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Rolex mainspring anchor

12 Watch Terms and What They Really Mean

From similarly named complications with very different functions to long-standing watch myths that won’t seem to die, there are misconceptions about every facet of watchmaking.

Here, we compare six commonly confused or misunderstood horological terms, and break down what they really mean because, trust us, mixing these up could result in one hefty price tag you definitely weren’t expecting.

Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Perpetual Calendar watch terms

Photo courtesy of Patek Philippe

Annual vs Perpetual Calendar

Easily mixed up because: they’re both calendars, they look similar to one another, and they’re both complicated. Even watch aficionados tend to be confused when they see a triple calendar. You really do have to take a closer look to see the difference.

The difference lies in how often they have to be adjusted. The annual calendar has a day, date, and month indicator, unlike the normal calendar which shows only the date and, maybe, the day. The simple calendar has to be adjusted once every two months because it always reads up to the 31st, while the annual calendar only needs to be changed once a year, at the end of February.

As impressive as the annual calendar complication is, the perpetual calendar is in a league of its own, comparable in complexity only to the tourbillon and the minute repeater. It has a day, date, month, and a leap year indicator, and can accurately tell the time and date until 2100. You will literally never have to worry about it in your lifetime.

Rolex Deepsea Oystersteel watch terms

Photo Courtesy of Rolex

Waterproof vs Water Resistant

A disclaimer: no watch is completely waterproof. If used at depths exceeding what its manufacturers recommend, or if used in untested conditions, water can still leak into the watch’s case.

The more accurate term to keep in mind is “water resistant”. While a watch tested as and declared as waterproof can resist water pressure, it’s to a certain depth or limit. Extreme pressure—and improper or nonexistent maintenance— can still cause the water seal of the watch to fail.


A. Lange & Söhne Datograph Lumen Up/Down watch terms

Photo Courtesy of A. Lange & Söhne


Luminous vs SuperLuminova

Lume, short for luminous, is a material used in watches that glows for increased legibility in low light situations—such as underwater where the depth of the water inhibits the light from passing through, or at night. There are different types of luminous materials: some need to be charged, whether through sunlight or anything that emits light, while some can produce light on their own.

SuperLuminova, on the other hand, is a brand of luminous material made by the Japanese company Nemoto & Co. Therefore, not all luminous material is SuperLuminova. SuperLuminova is known to hold light energy for long periods of time and provide the brightest glow. These make it a popular choice for Swiss luxury brands.

Longines Master Collection L2.893.4.92.0 L2.910.4.78.3 watch terms

Photo courtesy of Longines

Chronometer vs Chronograph

These two terms are only confusing because of their similar sounding names, but they are very different in terms of function.

A chronograph is a watch with a stopwatch function. It has various applications, from timing a race, calculating speed and distance, and getting your pulse rate with the use of a pulsometer. It’s a very common feature that is very popular because of its design and aesthetics.

A chronometer, on the other hand, is a timekeeping device that has a C.O.S.C. certification. This means its accuracy is within the parameters of what is considered to be accurate in watchmaking. The term is derived from marine chronometers that were used in sailing to guide ships’ direction. Marine chronometers are incredibly accurate, combining time with the placement of the stars and the sun to pinpoint their location. It’s a highly sought after distinction, as chronometer certification for watches adds value to a timepiece.


Rolex mainspring watch terms

Photo courtesy of Rolex

Mainspring vs Hairspring

This particular confusion is quite understandable; primarily because their names sound practically interchangeable. They also look alike, both coiled springs, with the only difference being that the mainspring is thicker and longer, while a hairspring stays true to its name as a thin, delicate spring comparable to—you guessed it—a strand of hair.

The main difference lies in their function a watch. The mainspring, found in the barrel, is where the power to operate the watch is stored, slowly unraveling as the hours go by, until it has to be wound up again. In turn, the hairspring is constantly in motion, going back and forth with each oscillation, and is responsible for stabilizing and swinging the balance wheel.

Hirsch Alligator and Crocodile Straps watch terms

Photo courtesy of Hirsch Straps

Alligator vs Crocodile Leather

Both exotic, luxurious materials, alligator considered the highest grade of leather used in watch straps. Though a notch below in terms of price and rarity, crocodile leather is still highly sought after.

They are very similar in terms of looks, boasting a checkerboard pattern. They’re often imitated by embossing the same pattern on calfskin. Crocodile leather, however, is more uniform in design and tends to be flatter. Alligator leather is more abstract, with uneven notches and lines that give it a more natural feel.

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