Watch movements – What is a watch movement and how does it work?

Watch movements – what is a movement?

Watch movements are the internal mechanism of a watch that keeps time. In horology a movement is also called caliber, it is the mechanism of a watch. There are different watch movement types, manual movement, automatic movement, and quartz movement. In this article, you will know each type of movement and how they function and differ from each other.

Most companies purchase either the entire movement or parts of the movement from other companies. There are a handful of companies that are vertically integrated and make their own movement 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.

Watch movements – Types of movements

Manual and automatic watch movements are mechanical, they are both made up of only mechanical parts like gears and springs. The quartz and auto-quarts movement have an electrical circuit and require a battery to run but may 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 battery 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.

Watch movements – What is manual movement?

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 movements are the most traditional movement and are usually found in very conservative, expensive, and collectible watches. Important aspects to consider before purchasing a manual watch:

  • Daily winding is required.
  • When winding a manual watch, it should be wound until there is a feeling of tension or tightness on the crown. If it is wound past this point, damage to the movement may occur.
  • Remove the watch from the wrist prior to winding or setting. Failure to do so will cause damage to the movement, crown, and stem.

Watch movements – 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 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

Transmits the stored energy from the mainspring to the escapement through a series of small gears.

  • 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, 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 wristwatch, 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.

Watch movements – How manual movements work:

  1. Turning the crown winds the mainspring, causing it to store energy.
    2. The gear train transfers the energy to the escapement.
    3. The escapement meters out the energy into regulated parts.
    4. The balance wheel uses this regulated energy to beat back and forth at a constant rate.
    5. Every certain number of beats, the dial train transfers the energy to the hands of the watch.
    6. The hands advance.

Watch movements – What is an automatic movement?

Watch movements - What is an automatic movement?

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.

Watch movements – Components of the automatic 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 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

Transmits the stored energy from the mainspring to the escapement through a series of small gears.

  • 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, 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.

  • 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.

Watch movements– how automatic movements work

  • Movement of the wrist turns the rotor, which winds the mainspring. Turning the crown also winds the mainspring
  • The gear train 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.
Watch movements- how automatic movements work

Watch movements – What is quartz movement?

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.

Watch movements - What is quartz movement?

Watch movements – Components of the quartz movement:

  • Battery

Like the mainspring on a mechanical watch, this is the power source of the watch. Typically, the battery on a quartz watch will last between 12 and 24 months before needing to be replaced. It is 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 charge between the various parts of the quartz movement.

  • Quartz Crystal

Performs the same function as the balance wheel on a mechanical watch. The Integrated circuit applies electricity from the battery to the quartz crystal in a constant stream. Quartz 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.

Watch movements – How quartz movements work:

  1. Electricity is carried from the battery to the quartz crystal via the integrated circuit.
    2. The electricity makes the quartz crystal vibrate at a rate of 32,768 per second.
    3. These electrical pulses are sent via the integrated circuit to the stepping motor.
    4. The stepping motor sends every 32,768th electrical pulse to the dial train.
    5. The dial train advances the hands on the watch.

Watch movements – the price depends on the watch movements of a watch

Watch movements highly affect the value of a watch, it is therefore important to consider the watch movements when choosing a watch. Quartz movement is less expensive than its counterparts. Consider your budget first and which watch movements you prefer.

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