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Know Your Watch: Watch Movements

January 5, 2014.


Welcome to a new blog series on Twisted Time, where we de-strap and go under the watch face to explain what makes your favourite timepieces tick. Today, you'll learn all about the different types of watch movements.

There are three principal types of watch movements; Quartz, Mechanical and Automatic.

Quartz Movements

watch movements - quartz

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Generic License  by  Wilson Hui

Watches with a quartz movement are battery powered and most often use batteries that need replacing every few years. Quartz movements are considered the most accurate type of movement. The "quartz" refers to the electric current which is passed through a quartz crystal causing a very fast but constant vibration at a frequency of 32,768Hz per second, which then allows time to be measured and displayed accurately and consistently. Watches with quartz movements are the most "modern" with the first battery powered watches being produced in the late 1960s. All digital watches use quartz movements, but analog watches can have a quartz, automatic or mechanical movement and nowadays watches with quartz movements are the least expensive and most popular type of wristwatch.

Mechanical Movements

Watch Movements - Mechanical

Before quartz movements, mechanical movements were the standard movement for watches, which were mostly pocket watches until the 1920s. The movement descends from the spring powered clocks which were developed in the 15th century. Mechanical movements are also called "hand-winding movements" which more accurately describes what is required to "charge" the watch and keep it ticking. by winding the watch, the wearer is coiling a spring which is then released at a regular speed as controlled by an escapement mechanism and balance wheel. Gears then control the movement of seconds, minutes and hour hands. Typically mechanical movements will have between 36 and 48 hours of power once fully wound.  Whilst considered less accurate and more expensive than quartz movements, watches with mechanical movements are certainly favoured among watch enthusiasts due to their traditional roots and heritage.

Automatic Movements

Watch Movement - Automatic

Automatic movements are an adaption on mechanical movements but rather than self-winding, the energy for the movement in the watch comes from the motion of the wearer. The key difference is that an automatic movement includes a rotor, which is a mechanism developed in 1770 by Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Perrelet. A rotor is a semi-circle sized weight which moves as the watch (and watch wearer) moves and thus initiates the winding motion. Historically, an automatic movement would require a small amount of hand-winding to initiate the automatic winding, but modern-day automatic watches are now designed to wind the main spring with no assistance and through both clockwise and anti-clockwise motion of the rotor. An automatic movement therefore requires the watch to be worn very regularly, though a fully wound automatic watch can last for up to two full days. Like mechanical watches, automatic movements are very durable and are also considered more traditional than quartz movements.

So, that's the low down on watch movements. What would you like to learn about your watch next?

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