Frequently Asked Questions

General watch questions

What do you call the art of watchmaking?

The art of watchmaking is called horology

 

What are the main parts of a watch?

A watch is made up of:

a calibre/movement (can be in-house, factory made or ebauched)

a case to hold the movement (can be made of steel, gold, platinum, titanium, bronze, wood etc)

a case front (can be sapphire crystal or acrylic or mineral glass) and a case back (can also be any of the afore-mentioned or solid metal so it isn’t see through)

a dial or face to display the time (and other complications)

a band (NB the bits that stick out of a case to secure a band are called ‘lugs’)

 

What is a watch movement or calibre?

A movement (or calibre) in is the mechanism inside the watch case that measures the passage of time (and possibly other information including date, month and day). Movements may be entirely mechanical (with moving parts), entirely electronic (potentially with no moving parts), or a blend of the two.

 

What are the different types of movements (traditionally speaking)?

  1. Quartz or Electronic movements (or modules as they are known) have few or no moving parts, as they use the piezoelectric effect in a tiny quartz crystal to provide a stable time base for a mostly electronic movement. The crystal forms a quartz oscillator which resonates at a specific and highly stable frequency, and which can be used to accurately pace a timekeeping mechanism. For this reason, electronic watches are often called quartz watches.
  2. Mechanical movements, as the name suggests use various mechanical parts in an escapement mechanism to control and limit the unwinding and winding parts of a spring. Mechanical movements also use a balance wheel together with the balance spring (also known as a hairspring) to control motion of the gear system of the watch. similar in function to the pendulum of a pendulum clock. There are basically 2 main types of mechanical movements:

 

– manual: Traditional mechanical watch movements use a spiral spring called a mainspring as a power source. In manual watches the spring must be rewound periodically (usually daily) by the wearer by turning the watch crown, hence the term hand-wound or manual movement.

 

– automatic: A self-winding or automatic watch is one that rewinds the mainspring of a mechanical movement by the natural motions of the wearer’s body. The back-and-forth motion of the winding rotor couples to a ratchet to automatically wind the mainspring. Self-winding watches can also be wound manually so they can be kept running when not worn or if the wearer’s wrist motions are inadequate to maintain the power reserve, but this is not recommended as it places excessive wear on the internal parts.  The best is to check the movement in your watch and the manufacturer’s recommendations.

 

What are the different types of displays?

The display is what we would think of as the watch face and 2 main categories exist.

Analogue: numbers and moving hands

Digital: crystal display

 

What is a Complication?

A complication refers to an additional feature of a watch movement beyond the standard time-telling functions ie hours, minutes.

Examples of complications include: day/date, perpetual calendars, moon phase displays, alarms, repeating mechanisms, power reserve indicators, quarter strikes as well as stop/start chronograph functions.

 

Why are in-house movements so coveted?

Today very few watch manufacturers can actually call themselves true manufacturers as they do not produce their own complete movements in house but rather use high quality Swiss movements from companies such as ETA/Sellita/Valjoux/AS or adapt existing movements in some way( adapting an existing movement is called ‘ebauching’).

 

It is important to note that the use of high grade Swiss movements in no way diminishes the worth, reliability or functionality of a timepiece as these Swiss movement manufacturers have generations of experience and product knowledge to back their movements.  They also manufacture a range of movements to varying levels and complications for use in simple manual watches through to high-end watches with complications.

 

However, due to the huge investment & specialised skills required to develop and produce in-house movements, very few companies opt to do this and when they do it is generally a stunning and impressive piece of horology.  For this reason, in-house movements tend to be more costly and more collectable.

Questions about specific watch terms

What is the difference between a chronograph and chronometer?

The term chronograph and chronometer are often confused but actually refer to very different attributes of a watch.

A chronograph is a watch (or other instrument) with two independent time systems:

  • one indicates the time of day
  • the other measures short time intervals (ie a stop watch function) which allow the exact measurement or duration of an event.

Chronographs can vary greatly in design and function with the stop-start counters relating to seconds, minutes and even hours thus the mini dials on the watch face.

