Watch 101: Movements
Posted on August 05 2018
DEFINED: A watch movement refers to the internal mechanism in a watch that powers the motion of the hands, essential to the watch's ability to keep time.
Watch movements can be categorized into 3 main types: Mechanical, Automatic, and Quartz.
Mechanical: The oldest and most traditional type of movement, mechanical watches are powered by a mainspring and a series of intricate gears. It is the intricacy and craftsmanship required by these tiny components that result in the often higher price point of mechanical watches. Mechanical movements need to be wound by hand. As the wearer turns the crown, the mainspring is wound up, reserving energy. It's slow unwinding, regulated by the series of gears, drives the sweeping motion of the hands. The amount of time you can go between rewinding the watch can vary from 24hrs to several days. This is dictated by the length of the mainspring, as a longer mainspring provides a longer power reserve. Swiss made movements are the most well known among mechanical watches.
Automatic: Similar to mechanical movements, automatic movements are composed of a mainspring and a series of intricate gears. Like mechanical watches, its series of small, intricate components are associated with a higher price point. However, in addition to the mainspring and gears, automatic movements have a component called a rotor, a metal weight that can rotate freely. As the wearer moves their wrist throughout daily tasks, the rotor spins with each movement, providing the energy to wind the mainspring. Worn regularly, an automatic watch does not need to be wound.
Quartz: Rather than being powered by a mainspring, a quartz movement is powered by a battery. The battery sends an electric current through a small quartz crystal, creating vibrations that power the motor, keeping the hands in motion. Known for being accurate and low maintenance, quartz watches require little attention beyond battery replacements. First invented by a Japanese company called Seiko, Japanese made movements remain the most well known among quartz watches.
Swiss: Many watchmakers, and collectors, for a multitude of reasons, hold Swiss movements in high regard. They stand for the best quality, craftsmanship and exceptional marketing. The drama of storytelling highlights the legacy of Swiss movements, which are keen on detail. Therefore, mechanical movements from Swiss are often highly regarded.
Japanese: Japanese movements are manufactured slightly differently, mostly in an automated robotics line, but this allows for a much lower degree of error than by eye alone. While not a huge amount of detailing is put into most movements, they are known for practicality and functionality. Therefore, quartz movements from Japan are often highly regarded.