what is a watch movement?
A movement is what a watch tick. Most watch companies purchase either the entire movement or part of the movement from other companies. There are a handful of companies that are vertically integrated and make their own watch movements without using any supplies from subcontractors. These companies are referred to as Manufacturers, and the watches they make are typically more expensive and highly sought after because of their exclusivity.
Manual and automatic watch movements are mechanical, they are both made up of only mechanical parts like gears and springs. The quartz and auto-quartz watch movements have an electrical circuit and require a battery to run but many also have some mechanical parts. Mechanical watches are far more expensive than battery-powered ones because they are much more labor-intensive to build. Even though batter watches are inherently more accurate, almost all collectors and connoisseurs prefer manual or automatic as these movements represent the accumulation of almost 600 years of refinement, expertise, and craftsmanship. Let us give you a walkthrough with each of the movement types.
Manual watch movements
A manual movement, frequently called a hand-wound movement, is the oldest type of watch movement made, dating back to the 16th century. It requires daily winding in order to work. Manual watch movements are the most traditional movements and are usually found in very conservative, expensive, and collectible watches.
The important aspects to consider before purchasing a manual watch:
- Manual watch movements require daily winding is required
- When winding a manual watch, it should be wound until there is a feeling of tension or resistance on the crown. If it is wound past this point, damage to the movement may occur.
- Remove the watch from your wrist prior to winding or setting. Failure to do so will cause damage to the movement, crown, and stem.
Components of the manual movement:
- Crown – the wheel on the side of the watch that is used to set time. It can also be turned to wind the watch to run
- Mainspring – the mainspring is the power source of the movement. The kinetic energy from winding the crown is transferred to the coil-shaped mainspring, which stores the energy by getting tighter and tighter.
- Gear train – the gear train is responsible for transmitting the stored energy from the mainspring to the escapement through a series of small gears.
- Escapement – the escapement acts like a brake, taking the energy transmitted from the mainspring through the gear train and pushing it out into equal, regular parts.
- Balance wheel – the heart of the movement is the balance wheel, receiving the energy to run from the escapement. The balance wheel beats, or oscillates, in a circular motion between five and ten times per second. A watchmaker can make the balance wheel oscillate faster or slower, which in turn makes the watch run faster or slower.
- Dial train – another series of gears that transmit the regulated, equally metered energy from the balance wheel to the hands of the watch, making them move.
- Jewels – synthetic rubies that are set at points of high-friction, like the center of a gear that is constantly in motion. Used as bearings to reduce metal-to-metal friction and wear, they improve performance and accuracy. Rubies are used because they absorb heat well and are extremely hard.
How manual watch movements work:
- Turning the crown winds the mainspring, causing it to store energy
- The gear train then transfers the energy to the escapement
- The escapement meters out the energy into regulated parts.
- The balance wheel uses this regulated energy to beat back and forth at a constant rate.
- Every certain number of beats, the dial train transfers the energy to the hands of the watch.
- The hands advance.
Automatic watch movements
An automatic, or self-winding movement is a mechanical movement first marketed in the beginning decades of the 20th century. It winds itself while worn on the wrist, eliminating the need for daily hand-winding. However, if not worn for some time, the watch will stop and require a manual winding. This does not include taking the watch off before bed. Most watch collectors have a watch winder storage box or stand. On which you put your automatic watch on and it rotates from time to time to keep the watch running. Some of these you might have seen on a watch store. See photo below:
Components of the automatic movement.
- From Crown to Jewels – like manual movement, automatic movement works the same way except for the rotor.
- Rotor – a half circle-shaped metal weight attached to the movement that can swing freely in 360 degrees as the wrist moves. The rotor is connected by a series of gears to the mainspring and as it turns, it winds the mainspring, giving the watch energy. The rotor is equipped with a clutch that will disengage it from winding when the mainspring is fully wound.
How does automatic watch movements work?
Just as the same as the manual movement mentioned above, except the fact that the automatic movement does not need daily hand-winding as the manual does. The automatic movement is wound by the wearer’s wrist movements.
Quartz watch movements
A quartz movement uses a battery for its power source and does not need winding like a mechanical watch. It is the most accurate type of movement currently being produced.
Components of the quartz watch movements:
- Battery – Like mainspring on a mechanical watch, the batteries are the power source of the watch. Typically, the battery on a quartz watch will last between 12 to 24 months before needing to be replaced. Is it important to replace the battery as quickly as possible once it has died as there is a possibility of it leaking acid and damaging the movement?
- Integrated circuit –this carries the electrical between the various parts of the quartz movement.
- Quartz crystal –performs the same function as the balance wheel on the mechanical watch. The integrated circuit applies electricity from the battery to the quartz crystal in a constant stream. Battery vibrates when electricity is applied to it and also generates a voltage when it vibrates.
- Stepping motor –transforms the electrical impulses into mechanical power.
- Dial train –functions just like the dial train found on a mechanical movement.
How does quartz movement work?
- Electricity is carried from the battery to the quartz crystal via the integrated circuit.
- The electricity makes the quartz crystal vibrate at a rate of 32, 768 per second.
- These electrical pulses are sent via the integrated circuit to the stepping motor.
- The stepping motor sends every 32, 768th electrical pulse to the dial train.
