Question of the Week: What is a watch movement?

Question of the Week: What is a watch movement?

Sara Philpott


Guides Reviews

When shopping for your first watch you will quickly realise it is not as simple as it would seem. You will learn that there are three different types of watch movement but how are you supposed to know which is which? Let’s be honest, all three movements sound similar and if your watch works the movement doesn’t matter right? Wrong. You will need to know your watches function to maintain and look after it appropriately and it is the movement that makes each watch unique. Plus, it also depends on how minimal maintenance you would like your new purchase to be! 

The Mechanical Movement: 

Mechanical watches do not rely upon a battery and instead rely on the winding of a spring. This spring stores and transfers energy via a series of gears within the watch. But without a battery where does the energy come from? The energy can be generated by hand winding the watch using the crown. This is usually done by keeping the crown in the pushed down position before turning it around 20-40 times or until you feel resistance when winding clockwise. By winding the crown, a series of inner mechanisms are activated enabling the watch to begin ticking. All mechanical watches will have the same core mechanisms. 

The Automatic Movement: 

An automatic watch (sometimes known as a self-winding watch) is essentially the same as a mechanical watch but will wind naturally using the wearers wrist movement. The mainspring mechanism stores the energy that it gathers from your daily movement and this energy causes the rotor to move and the other mechanisms will follow. An automatic watch has a 41-hour power reserve and will temporarily stop working after this period; however, a simple swing of the watch will be enough to make it function again. 

The Quartz Movement: 

A Quartz watch relies on a battery as its main source of power and is the most common type of movement you will find in a standard, no-nonsense everyday watch. The battery creates a small electric current which then vibrates the quartz crystal, these vibrations maintain the movement of the watch hands. Unlike an automatic which moves in a sweeping motion a quartz powered watch has very distinctive individual ticks. Due to being much more cost-effective and with its minimal maintenance it is no surprise that 90% of the world’s watches rely on battery as their power source. Another bonus of the Quartz is that the timekeeping is the most accurate available. Obviously, it’s important to remember that the batteries will need replacing every so often, however, this is a simple affair that any watchmaker can undertake.  

How do I know the movement of my Watch? 

One of the easiest ways to identify how your watch functions is by checking the movement of the second hand on your watch. If movement is sweeping/gliding the watch will be an automatic/mechanical. If the second hand is ‘ticking’ essentially with a jumpier movement the watch will be a Quartz. Most watches will also have the movement imprinted on its dial or case back so you can double check using this.  

Which type of watch should I go for? 

So now you know what’s what in terms of movement you are now thinking which is best for me?  

Automatic and Mechanical watches require a bit more maintenance than a Quartz. All their moving parts make them much more susceptible to wear and tear. It is recommended that a mechanical watch is taken to a qualified watchmaker once every 3-5 years for maintenance, I did not think this seemed that bad to be honest, but it does get expensive. A service for an automatic or mechanical can be anything upwards of £140 whereas a Quartz will cost around £50. Also, it’s worth noting that premium brand watch servicing is where it gets super pricey! Saying all of this, quartz watches do still require maintenance with a battery change once every 2-5 years, but these are much cheaper than the watch service required for a mechanical watch. 

Other key factors to consider are durability and timekeeping. Quartz watches are much more durable and can survive numerous bumps which makes them sound already much more appealing than a mechanical timepiece. However, they do not have the longevity of the mechanical watches. On average a Quartz will last for 25 years before the electric circuit breaks down whereas, if maintained properly, the mechanical pieces can last for up to 150 years so you will never need to worry about replacing the mechanisms, you can let the next generation worry about that! Timekeeping on a Quartz is far more accurate on a mechanical. To be honest, I’ve found out that mechanicals are not the best timekeepers and the reason for this is that all those little mechanical parts are easily knocked out of place.  

As a first-time buyer I would personally choose a Quartz due to their durability and practicality. I like a watch I can knock about and not worry about too much. However, saying this, it entirely depends on why and what you want your first watch to resemble. Mechanical watches are certainly more of a timepiece to be treasured and passed down. I would consider why you are looking to purchase a watch and decide what watch is best suited to you.  


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Sara Philpott

About the Author: Sara Philpott

About the Author: Sara Philpott

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