Watches Lingo: Important Terms a Collector Should Know

Watches Lingo: Important Terms a Collector Should Know


Talk the Talk

T he world of timepieces, with its seemingly infinite list of moving parts and definitions, may seem intimidating to new collectors. But once you learn what makes watches tick, you’ll realize that becoming a confident buyer or seller isn’t all that complicated. Here is a list of key terms to help get you started, plus fine timepieces from the Important Watches auction (9 October, Hong Kong) to provide helpful illustrations.



A small window that displays indications such as the date, day or moon phase.

Patek Philippe, Reference 5004. Exemplifying the true art of watchmaking, the reference 5004 is the ultimate example of timeless beauty and understated horology. The production of reference 5004 commenced in 1995 and remained in production until 2009. The watch is made from a total number of 407 parts, the reference is powered by caliber CHR 27-70Q that ingeniously combine a split second chronograph and perpetual calendar. These calendar functions allow the watch to accurately provide a 24-hour display with leap year indications and an accurate moon phase device, which are condensed into apertures on the dial. The case measures 36.5 mm in diameter, retaining a somewhat vintage appeal and proportion due to the fluted lugs.

Balance Wheel

A weighted wheel that regulates the pulses of a watch or chronometer by rotating back and forth, driven from impulses delivered by the escapement.

Philippe Dufour Simplicity. A legend among the world of horology and arguably the greatest living watchmaker, Philippe Dufour is the first person in history to successfully incorporate a Grande Sonnerie to a wristwatch, as well as design a movement which consists of two balance wheels for greater precision. As Dufour moved away from highly-complicated timepieces to simple yet undeniably sophisticated wristwatches, the Simplicity perfects the balance between legibility and detail: the hand-guilloched dial and the hand-finished movement exemplifies the modern master’s exceptional technique.


The forward-facing top ring surrounding the dial.

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Rainbow, Reference 116598RBOW. A striking example of the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is the yellow gold and white gold Rainbow Daytona, which debuted in 2012. Embellished with multi-color baguette-cut sapphires around the bezel, each gemstone is carefully handpicked and handcrafted to resemble an array of rainbow hues. Pushing the design limit of a wristwatch, the lugs and crown guards are elegantly set with brilliant-cut diamonds. Set against a gleaming black dial and gold meteorite sub-dials, the hour markers are finished off with eight other diamonds to further the sumptuousness and brilliancy of this one-of-a-kind timepiece.


Known as the body of the watch, the case contains all its inner workings and gears.

Patek Philippe, Reference 1436. The Patek Philippe split seconds chronograph reference 1436 was first introduced to the market in 1938 and enjoyed continuous production until 1971. About 140 examples were made in yellow gold, pink gold and stainless steel. The reference was fitted with the caliber 13 130 CCR, finished by Victorian Piguet to the highest of standards. The present watch is fitted with the only known dial configuration of baton indexes and tachometer scales that render it possibly unique. According to research, there are only five known examples of a 1436 retailed by Tiffany & Co. and this is the only one with this dial configuration.

Another important factor to consider with this collector’s wristwatch is that the watch is in superlative, unpolished and as close to original condition as arguably has ever been seen before. The watch is still fitted with its original strap, the crystal is original, and the case is as close to new as can be. The hallmark between the lugs can be seen without any visual aid and under close inspection you can still see the original Tiffany inventory numbers, hand scratched underneath the lug.


A knurled or fluted button used to set the time and, when relevant, to wind the watch’s mainspring.

Rolex "Big Crown" Submariner, Reference 6538. Produced shortly after the first Rolex Submariner, the reference 6538 exemplifies the extraordinary legacy of the renowned diving tool watch. Known colloquially as the "James Bond Submariner," the spotlight was turned on this reference after appearing as Sean Connery 007's accessory of choice in three iconic films of the 1960s. Beyond its imprint on popular culture, the reference 6538 also embodies the history of the heritage brand. In production for only a few years, this Submariner model is characterized by its lack of crown guards and its unusually large 8mm Brevet crown which would have accommodated wetsuit-wearing military divers in the 1950s. As a result, the reference 6538 is affectionately known as the "Big Crown."


Casually referred to as the "face" or "front" of the watch, the dial displays the time among other possible information.

