The Anatomy Of A Watch

Exploring the many parts of a watch. Deconstructing a watch to understand the purpose and function of each component.

Like a human heart, a watch ticks, rhythmically, as every second passes. Whilst the average heartbeat of a human can vary significantly, that of a watch does not. After all, it is a watch’s greatest purpose in its creation to do this one thing, keep time. But how does a watch do this? In this article, we take a closer look at the anatomy of a watch to better understand the amazing show of craftsmanship which we call watches.

Diagram of a pocket watch.
Image from:

We have come a long way from the primitive sundial and water clock. We do however, owe a lot to these inventions as they eventually led to the genesis of the mechanical clock we are familiar with today and of course, the beautiful horological pieces we don on our wrists.

The Sundial is the ancestor to our time-telling instruments of the modern day.

But how much do we actually know about the construction of these mechanical marvels and works of art which we literally look at time after time?

Components of a Watch

Before we get too in-depth, let’s go through the basic structure of a watch. Understandably, most people would avoid taking apart a watch. They are relatively expensive after all. But if you were to break down an average watch to it’s basic components, these are the parts you would see;

  • The Case
  • The Movement
  • The Dial
  • The Hands
  • The Crystal
  • The Bezel

Of course, more elaborate watches exist which comprise of many other elements, but we shall focus on these main common ones.

The Case

A vintage Seiko stainless steel watch case with brushed top and a mirror polished side finish.
Image from:

If a watch was a human being, it’s case would be compared to his or her skin. As such, the case protects everything within and makes a watch looks presentable. This means that the case has to serve basically two purposes. Firstly, it needs to be strong enough to protect the fragile inner workings of the watch. Secondly, it must be aesthetically appealing as it is the main framing of the watch.

But how does something as mundane as a casing offer any form of aesthetic presence? Well, some examples could include the, shape, height, grind and polishing, bevels and curves, and so on.

Cases also come in a large variety of materials, ranging from stainless steel to gold, platinum, titanium and many more. The cost of the watch is affected by whatever material the case is primarily made from. The shape also varies, from the traditional circle to square, rectangular or other more unique shapes.

The lugs which are part of the case holding the spring bars which connect the watch strap to the case itself also come in many different designs.

The Movement

Like our own beating heart keeping us alive, the movement of a watch is it’s very own heart, it’s very life force. This engine is what keeps the hands of our watches moving. So what exactly is in the movement?

The movement is an extremely elaborate mechanism comprising of many different components like springs and gears. The precisely measured and intricate way in which these parts interact with one another is actually what allows the watch to be a time-keeping instrument.

The movement of the A. Lange & Söhne Tourbograph Perpetual ‘Pour Le Mérite’ as viewed from it’s exhibition case back.
Image from: (By: David Bredan)

There are two categories of movements which a watch could possess. A Mechanical movement, which also has two subsets of manual wound or automatic, or a Quartz Movement. Simply put, a mechanical movement functions without the use of a battery. So we’re talking about forces created from these springs, gears and weights. A Quartz movement functions with the use of a battery.

A manually wound movement requires its wearer to wind the watch regularly to keep the mainspring wound, supplying energy to the entire watch. An automatic movement contains a rotor, a semicircular component which uses the movements made by its wearer’s arm in everyday movements to wind the mainspring.

The quartz movement of a Breitling watch.
Image from:

A Quartz movement, on the other hand, utilises a battery to power it’s operation. This battery sends electricity to a quartz crystal inside the movement through an electrical circuit which in turn, causes the crystal to oscillate at a precise frequency. This frequency is what allows the quartz movement to precisely measure time.

Additionally, the little knob on the side of your watch which allows you to wind your watch and set the time is also known as the crown. The crown is also part of the movement, allowing it’s wearer to adjust time adequately. The crown often bears the maker’s logo or some form of a symbol on it. Consequently, many people even take the appearance of the crown into account when purchasing a new time piece.

The Dial

A beautiful body would be nothing without a face. The face is, ultimately, the first feature you recognise and acknowledge on a human being. It is no different with a watch, as the dial is essentially the face of the watch.

The assembly of an A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus featuring its brass dial.
Image from:

The dial registers and displays the time. It is where you would find your time indices, which are the indicators used for reading time, namely the ‘1’ to ’12’ digits or corresponding markings.

