“Hey, this watch is a real keeper, but I would flip it any day of the week to get my hands on my grail watch.”
No, these are not the words of someone who’s had a few too many energy drinks. It’s somebody who uses an admittedly excessive amount of watch terms that, as a new member of the watch game…uh, watch universe, you’re going to have to get used to hearing. They’re all over the place in watch forums, social media groups, or the comments section of the latest “Ten Things You Need to Know Before Buying Your First Rolex” YouTube video that your newfound favorite watch guru just posted. No need to panic, though, because the terminology we’re clarifying for you today is not something you’ll absolutely need for your next watch purchase. If you already know your watch stuff like chronographs, tourbillons, in-house movements, pushers, etc., this list is going to be more along the lines of “nice to have.” You’ll also probably quickly see that watch enthusiast “speak,” along with its dry technological terms and brand-specific vocabulary, can be very dynamic and entertaining. So let’s take a look at the “unofficial” terms we’re exploring today.
You’ll find this one again and again in all kinds of watch reviews, guides, and listings. A watch’s case size, e.g., 40 mm, is really only half the battle when it comes to determining whether a specific timepiece will look good on your wrist, or be too big. Let’s take the Rolex Submariner 114060 for instance. Compared to its predecessor, the 14060, it’s got the same 40-mm case width, but the distance between the tips of the lugs on each side of the case – in other words, the overall length of the watch housing without the bracelet or strap – is less. This makes the watch sit more compactly on your wrist. It wears smaller, in terms of both how it feels and looks.
Faux Lume and Faux Patina, aka Fauxtina
Now, before anyone panics when seeing these words, we’re not talking about counterfeiting a watch here. These are instead the terms we use to talk about two typical features of modern watches with a vintage look. “Lume” (short for “luminous”) refers to a substance that glows in dark conditions if it’s been exposed to light beforehand. One example of this is Super-LumiNova, which is often applied to watch hands, hour markers, and even watch bezels to improve legibility under poor lighting conditions. You’ll find Rolex’s proprietary lume, Chromalight, on its modern timepieces, and tritium on its earlier watches. As opposed to luminous material, tritium radiates, and glows the same regardless of how much light it has been exposed to. And like lume, it too fades over time. Some collectors enjoy watching luminous material turn from a cool white to a more cream tone, or a watch’s tritium fade to a more reserved glow, one of the many reasons why the Rolex Submariner ref. 5513 is so sought-after. The same is true for patina, changes in texture or color resulting from the natural aging process, and which can give, e.g., a watch’s dial its own one-of-a-kind character. Technology is always improving, meaning materials are becoming increasingly robust, even while the patina charm happens less and less with watches. It’s a good thing watch manufacturers sometimes give their luminous material a more yellowed look for a vintage flair, such as what you’ll see with the Oris Divers Sixty-Five or the Omega Seamaster Diver 300M 007 Edition.
Flipper, Grail Watch, & Keeper
While all of our terminology so far has referred to a watch’s appearance, the following terms describe watch owners or a watch itself.
- A “flipper” is someone who doesn’t hold onto a watch for very long, and who attempts to sell it, well, around the time they get home after buying it from the AD. That’s the fun version. The negative connotation here also means someone who goes to an AD, scoops up a watch, and immediately sets out to “flip” it at a price higher than what they paid for it. You will not make yourself popular with ADs if you do this. A flipper is generally speaking an enthusiast who can’t sit still when it comes to watches, and who wants to own and wear as many of them as possible. Flippers typically have little problem saying goodbye to their timepieces.
- A single “grail watch”, on the other hand, is difficult for a flipper to imagine. This term refers to the “holy grail” watch in your collection, the timepiece of your dreams, the model you’ve been searching for the last few years, or even decades. This watch is the culmination of your collection, while at the same time being difficult or impossible to obtain due to its price or rarity.
- Many watch collectors have owned a few “keepers”. These are watches that enthrall their owners, and continually take place front-and-center in their collections. This can be because of a number of things: the way they look, sentimental value, or practicality, such as being a great match with any outfit.