The horolophile's handbook

Don’t know your Tourbillon from your Rattrapante? Don’t worry, help is on the way.

Bibek Bhattacharya | Print Edition: August 23, 2009

Don’t know your Tourbillon from your Rattrapante? Don’t worry, help is on the way.


  • Analog: Regular classic timepieces which show the time using rotating hands.
  • Anti-magnetic: Most watches are thrown off gear by strong magnets. But not if they use alloys for certain parts like the balance wheel and escape wheel.
  • Assortiment: As expected, the French contribute a host of watch terms. This denotes the parts for making an Escapement, which converts the rotary motion of the train into to and fro motion.
  • Atelier: French for a watchmaker’s workshop.


  • Balance: One of the tiniest (and most vital) building blocks of a watch—it’s a moving part attached to the base with a hairspring. The oscillating balance makes the wheel click marking off 1/8th of a second.
  • Bar: Also known as a lug, it’s the tiny rod that helps attach the wristlet in a watch.
  • Bezel: The ring surrounding the watch dial and crystal.


  • Cabochon: Any decorative gemstone set in the watch crown.
  • Calibre: It originally meant the size of a watch’s movement. Now, it denotes specialised movements.
  • Chablon: An incomplete watch movement.
  • Chapter-ring: The ring on the watch dial bearing figures and minute marks. The hour figures are also called chapters.
  • Chronograph: Any watch which comes with a stopwatch.
  • Chronometre: A stopwatch.
  • C.O.S.C.: The elite Controle Officiel Suisse des Chronometres, a regulatory council that tests and certifies Chronometres.
  • Cosmograph: Invented by Rolex, in this design the Tachymeter, which charts speed, is located on the bezel instead of the outer rim as in a Chronograph.
  • Crown: The knurled knob on the outside of a watch case and used for winding the watch.


  • Depth Alarm: Alarm on a diver’s watch that sounds when you exceed a certain depth.
  • Direct Drive: A seconds-hand that moves forward in little jerks.


  • Ebauche: French term for an incomplete watch movement being sold as a set of loose parts.
  • EOL: End of Life. In a quartz movement, the seconds hand will start to jump every few seconds. Time to change the battery!


  • Flybank Hand: If you’re wearing a Chronograph with an analog display, this is the second hand in the middle, which can be stopped and made to return to zero.


  • Grande Complications: The most complex of mechanical watches.
  • Guilloche: A kind of fine engraving in which thin lines are interwoven in a pattern.


  • Jumping Hours: A digital display set in the dial which gives you the time by changing or “jumping” every one hour.


  • Luminova: Synthetic material which glows in the dark. Used especially in diving watches.


  • Mainspring: This is the driving spring in the movement, and is contained in the barrel.
  • Moon Phase Display: A graphic display, which shows the different phases of the moon.
  • Movement: The assembly of mechanisms and other internal elements of a timepiece.


  • Perpetual: Watch calendar that automatically adjusts for all months and leap years.
  • Pusher: Buttons operating special functions of a watch.


  • Rattrapante: The flyback hand of a Chronometre.
  • Repeater: A watch that sounds a note or a tone every hour.


  • Skeleton: Fancy transparent case that displays the inner components of the watch.
  • Stopwatch: See Chronometre.


  • Tachometre: Also known as a tachymeter, it’s an instrument included in a Chronograph, which measures speed.
  • Termineur: French for an independent watchmaker or a workshop.
  • Titanium: Much in favour—space age metal stronger and lighter than steel.
  • Tourbillon: A revolutionary regulating mechanism which eliminates effects of gravity and friction.


  • Winding: Age-old method of tightening the mainspring of a watch, which is either done manually with the crown or automatically.

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