The term chronometer, for Swiss made watches, can only be given to a timepiece that fulfils certain strict criteria and meets a list of very high standards set by the Controle Officiel Suisse des Chronometres (COSC).  In addition to this, a chronometer must be capable of permanently displaying the seconds.  Clearly a chronograph watch and a watch that has been certified as a chronometer are two different things.  However a chronograph can also be a chronometer if it has been certified by the COSC.

A Swiss chronometer (with certificate) is a timepiece of the highest quality.  In order to achieve this certification a timepiece must undergo a series of precision tests in the most unfavourable temperature conditions and various positions (vertical, horizontal, side) and found to be within a certain time-keeping accuracy range.  For watch movements to be given COSC chronometer status they must not lose more than 4 seconds or gain more than 6 seconds in a day. The COSC make particular note that their testing does not simulate how the watch movement will perform when it is on the wrist as such COSC tests are conducted on a watch movement when it is outside the watch case.

Only about 3% of all Swiss watch production is given COSC certification.  This is because many manufacturers either don’t submit their movements to COSC testing (as it is expensive) or do their own testing to superior standards (Germany’s Glashuette standard is higher than COSC).  For example Sinn, Lehmann, Moritz-Grossmann, Hentschel, Dornblueth & Sohn, Habring2  and Armin Strom perform their own tests in-house on finished watches (ie watch movement within its case).  In these cases the benchmarks are just as high if not higher in some cases.

 

What is a Tourbillon?

The Tourbillon, an optional part for mechanical movements, is a rotating frame for the escapement, which is used to cancel out or reduce the effects of gravitational bias to the timekeeping. Due to the complexity of designing a Tourbillon, they are very expensive, and only found in “prestige” watches.

 

What is a repeater?

A repeater is a complication in a mechanical watch that chimes the time on demand by activating a pusher or a slide-piece.  Different types of repeaters allow the time to be heard to varying degrees of precision, from simple quarter hour repeaters which strike one tone for the number of hours and subsequent tones for each quarter hour, to minute repeaters which strike the time down to the exact minute using a variety of different tones for hours, quarter hours and minutes.

 

These types of watches have a long heritage in the area of striking watches and are considered one of the most sophisticated and difficult complications to achieve. Originating before the widespread use of electricity, they allowed time to be determined in the dark (and were also used by visually impaired).  Now days we can flick on a light to check the watch dial, or it aluminates for us, but the appeal and technical skill required to accomplish a repeater timepiece still fascinates and challenges us.

 

What is ennobling?

Ennobling refers to the manual art of enhancing a movement via certain highly skilled techniques as:

– skeletonising (cutting out the non essential parts of a movement to form a design or special motive)

– engraving (etching special designs onto the surface of a movement, eg visible on rotors of automatic mechanical watches)

– guilloching (a traditional technique decorative engraving in which a very precise, intricate, repetitive pattern or design is engraved into a surface)

 

What is a Crown?

A crown (also called a stem or a pin) is the button on the outside of the watch case that is used to set the time and date.

 

In a mechanical watch the crown also winds the mainspring. In this case it is also called a winding stem.  A screwed in crown (or screwed down crown) is used to make a watch more water resistant. The crown actually screws into the case thereby increasing the water-tightness of the overall watch.

 

What do various levels of water resistance mean for watch wearability?

 

Water resistance rating Suitability Remarks
Water Resistant 30 m or 50 m Suitable for washing hands. 50 m suitable for showering and light swimming. not suitable for swimming or diving
Water Resistant 100 m

 

Suitable for recreational surfing, swimming, snorkelling, sailing and water sports.

not suitable for diving.

 

Water Resistant 200 m

 

Suitable for professional marine activity and serious surface water sports.

suitable for diving.
Diver’s 100 m

 

Minimum ISO standard (ISO 6425) for scuba diving at depths NOT requiring helium gas.

Diver’s 100 m and 150 m watches are generally old(er) watches.