Patek Philippe, Reference 5076. Launched in 2003 and discontinued in 2006, reference 5076 was notable for its series of decorative wristwatches, showcasing the artisan mastery of Patek Philippe. Offered in a rectangular platinum case, the present example features a cloisonné enamel dial depicting a tiger stalking a jungle. The power and majesty of the tiger is perfectly expressed in the exquisite enamelling skills of Patek Philippe, down to the intricate details from the wild fangs to the delicate fur. The bottom of the dial features the printing “EMAIL” which translates to “enamel” from French. Designed and crafted by enamelist France Tille, the present example displays Patek Philippe’s finest know-how and an immaculate attention to details towards cloisonné enamelling.


Often referred to as the heartbeat within the watch, the escapement regulates timekeeping. While hundreds of different escapements have been modified and invented over the years, the most common modern version is the lever escapement.

F.P. Journe Tourbillon Remontoir d'Egalite. To many watch collectors, the F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain represents the best of contemporary independent watchmaking. Officially commenced in 1999 as subscriptions pieces, the Tourbillon Souverain have not only helped the brand to kickstart its iconic Souverain collection but have also furthered the brand’s reputation of forming exception timepieces. It was the first wristwatch to employ the historic remontoir mechanism to transfer power between the mainspring and escapement. It married a near-forgotten vestige of antique pocket-watches with the latest technology, defining the F.P. Journe approach. With inspiration drawn from an early Breguet clock, the Tourbillon Souverain's remontoir helps provide an equal amount of energy to the tourbillon, thus resulting in a greater accuracy and amplitude.


The watch’s hands point to the correct time or other information located on the dial.

Rolex Military Submariner reference 5517. One of the most iconic wristwatches ever made, the Submariner was presented by Rolex in 1953 as a diving tool watch. Throughout the years. the Submariner has undergone multiple face lifts from minute differences to the case, crown, bezel and dial for improving the durability of the watch. These differences are noticed by collectors who pay attention to the variations in detail and rarity of each reference. Thus specific references such as the very prized Military Submariner have become highly popular among vintage enthusiasts. The Military Submariner made by special request for the British Ministry of Defense, was issued from the 1972 to 1976. As these watches were specifically made for the military, the MOD has requested the brand with specifications for a watch that would meet their requirements. The requirements would include fixed bar lugs, oversized 60-minute calibrated bezel, large sword hands, and a luminous dial with an encircled “T” indicating the use of radioactive tritium. Additionally, each watch would be uniquely engraved with numbers that can be used to identify the military code, NATO code, issue number and issue year of the recipient of the special watch.


Markings (shapes, numbers, Roman numerals, etc.) that hands point to in order to tell time.

Roger Dubuis, Excalibur Knights of the Round Table Reference RDDBEX0511. The Knights of the Round Table II is a special limited-edition timepiece within Roger Dubuis’s iconic Excalibur collection. Launched in 2017 as the second edition, the dial takes visual inspiration from the legend of the court of King Arthur. A Celtic knot-patterned engraved black-jade dial represents the round table with the indexes as twelve knights raising their swords in place of regular hour markers. Demonstrating the utmost elaborate attention to detail, these knights stand on a cobble-stone finished "floor."



In simplest terms: A complication is something a watch does. Individual complications can include chronographs, calendars and more. If a watch has a combination of at least three different advanced functions, it’s referred to as a grand complication.

Patek Philippe, Reference 5104. The extraordinary minute repeater mechanism is often naturally affiliated with Patek Philippe in the realm of haute horology since the atelier introduced its first chiming wristwatch in 1924. This is attributed to rounds and rounds of trials leading to the present exquisite technique of Patek Philippe, highlighted by the perfectly crisp acoustics. Launched within the Grand Complication series in Baselworld 2006, this half-skeletonised, platinum and pink gold reference 5104 is the peak of the iconic Calatrava model, sumptuously filled with complications of retrograde date, moon phases, perpetual calendar and a minute repeater. Adding an artistic flair to the flank with the play of chiaroscuro, the present example is beyond a work of art and is retained in excellent overall condition.


An automaton is a mechanical animated figure that appears to operate on its own power.

Les Frères Rochat, No. 181. The mechanical singing bird is one of the most captivating of all automata. Frères Rochat were world renowned for their exceptional quality, realistic bodily movements and the tones of their songs. The firm worked with the finest case makers who housed their automata in exquisite gold boxes, richly adorned with decorative panels and sometimes embellished with enamel, pearls or other precious metals. What further highlights its rarity is the quarter repeating watch seldom seen on singing bird boxes.


A day-date complication indicates both the day of the week and the date of the month. The triple calendar further elaborates upon the day-date, by indicating the month, while an annual calendar also accounts for the varying length of months. A perpetual calendar is even more sophisticated by automatically adjusting for leap years.

Rolex Padellone, Reference 8171. Rolex created a name for itself by creating excellent sports watches. As such, triple calendars with moon phases have rarely made an appearance in the firm's history. In fact, Rolex made only two watches with moon phases: the reference 8171 with the snap-on case back, and the Reference 6062, an Oyster model with a screw-down case back. The present watch reference 8171, in production in the early 50s was nicknamed the “Padellone” or “big frying pan” by collectors for its uniquely large and thin case. The reference 8171 is one of the most coveted vintage Rolex watches on the market and is very difficult to source today, especially one in great condition. This is because its early non-waterproof case would permit moisture from the air to naturally tarnish the silvered dial.


A chronograph is essentially a stopwatch that has the ability to measure time or an event. Within chronographs there are different variations, including the split-seconds chronograph, which can time two things simultaneously.

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona “The Big Blue,” Reference 16528. Given the obvious benefits of the chronograph’s combined wristwatch/stopwatch function, Rolex’s early pieces found popularity with many individuals in professions ranging from medicine to the armed forces and, prolifically, motorsport. Evolution of the Rolex Chronograph continued over twenty years until, in 1963, the brand launched its first Daytona model, named after Florida’s Daytona International Speedway, celebrating Rolex’s official partnering with the racetrack the year before and cemented the connection between Rolex chronographs and motorsport. Rolex’s Daytona is consistently one of the most sought-after watches, coveted by collectors and celebrities. However, this featured watch showcases a galvanized ocean-blue dial with a soleil finish. Nicknamed "The Big Blue," this magnificent dial was manufactured in the Singer laboratories in small numbers, and never retailed to the public. Its production was quickly canceled, and subsequently, these dials were later given to friends, suppliers, senior executives and business partners of Rolex, who would decide the dial’s fate by housing it onto existing Daytona models. They are one of the most exclusive collectibles available on the secondary market. The dynamic features of "The Big Blue" enhance the iconic elements, such as the screw-down pushers, three subsidiary dials and raised gold-rimmed indexes, typically seen on the Daytona.

Digital Display

Displays the time in the form of digits rather than by hands on a dial.

A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Striking Time. Awarded the L'Aiguille d'Or Grand Prize at the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève in 2009, the Zeitwerk Striking Time is the first wristwatch ever to combine a jumping numerals display with an observable striking mechanism, in an effort to visualize the connection between sound and sight. The striking hammers chime each hour with a rich deep tone, and every quarter of the hour with a clear high pitch. Enhanced by the time bridge at the center with the digital displays on it, the present watch exhibits an impressive presentation which expresses time as an interactive experience.

Moon Phase

The moon phase complication gives you a visual representation of phases of the lunar cycle, either in a picture or in days.

Christian Van Der Klaauw Joure. Christiaan van der Klaauw is a respectable atelier that is most renowned for transforming traditional complex astrological complications into a work of art. The Joure is encased in a traditional white gold round shaped case and a modest guilloche silvered dial, which has an aperture that reveals a mesmerizing 3-dimensional sphere which indicates the current cycle of the moon phase.

Power Reserve Indicator

One popular complication is the power reserve indicator, which tells the wearer how long a watch will last or keep going before it needs to be wound.

Patek Philippe, Reference 5100. Featuring the signature “Manta Ray” styled case, the present reference 5100 was launched in 2000 to celebrate the year of the millennium. Its mechanical caliber 28-20/220 provides a ten-day power reserve, with the reserve indication at the top of the dial balancing out the subsidiary seconds at the bottom. Applied with even Arabic numerals, the dial is presented in a deep-blue ocean color and perfected with white gold dauphine hands.


A repeater is a watch that can chime the time. There are different variations, including minute repeaters that strike different tones for hours, quarters and minutes.

