Tick Tock: Your Guide to the Different Types of Watch Movements

We take telling the time for granted. But have you ever stopped and thought about what it takes for you to have this ability? Watch movements have been around for centuries. So why don’t we know all about them? In the age of phones in our pockets, many of us can get time wherever and whenever we want.

While some of us ditched our analog devices years ago, they can still provide many benefits. We may want a watch for ease of keeping track of time, for luxury, or to collect. For fashion or convenience, let’s ask what makes them tick.

What Are Watch Movements?

Every watch and clock, analog or digital, all have a movement. This is the heart of the device. The movement allows everything in the watch to keep time as accurate as possible. There are three different types of movements:

  1. Mechanical – These are powered by manual winding.
  2. Automatic – These use kinetic energy from your wrist to power the movement.
  3. Quartz – A battery powers these.

Let’s start with the original.

Mechanical

This is where the watch started. If you are a hobbyist or are interested in a fancy watch, this is the bread and butter. These are the most sought-after types of movements by collectors. Drawn to their intricacy, old-fashion design, and longevity, these movements were created well ahead of their time.

Mechanical watches have been around since 1524 in the form of pocket watches. Much like every other piece of technology, these watches evolved, now most commonly in the form of a wristwatch.

How do they work?

Not surprisingly, these work just like any mechanical clock, but the genius is in the intricacy that comes with such a small scale. Anybody who has owned a grandfather clock knows that you have to pull a few chains every week or two, to raise the weights in the body so the clock will keep telling time.

The mechanical watch operates similarly, but instead of pulling on weights, you wind a spring to keep it running. This movement operates by the energy stored in a mainspring that keeps the gears and springs moving consistently.

What are the benefits of a mechanical watch?

  • Longevity – These watches, with proper maintenance, can last for generations.
  • History – These are the oldest types of watches, and collectors love this.
  • Fashion – Mechanical watches are the fanciest and most revered by hobbyists.

What are the downsides?

  • Manual winding – Every two days, on average, you need to wind the mainspring from the crown to provide the energy necessary to keep the watch running.
  • Reliability – Mechanical watches may not be as consistent with timekeeping and require frequent adjustments.
  • Maintenance – Every 4-6 years, mechanical watches require an overhaul or service to the movement.

Is a mechanical watch right for you? If you love the appeal of a mechanical watch, but winding it up sounds like it would get old, maybe this next one is for you.

Automatic

Automatic movements are also known as self-winding mechanical movements because of the way they operate. The first self-winding mechanical watch movement was invented in 1770. These were also made for pocket watches and eventually evolved into a self-winding wristwatch by a British watch repairer named John Harwood in 1923.

So if these are mechanical watches, what makes them automatic?

The mainspring that powers the gears is given energy by movement, allowing the watch to keep its rhythm. The more you wear it, the more energy the mainspring stores. The typical mainspring can store two days’ worth of energy, allowing the watch to keep time while stationary overnight.

What are the benefits of an automatic watch?

  • Autonomy – It’s in the name. The more you wear it, the longer it continues to function.
  • No batteries – No need to worry about it dying.
  • No winding necessary – This can save you from some stressful moments.

What are the downsides?

  • Going without – The first clear downside to this type of movement is that you will have to reset the time if you only wear the watch on certain occasions.
  • Maintenance – They have about the same need for overhauls as a standard movement without winding them. However, this routine maintenance gives it the same longevity as a standard mechanical movement.

If you like the idea of a mechanical watch but don’t feel like winding it up all the time, or maybe you’re fascinated by the autonomy, check out the Jazzmaster automatic watch.

Quartz

Quartz movements have taken the industry by storm. This movement came about in 1969 and has since grown to become over 90% of the watch movements produced today. They are called quartz movements because crystal quartz has an electrical current.

It was discovered that quartz vibrates at an extremely consistent rate, 32768 times per second, under an electrical current. So it was only the logical next step to incorporate this into time-telling devices.

What are the benefits of a quartz watch?

  • Affordability – These are the least expensive types of watch movements.
  • Reliability – The consistency of the current through the quartz hardly ever strays from the accurate time, making it rarely necessary to adjust it.
  • Low maintenance – No winding is necessary, and fewer moving parts mean less need for maintenance.

What are the downsides?

  • Prestige – These aren’t exactly the fanciest of watches. Collectors and luxury watch lovers tend to have a strong preference for mechanical devices.
  • Batteries – Changing the battery can be annoying, but it is very infrequent with most quartz watches.

These are mainstream for a reason. This is a good option if you are not looking for a luxury watch and are simply looking for accuracy and durability. Even though these watches aren’t as revered as their mechanical brothers, their work is still fascinating for the technologically inclined.

What Type of Movement Should I Buy?

Honestly, it depends on your needs. If you are looking for a luxury watch, you can pass down in your family, mechanical and automatic watches are the way to go. If you are looking for an easy time-telling device with limited hassle, watch movements are a great fit at an affordable cost.

Pocket or wristwatch, quartz or mechanical, the technology is brilliant.


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