 

Diver’s 200 m or 300 m

 

Suitable for scuba diving at depths NOT requiring helium gas.

 

Typical ratings for contemporary diver’s watches.

Diver’s 300+ m helium safe Suitable for saturation diving (helium enriched environment).

 

Watches designed for helium mixed-gas diving will have additional markings to point this out.

*benchmark recommendations, always check with the manufacturer/instruction manual

Questions about watch performance issues

If your question isn’t on the list please email us and we’ll get back to you and add it to our list so others can benefit as well.  info@definewatches.com.au

NB: this section is based upon general information and issues and may not apply in all cases.  Remember, watches are intricate pieces of technical machinery and it can take time and investigation to get to the core of an issue.

FYI the average hairspring in a mechanical watch oscillates (moves back and forward) over 500 million times per year when work regularly.

 

Why is the hairspring such an important part of a mechanical watch movement?

The hairspring is the lightest and most crucial of all watchmaking components. It is fitted onto the balance wheel and acts as the heart of the watch.

 

What is the hairspring?

The hairspring is a flat spiral spring consisting of between 12 to 15 spirals, weighs around 1mg and is 0.03 mm thick. It serves a single purpose: when it coils and uncoils, it propels the balance wheel which oscillates around its axis to accumulate the energy required to power the movement. Both are made so that this oscillation is as regular as possible in order to ensure stability and precision.

Despite the fact that it converts kinetic energy into information (the time) in a very precise and efficient manner, many things conspire to prevent this component from working properly (ie at a stable frequency).  Centuries of scientific endeavour have tried to make it impervious to all outside influences but none have yet succeeded. Some of the factors that influence and disrupt the hairspring’s performance include: magnetic field interference,  air pressure changes and temperature variations.  All these factors modify the shape, length and properties of the exceptionally thin and long spring, which in turn alters its oscillation frequency and therefore interferes with timekeeping.  So, in short, be kind to your timepiece and it will be faithful to you.

 

What is normal in terms of losing or gaining time & when should I be concerned?

Firstly, a new mechanical watch may have a ‘run in’ time of 1-6 months (similar to a new car engine). During this period the movement oils will settle down and, through regular use, all components will become lubricated and free flowing.   Be aware that external factors such as temperature and resting position may affect accuracy of a timepiece and there will be differences between movements, but don’t get too bogged down in detail because even within a watch series there can be alterations – this is part of the deal with mechanical, hand-assembled objects.  As a guide, accepted tolerances can fall within these ranges:

Modern non COSC certified watches

Lower end           +/- 10 sec /day

Typical                  +/- 5 sec/day

Excellent              +/- 3 sec/day

 

Modern  COSC certified watches

Lower end           +6/- 4 sec /day

 

Why has my watch stopped?

A few up front questions will guide you…

  1. Has your watch been dropped or damaged from impact (can even seem minor at the time)? URGENT as debris and abrasion can damage the movement if unattended
  2. Is there moisture in the movement/under the dial? URGENT as moisture will corrode the movement even if unseen or appears to have disappeared.  NB: Moisture moves to the coldest part of the watch and this can be hidden so immediate service is crucial to avoid further damage.
  3. Is it due for a service (can vary from every 3 to 5 years depending upon model)?
  4. If it is quartz, is the battery flat (normally the second hand will jump in 4 second intervals leading up to running out)?
  5. If it is a mechanical watch, does it have adequate power reserve to keep it running (has it been wound)?
  6. It could be a warranty-related issue that requires investigation/confirmation at the service centre.

If your watch has stopped completely for any of the reasons above, please unscrew/disengage the crown to stop the watch trying to move thus avoiding further wear/damage and have it assessed and repaired asap. (Especially important in the case of impact/water damage)

 

Why does my watch keep stopping and starting or run erratically? 

Magnetisation-related

QUARTZ watches:

An erratic stop/start is usually due to magnetic interference which will stop the movement when it comes into contact with a magnetic field and restart once it is moved away.

