You’re stuck in a meeting and the man next to you notices you looking at his wrist. He grins and gestures, “Got it at a cheap price. You’re into watches as well?” And before you can explain that you were merely wondering why his shirt cuff has a stain, you’re thrust into a conversation you know nothing about.

It’s not hard to talk watches. Like fashion, the use of materials and design that go into timepieces are crucial and just like technology, the innovation of what powers the watch is just as critical. There are two important aspects of watchmaking – namely, inside and outside. That’s the be all and end all of watches.

The Outside

The aesthetics of a watch are the easiest to comment on and naturally, the easiest to learn about. The list of things you need to take note of is hardly lengthy. Firstly, the simplest point of discussion is the strap of a watch. Straps say a lot about the choice of a man. Leather straps take on a classic look while bracelets have a modern edge to them. Contrasting a vintage watch with NATO or Zulu (nylon or leather military-driven straps that use rings rather than the usual hole and buckle shindig) straps seems to be the latest trend in the watch enthusiasts’ community.

Next up, the case. The case of the watch comes in many varied looks. Round, rectangular or tonneau-shaped cases are the more common variety found in watches. Some brands enjoy making watches that may come off looking like pagers on the wrist (we’re looking at you, MB&F) but that’s the beauty of horology. The need to push boundaries is very much a part of watch culture. The case also includes the bezel of the watch. Now, the bezel is the topmost ring of the watch that surrounds the dial. A bezel can be fixed in position or in the case of a diver’s watch, able to rotate. Bezels are usually plain but can also be marked with a 0-60 minute scale in the case of diving watches.

Finally, the dial. The dial (or face) is where time is read off a watch. Your minute and second hands as well as counters, numerals and indices indicate the time. Certain watches require a little more effort in reading the time, what with highly elaborate mechanisms cluttering the dial. Dials can also feature several other complications such as sub-dials, tachymeters. Colour here is important as it should compliment the hue of both the case and strap.

If you’re able to even carry on a conversation discussing the simple side of watches, it means you’ve got it down pat. Watch enthusiasts (not to generalise) tend to enjoy chatting about the piece on their wrists. Ask questions, look quizzical and be prepared to learn more.

The Inside

Now, this is where watches stump most people. Growing up with a Casio watch on the wrist lulls most men into believing that all watches run on batteries. Imagine the shock of learning that watches have been running for centuries without the need for electronics. What powers a watch is its movement.

Essentially, a movement is the engine of a watch. It drives the watch to tell the time, keep the time and can feature more complications. The two types of movements are mechanical and quartz. Mechanical watches rely on rotors or a winding mechanism to gather energy in the mainspring which is then passed through the watch by gears to show the time. Quartz movements, however, use a battery and a quartz crystal. A small electric charge from the battery is applied to the quartz crystal allowing it to vibrate at a specific frequency that regulates the timekeeping of the watch. It’s a handful to remember but the easiest distinction is that mechanical movements last for years without the need for replacement.

Can’t tell if the watch next to you is a mechanical or quartz? Keep an eye on the second hand. The second hand in mechanical watches sweep across the dial rather than jump as seen in quartz watches. Sure, it may come across slightly creepy to be staring at a stranger’s wrist but consider yourself educated once you’ve identified it correctly. The world of horology is a vast one filled with many terminologies that seem mind-boggling at first but with time, it’s as easy as learning how to drive.
Strike up a discussion the next time you see a timepiece you fancy. It’s never too late to learn a little.

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A Cheat Sheet to Knowing Watches
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