Coming in a wide array of colours, the dial is usually the factor which distinguishes all watches from one another. Almost like an artist on a blank canvas, watch makers meticulously design the dial of a watch, making it as appealing to the target audience as possible.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre Quantième Lunaire featuring moon phase, date, twin power reserve displays, and a lightning seconds complications
Image from: (By: Ariel Adams)

Apart from the watch company’s logo and time indices, you might find other miscellaneous functions and measurements. These are known as Complications. Whether it’s simply a calendar or something more complicated like a tourbillon, there are a wide array of complications which make the many timepieces available to us all the more captivating.

The Hands

What would a watch be without it’s hands? Well, quite useless i would reckon. After all, the hands indicate the time, which is the main purpose of the watch.

Basic watches usually have three hands, one to indicate the hour, another for the minute and the last for the seconds. However, more intricate watches can boast even more than ten hands, all measuring different things as part of the watch’s complications.

The appearance of the ‘Snowflake‘ hands popularly used by Tudor are often the subject of debate amongst watch enthusiasts. Image features a Tudor Submariner.
Image from: (By: Ross Povey)

Whilst playing such an essential and functional role, the hands are still able to stand out as one of the main attributing factors to a watch’s appearance. Coming in many different forms and designs, the hands, in combination with the dial, often make up the main aesthetic of the watch. Different hands give the watch extensively different character.

The Crystal

Sitting over the dial of the watch is the crystal. This transparent layer is what protects the delicate dial and hands from, well, everything. This protective window is made primarily of one of three different materials; Plastic, Glass or Sapphire.

Being the primary barrier between the inner workings of the watch and the outside environment, the durability of the crystal is paramount.

Plastic, or more specifically, acrylic crystals are the least durable in comparison to the other two materials. This is because acrylic is soft and therefore more susceptible to scratches and overall damage. This softness and flexibility does enable you to actually buff or polish off lighter scratches though.

The Timex Weekender Chronograph uses a mineral glass crystal.

More common than not, watches are now usually found with mineral glass crystals. Trumping the aforementioned acrylic crystal in durability, mineral glass nowadays is usually tempered, or heat-treated, making it’s surface more resistant to scratches and cracking. This added durability also means that you would have to pay more for a mineral glass crystal as compared to an acrylic. It is also important to take note that unlike the soft acrylic, even lighter scratches cannot simply be polished off a mineral glass crystal.

The Breitling Avenger Seawolf is manufactured with a sapphire crystal.

Last and definitely not the least, we have the strongest candidate in the crystal category, synthetic sapphire. These synthetic crystals possess the same hardness as natural sapphire gems, which are very durable. The production of these crystals actually utilise expensive machinery, such as diamond coated saws, making these synthetic sapphire crystals more expensive than the previous two. These crystals are virtually scratch-proof and only harder materials like diamond or silicon carbide are able to scratch it.

The Bezel

Like the frame of a priceless piece of art, at the forefront of a watch is the bezel. What is it? The bezel is basically the ring-shaped part of the watch surrounding the crystal and holding it against the rest of the watch. There are many different types of bezels but in essence, they all fall under two categories, fixed bezels, which sit in place and are unable to rotate, and rotating bezels, which can, well, rotate.

Either plain, fluted or adorned with some form of decorative items. For the most part, a fixed bezel is meant to complete the look of the watch as it ultimately ties together everything on the display side of the watch.

Plain bezels can be polished to a mirror finished or not because it is all in artistic freedom. They are designed to compliment the case of the watch. Some watches are even identifiable from just their bezel, whether it’s the style of fluting or a certain arrangement of precious stones.

The Rolex Deepsea sports a unidirectional black ceramic bezel.

On the other hand, we have rotating bezels. As far back as the 1930s, watch makers had decided that the bezel of a watch itself could have functions added to it. Scales were added to bezels, allowing for different types of measurements. These include tachymetres, GMT Functions, count-up and countdown timers, slide rules and more. Depending on the function, a rotating bezel could be either uni-directional or bi-directional.


It is important to note that maintenance of a watch is important as well. Regular maintenance will ensure your watch has a longer lifespan.

Plenty of thought and work is put into the making of a good watch. It is therefore the job of it’s wearer to maintain the beauty and functions encapsulated in the marvellous anatomy of his or her watch.

Want more? Go ahead and check out our article on Omega Speedmaster Variations You May Not Know Of here!

Engage in a discussion with us!

%d bloggers like this: