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15 years of great content - Watchmaking terminology

15 years of great content Watchmaking terminology

A look at some of the lesser-known content on WorldTempus

Whilst sifting through 15 years’ worth of content on WorldTempus to research this series of articles to celebrate our 15th anniversary (and with 4,000 articles per year and 15 years of existence that’s 60,000 articles to look through with some helpful assistance from Google), I stumbled across a result in French whose title was simply “Glucidur ou glucydur”. It so happens that somebody had typed this search term back in 2006 and, because it matched exactly with the title of one the definitions in our lexicon, the corresponding page was returned in the search results.

Most of our lexicon entries are not indexed by Google and the only way they can currently be accessed (you will be able to find them much more easily in the very near future) is by using our Search bar. Before entering your search term, a definition of the day is displayed. This is taken from our lexicon. There is also a term of the day that is displayed in four different languages, taken from the Berner Professional Watchmaking Dictionary. Search for a common watchmaking term, such as a tourbillon, and the corresponding definition will also appear among the top search results.


Watchmaking terminology can be problematic even for those who already know their way around a wristwatch. Many brands simply use the French terms, just as they do for numerous other false friends such as my personal bug-bear “novelties”, which doesn’t help the lay reader in English. Most watchmaking terms, except for the very vague “manufacture” (which is not a technical term and refers to a watch brand’s capacity to (more or less) produce a watch from A to Z in its own workshops), have a very precise equivalent in English that can often be far removed phonetically from the French term. Consider the French term “ancre”, for example: literally it means “anchor”, no doubt because of its distinctive shape, but in English this is the “pallets” according to the Berner dictionary, or more correctly the “pallet fork”. Used in the context of the escapement as a whole, however, the “ancre” translates differently into English, with the “échappement à ancre suisse” becoming the “Swiss lever escapement”.

The majority of this terminology dates back well over a hundred years, to the era of pocket watches, which accommodated the major horological inventions such as the tourbillon. But how has this terminology evolved over the past 15 years? Although the tourbillon is well known, the first double tourbillons only appeared at the start of the new millennium, with models such as the Hysek Kilada (2004). Hysek also presented the world’s first self-winding double tourbillon as recently as 2013. The first triple tourbillon came only last year in the form of Antoine Preziuso’s “Tourbillon of Tourbillons”, which won the Innovation prize at the 2015 edition of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.

Having multiple tourbillons is not the same as having the same tourbillon rotating around multiple axes. Although a patent for a double-axis tourbillon in a clock was filed by an Englishman, Anthony G. Randall, in the 1970s, we did not see the first practical application in a wristwatch until the new millennium when Thomas Prescher presented one in 2003. And for the triple-axis tourbillon it was again Thomas Prescher, rather than a major brand backed by big-budget research and development, who presented the world’s first application in a wristwatch just one year after his double tourbillon, again basing the construction on an English design that was first used in clocks in the 1980s. Thomas Prescher is thus the only watchmaker to offer a “Tourbillon Trilogy” – a set of three wristwatches with a single-axis, double-axis and triple-axis flying tourbillon and a constant force escapement.




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