallets. The lever and pallets lock and unlock the escape wheel, creating the ticking sound you hear when your watch works.


No, these are not the diamonds on the dial of your Omega watch. These are bearings made of synthetic rubies or sapphires that work to reduce the friction and wear of the many moving parts within your watch.

Crystal & Bezel

The crystal is the transparent glass, plexiglass, or sometimes sapphire cover that protects your watch face. The bezel is the metal rim surrounding the crystal, which contains those diamonds you thought about when we first mentioned jewels. Bezels can serve functions other than simply being ornamental: Rotating bezels turn to perform different timekeeping and mathematical operations, while unidirectional rotating bezels can help prevent divers from overestimating their air supply.

Watch Complications

When your boss sees your new Rolex and asks you what complications you have on your timepiece, don’t get befuddled. She’s asking what kinds of added frills came with your watch. For example, does it have a moon phase indicator, calendar, or chronograph? Watch gurus call these complications because the more you have, the more expensive and complex your watch is compared to other pieces that just tell time.


What? Is something wrong with my watch that it needs adjustments? No. Your watch is just fine. However, unless specified, it’s likely not adjusted. Adjustments are unique calibrations made at the factory to allow your watch to keep accurate time during certain conditions. Since mechanical watch accuracy is affected by gravity, temperature, and function, some watchmakers create adjustments in advance to counteract these effects. There are nine basic adjustments: Stem Up, Stem Down, Stem Left, Stem Sight, Face Up, Face Down, Heat, Cold, and Isochronism (the watch runs at the same rate whether fully wound or only partially wound).
For more information on watch and clock terminology, check out our website and talk with one of our expert technicians. Here at Times Ticking, we can take care of all your watch repair and battery replacement needs.