- The dial train advances the hands on the watch
which watches have the 3 common watch movements?
As mentioned above the most expensive and sought after of all watch movements, is the manual movement. This is particularly the favorite movement from watch collectors, as they are very expensive and not as popular as they once were, making the watch more unique and collectible.
Many also enjoy the winding ritual. It is one of those little moments in a day when we interact with just our watch, literally delivering our own energy into the mainspring where it can be stored and used up at whatever rate the movement beats at. The faster we careen into the digital era, the more significant these little analog rituals become.
Lastly, hand-wound watch movements are often smaller than automatic winders, and this allows for a range of refined designs that are not always possible with the larger movements.
Here is a list of mechanical or manual watches
Timex Unisex Marlin Watch
Yes, the price is under $1000, it is a reissue of a 1960s original from the Timex back catalog and the first time the brand has produced a mechanical watch in 36 years. Timex has been brave enough to keep the vintage proportions, so the 34mm case might sit too delicately if you have a large wrist. However, if you can pull it off, it is a hand-wound delight for less than the cost of a night out in a fancy restaurant. And a lot more refined.
Seiko Men’s SRPA21 Prospex X Padi
For a lot of men, a diving watch is top of the list when it comes to watch-purchases. It is robust, perennially in style and works with most things in your wardrobe. This Prospex from Seiko is all those things and also phenomenally good value. Seiko has been created to celebrate its partnership with PADI, the professional diver’s association. So you know it will go the depths, even if you are only going to use it for snorkeling on the surface.
Hamilton Jazzmaster Chronograph H32616133
While finding complications under a $1000 barrier is usually a challenge, this cracking chronograph from Hamilton manages to just slip in. The price is made even astonishing when you consider that this powered by a modification of the iconic Valjoux 7750. Although it might feel like a bit of an outlay, remember you are getting the mechanical muscle that is used in the likes of Breitling but for a quarter of the price.
Automatic watch movements
Automatic watches are mechanical timepieces that offer many benefits over traditional wind-by-hand watches and modern battery-operated quartz watches. Men’s automatic watches are popular categories in the luxury watch market. Automatic watch movements have been crafted since the 1920s but did not come into widespread use until the 1950s when watchmakers were able to economize the process. Here is a list of automatic watches:
- Rolex GMT-Master II
While the new Rolex GMT- Master II model has stolen the hearts of collectors and newbies alike, the Batman version with its black and blue bezel is a striking alternative and a beautiful watch in its own right. With its chronometer-certified 3186 movement that displays a second-time zone is quintessential traveler’s watch.
- Omega Seamaster Professional Moonwatch
One of the most iconic wristwatches of all time, the Omega Speedmaster is the watch that accompanied American astronauts to the moon. The modern Speedmaster Professional harkens back to the late 1960s models with its Hesalite acrylic crystal, manually-wound 1861 movement and 42mm case.
- Panerai Luminor PAM00372
With a classic 1950s cushion case, patented crown protection device and in-house movement, the PAM00372 is a modern iteration of a tool watch icon. Though the 47mm case diameter won’t work for everyone, if you can pull it off, you will be wearing one of the coolest designs in the history of dive watches.
Quartz watch movements
Quartz watches are the most affordable watches of all 3 watch movements. When thinking about watches it is easy to get caught up in the romance of a complex mechanical timepiece. A brand like Bulgari, MB&F, and Zenith are locked in a battle to produce increasingly complex and elaborate watch movements, while even mainstream players like Rotary insist on showing off the automatic movement of their watches with glass backs and skeleton mechanisms.
All of this can make a humble quartz watch movements feel a bit inadequate. But fear not, because where self-winding watch movements win the prize for complexity and craftsmanship, quartz watches fight back with their low prices, increased accuracy, and almost zero maintenance.
Here is a list of our favorite top brand of quartz watch movements:
TAG Heuer Formula 1 WAZ1010.BA0842
This 43mm watch from TAG Heuer is available in a range of different configurations and designs, most of which represent a nod to the company’s involvement with motorsport – hence the F1 name. TAG believes its battery-operated quartz movement is one of the most accurate in Switzerland and claims it will only gain or lose an inaccuracy of a few seconds each month.
Omega Speedmaster Skywalker X-33
The Speedmaster Skywalker X-33 was designed with the exact demands of astronauts, pilots, and individuals who appreciate its impressive variety of functions. The ESA (European Space Agency) approved this as an outstanding timepiece for inclusion for all missions. It has a 45 mm brushed case that is made from a grade 2 titanium and features the brushed crown and pushers.
Tissot Men’s T17152652 PRC 200 Watch
The Swiss-made Tissot PRC200 is offered with a wide range of straps and faces to suit any style. All models are water-resistant to 200 meters and feature a three-dial chronograph with stopwatch accurate to 1/10th of a second.
Choose your features and complications wisely
Watch movements of all stripes will vary in the capabilities. In the horological world, any function a timepiece provides other than simple timekeeping may be called a complication. These features earned this name because making a mechanical movement perform a function other than telling time complicated the movement regarding, design, manufacture, assembly, and maintenance. When it comes to these classic watches, features are limited as to oppose to smartwatches for instance which there are too many complications on a single watch, however, very useful today, depending on your lifestyle. So when choosing your watch movements, consider the complications you will need as well.