Sources of magnetic field interference are on the increase and include: loud speakers, cellular phones, magnetic closure systems for handbags, glasses cases, wallets, refrigerators, and cupboards, office equipment, anti-rheumatic bracelets, magnets, landline telephones, televisions, computers and tablets, laptop computers, audio and video systems, MP3s, microwave ovens, hair-dryers, hi-fi equipment, domestic appliances, and induction hobs. Consequently, it is quite common to magnetize a watch unwittingly.

 

How to test: This can be tested by holding your watch to a compass (not a digital compass or smart device as this creates a magnetic interference itself)… go for the old-school hand held compass.  If the watch moves the needle when you hover it over the compass, then it is a sign that your watch may be magnetised and will need to be professionally demagnetised.

FIX: You may be able to reset the time and that will suffice, but if problem persists it will need to be professionally demagnetised.

 

MECHANICAL watches:

Mechanical timepieces may also lose or gain time when affected by strong magnetism, though not as much as with quartz timepieces. Once a mechanical timepiece has been affected, magnetism remains in the movement even if it is moved away from the magnetic source. Accuracy problems may persist after a long time so it is necessary to demagnetise (repair) the timepiece professionally.

How to test: Hold your watch to a compass (not a digital compass or smart device as this creates a magnetic interference itself)… go for the old-school hand held compass.  If the watch moves the needle when you hover it over the compass, then it is a sign that your watch is magnetised and will need to be professionally demagnetised.

FIX: Contact your retailer or authorised repairer as your timepiece will need to be professionally demagnetised.

 

Why is the Power reserve not holding?

MOTION-Related

The power reserve of a watch will depend upon the type of movement and how it is worn.  This is a general guide.

Quartz/battery watches: will function until the battery runs out or interference occurs (see magnetic fields in the point above).

How to test: A quartz watch with a second hand will indicate decreasing battery power by jumping at 4 second intervals.  In the absence of a second hand the movement will simply stop.

Possible FIX: a new battery is required, we recommend that the case seals and pressure are tested at the time of battery change to ensure the case is sealed and movement is protected.

 

Automatic Mechanical watch:

Possible cause: Watch may not be wound fully or receiving adequate motion to take on power through the rotor.  Generally speaking, 6-8 hours/day of normal active wear will provide sufficient movement to power the mainspring.  Desk jobs or car-based activities where your arm remains stable most of the time could prove insufficient.

How to test: You can conduct a couple of simple observational tests up front to help identify the issue.

  • Hand wind the watch (off the wrist!) about 30 times, then put it aside and check the power reserve. Repeat if necessary to establish a pattern/record of the PR.
  • Wear the watch on a day when you move a lot (going for a walk or so) and test the power reserve again. Once again this may need to be done over a couple of days to get a pattern of the power reserve.

Possible FIX: Once the results are in, check the power reserve on non-wear and active days with the table of time keeping in the section above.  If levels are showing within accepted readings you will know it is movement related and may consider a watch winder to ensure power reserve levels are maintained on days of less activity/non-wear.  If levels exceed the parameters the issue will require further investigation at the service centre.

Please fill out the service/repair form here and follow return instructions to ensure your job flows as smoothly as possible.  NB: please don’t return repair watches in large boxes as we will return ship in our special travel case

 

Why is my watch gaining time?

TRAUMA-related

This can depend upon the type of movement, how it is worn, the power reserve and other issues.

Please check the notes above as they can all impact the timekeeping of a watch whether it be quartz or mechanic. If it is not an issue related to any of the situations outlined above it could be related to the hairspring.

Excessive gains are generally a result of impact/damage affecting the hairspring which causes it to bank over and overcompensate by running fast.

Possible cause: Unfortunately this is usually due to trauma (even an unnoticed knock in the wrong place can upset the delicate hairspring – see notes above).

FIX: Please unscrew/disengage the crown to stop the movement and return to the service centre asap.

Please fill out the service/repair form here and follow return instructions to ensure your job flows as smoothly as possible.  NB: please don’t return repair watches in large boxes as we will return ship in our special travel case.