Patek Philippe, Reference 5016. Produced from 1994 to 2010, reference 5016 combines the three most exemplifying complications in watchmaking: the minute repeater, the perpetual calendar and the tourbillon, and the reference is even further elevated with a retrograde date and moon phases. It was once the most complicated wristwatch ever produced by Patek Philippe, until the Skymoon Tourbillon in 2001. Empowered by the mechanical calibre R TO 27 PS composed of 506 components, its tourbillon synchronizes in poetic fashion with the angelic chimes of the minute repeater.


The tourbillon is a special type of escapement that rotates on an axis in order to counteract the effects of gravity and thus improve accuracy in a mechanical watch. A feat to be made, it’s considered a calling card of high horology.

F.P. Journe Tourbillon Souverain d'Egalite, Avec Seconde Morte. 1999 marked an important year for watchmaker François-Paul Journe as he launched his own brand, with one of the flagship models being the Tourbillon Souverain. It was the first wristwatch to incorporate a constant force remontoire, providing unrivaled accuracy with a mechanism that could regulate the uneven force delivered by the mainspring. F.P. Journe would eventually introduce the Avec Seconde model in 2004, which incorporates a dead beat seconds system onto the already complicated model, achieving a new level of technical prowess. The was was awarded the Aiguille d'Or at the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix in 2004.



The movement, also known as the calibre, is what’s inside a watch and makes it run. There are many movement that employ proprietary innovations, but all of these movements can be categories as either quartz or mechanical.

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Reference 16528. The featured reference 16528 is incredibly rare and most likely a unique example. One will quickly be drawn to the dial and will immediately notice that it is crafted from lapis lazuli hardstone and the indexes are set with diamonds. Powered by the Zenith El Primero caliber 4030 mechanism the present watch is not published in literature. The watch dates from 1996, which is also the same year which Rolex introduced the new reference 116589 Daytona's fitted with the new sodalite and grossular hardstone dials. The watch may have been some sort of test dial before the sodalite and grossular dials were introduced.


Quartz watches utilize a battery or capacitor to charge and run the watch.

Rolex Beta-21, Reference 5100 . A historical invention in 1969, the present example is incorporated with the beta-21 movement, one of the first produced Swiss electroquartz movements. Accurate to 5 seconds per month, it left a groundbreaking impact on watchmaking history, leading the market to a favor of quartz watches which eventually caused the quartz crisis. Experimenting on the Beta-21, the reference 5100 was released in 1970 as the first Rolex quartz watch. Offering a hefty white gold case, the present example retains the traditional look of a Rolex wristwatch, with never before seen gray dial enhanced with diamond-set indexes. Limited to a production time of two years however, the present reference is extremely sought after. No more than a handful of white gold examples have been seen on the market and this is the first time an example with diamond indexes and gray dial has been seen.


Mechanical watches run without batteries and are powered by winding the crown, which connects to the mainspring.

HYT Skull Axl Rose Reference 151-DL-47-NF-BV. The Hydro Mechanical Horologists or HYT combines futuristic aesthetics and classic horology with fluid technology. As time passes, fluid is pressed through the clear tube around the dial to indicate the hour and the minutes are shown on a strikingly beautiful grand feu enamel dial. In 2014, HYT conceived a new variation on the H1, spending eighteen months to research and develop the ice blue hue, and the new model was named "The H1 Iceberg." The featured watch belongs to the newer edition which was unveiled in 2016 SIHH, Iceberg 2, powered by the HYT 101 manual winding caliber. This Skull Axl Rose carries the audacious, charismatic personality of its eponym, legendary frontman of Guns N' Roses, Axl Rose.


An automatic movement is wound by the oscillating weight (known as a rotor) inside the watch that moves in unison with the wearer’s wrist.

Richard Mille, RM005 F MASSA AG TI. This watch features the RM005 automatic movement, and was initially designed for Brazilian racing driver Felipe Massa, to be worn while competing for the Grand Prix. Inspired by Formula 1 racing technology the present watch incorporates a grade 5 titanium case, double barrel system and a PVD-coated bottom plate, bridges and balance cock. Expressing a cutting edge aesthetic, the present timepiece is perfect for a sporty and leisure lifestyle.

Watches Hong Kong Spring Auctions

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