Divers? Automatics? Chronographs? What? The jargon of the watch industry can be confusing indeed, especially if you are a newcomer to this hobby. But fear not! Pontvs has created this list with the essential types of watches and their descriptions.
The many types of watches:
By Dial display: Analog vs Digital
This one is rather simple: digital watches display the time on a screen using electronics. Analog watches use traditional hands to point out the hours and the minutes, as well as seconds or additional complications.
- Examples of Digital Watches: Casio F91W; Apple Watch
- Examples of Analog watches: All Pontvs Models
By Movement Type: Quartz, Automatical and Mechanical
Mechanical watches have movements made of hundreds, if not thousands of tiny little pieces, meant to keep the clock ticking forever. They are hand-wound, meaning someone has to spin down the crown in order for it to spring the internal mechanism into action.
With the development of new technologies, mainly the rotor, soon came the self-winding watches. These “automatic” ones, would wind up from the kinetic energy of one’s own wrist; meaning you didn’t need to take time to manually wind them.
Notice the metal piece covering half of the back of the movement in this Jaeger LeCoultre. That's the rotor. Movement of the wrist makes it pivot on its staff, which allows the watch to keep ticking forever.
Quartz watches don’t rely on extremely complex mechanical parts in order to work. They are powered by an electronic oscillator regulated by the vibrations of a quartz crystal in order to work. They were popularized in the 1980’s, and now most of the worlds wristwatches and clocks have a quartz movement. These are sometimes referred to as electric watches.
Above you can see a Swatch Jellyfish, a Quartz Skeleton watch. Watches that expose their inner workings are called “skeleton watches”. They are mostly mechanical, although there are some quartz variants as the Swatch here. As you can see, a Quartz looks vastly different than the other movements.
By dial style and / or complications
The original field watches were the ones used in both world wars, and were expected to perform under the pressure of combat. Their key features were ruggedness, decent waterproof rating, luminescence and clear, easy to read dial. Modern incarnations are inspired on this past designs, and evoke a military aesthetic. They usually come in a NATO strap, as it became a standard in the army.
- Examples: Hamilton Khaki, Timex Mk1, Weiss Standard Field Issue
A dress watch is meant to accompany a gentleman on formal occasions, and compliment a suit and tie. Be either a business meeting, a fancy date or a wedding, dress watches are classy, elegant, and straight to the point. No fancy complications nor functions, just plain style. They also tend to be rather smaller timepieces, and in the past their size used to vary between 34 and 38 mm.
- Examples: Fonderia Navale Veneto, Timex Marlin, Nomos Orion
In general, a dive or diver’s watch is any watch with 200+ water resistance rating. They were originally meant to accompany divers on their trips deep below the sea. Since they were used on top of a diving suit, they used to be bigger, and needed to be easily read even in an extremely dark environment. They also featured a rotating bezel. This was meant to be able to countdown and tell the diver how much oxygen was left on the tank, translated in minutes. A diver would set the bezel before diving, then check again afterwards and read “i’ve got 10 minutes left before oxygen runs out”. Since they needed to be in constant contact with seawater and seawater corrosion, diver watches demanded high quality materials, usually high grade stainless steel, or a copper alloy such as bronze or brass.
- Examples of diver watches: Pontvs Nessi, Rolex Submariner, Vostok Amphibia
However, the diver style became extremely popular after Sean Connery’s James Bond used it with a Nato strap on Dr. No. Since then the Rolex Submariner has easily become one of the most recognizable watch designs, and “diver watch” a synonym of similar watches.
This is a regular watch with a stopwatch complication. The usual layout for this watches is to have 2 extra smaller dials, which are meant to keep track of time from when you start the stopwatch until you stop it. The complication is regulated by extra crowns on the side. Usually, the top crown starts the stop watch, and the bottom one resets back to the start. They can keep track of events within an elapsed time (for example, what time it took to complete a lap in a race), and is vital in some life or death scenarios, such as military tactics and piloting..
- Examples: Seagull 1963, Zenith El Primero
A racing watch tends to be a step up from a regular chronometer, and usually includes a tachymeter in order to measure distance displaced within a time frame. They sport rather busy dials, meant to somewhat replicate the instruments present on a racing car.
- Examples: Tag Heuer Carrera, Dan Henry Gran Turism
GMT watches have a particular bezel and an extra hand which allows them to keep track of a second time zone. This one is harder to explain by text, so we’ll link a video for this.
Just like divers, aviation pilots had particular needs from a watch. Back in the day computers were nonexistent or extremely limited, so, in practice, pilot watches became a supporting tool for pilots, and helped them time events and support their on board equipment. Pilot watches usually are bigger and have bigger crowns (as they were expected to be worn on top of gloves, and be manipulated through gloves). Besides from this, they usually sport a chronometer and tachymeter complication, and even GMT or dual time zones.
- Examples: Breitling Navitimer, Seiko Prospex
By status within a collection: beater and grails
What is a Beater Watch?
A beater watch tends to be any watch worn daily or frequently by its user, instead of, say, dress watches, which are reserved for special occasions. It is expected to be rugged enough to handle everyday use, and sometimes harsh conditions.
Divers usually make good beater watches. For example, the Rolex Submariner is an astounding beater, although some use a rather inexpensive watch for everyday use.
What is a Grail Watch?
A grail watch is one which is very sought after by a collector. It tends to be rather expensive, and one item for which the user has to work a lot for. As with beaters, grail watches are subjective.
Most high-end brands can be referred to as grail watches, although some rare, vintage timepieces can also be thought of the same way.