Discover some of the best-known affordable watch movement types. Here are some of the best movements from the best watch mechanism brands. Read more…

What is a watch movement, but the ticking heart – the engine if you like – of your mechanical, quartz or meca-quartz timepiece?

For decades, the big name in Swiss movements has been Swatch Group subsidiary, ETA. It’s a brand that inevitably polarises opinions. However, whether you love or hate the movement and ébauche manufacturer from Grenchen, you can’t ignore them.

Recently the movement maker ETA – renowned for its monopoly position in Swiss watch movements – has been reducing third-party supply. The opportunities for other movement suppliers, at least for watches outside the Swatch universe, may never have been greater.

A brief introduction

The Squale 1521 Swiss Made Divers Watch from WatchGecko

The Squale 1521 Swiss Made Divers Watch Available Here! - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

This article is a brief introduction to some of the movements you’ll encounter in more affordable wristwatches. They’re movements and brands, Swiss and non-Swiss, that have historically presented alternative movement choices to large and small watch companies. Two are Japanese; the others are Swiss. With widespread ETA availability ending recently, the supply role of Japan’s brands and ETA’s Swiss-based competitors can only increase.

This article isn’t about classic ‘luxury’, movements such as ETA’s Valjoux 7750 (maybe the best automatic chronograph movement ever), Seiko’s 7005A, Zenith’s El Primero 3019PHC, the Breitling B01 or Omega’s Caliber 9300...

Nor will it tell you the best ETA quartz movement, or the best watch movements of all time, or whether to choose between mechanical or quartz wristwatch movement types. Instead we’re looking unashamedly subjectively at a few movements underpinning the more-affordable part of the market. For more comprehensive guides to watch movement makers or watch movement types, there are many excellent sites such as the Ranfft Watches movement archive or movement manufacturers’ own websites. You’ll find more about watch movements there than I could ever provide.

For now, let’s meet some darlings among affordable movements.

For purely alphabetical reasons, we’ll start with the ‘Big Daddy’ of Swiss movements – ETA SA Manufacture Horlogère Suisse.

ETA

The Geckota S-01 Phalanx watch on the wrist in the outdoors

The Geckota S-01 Phalanx, powered by the ETA 2824-2 movement - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

ETA has long been the Swiss watch industry’s defining movement and ébauche manufacturer – as well as the source of movements for ‘Swiss-made’ watches from other brands, including affordable German watch brands such as Steinhart. Read more about ETA's story, and how its role in the industry is changing, in J A Shapira’s excellent Gentleman’s Gazette article.

The history of ETA, based in canton Solothurn, goes back to the eighteenth century. Today’s ETA emerged, with the renaming of Ébauches SA, from the consolidation of Swiss watchmaking after the ‘quartz crisis’. It’s said that if you wear a luxury watch sans in-house movement (and many affordable watches too), it’s probably ETA-powered. Quite possibly, the ubiquitous ETA 2824 or 2824-2 beats inside its case.

ETA 2824-2

The ETA 2824-2 automatic watch movement

The ETA 2824-2 movement - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

This may be the definitive contemporary Swiss mechanical watch movement. Currently in ETA’s Mecaline range and available in four movement grades (Standard, Elaboré, Top and Chronometer), it’s descended from the 1950s’ Eterna Cal. 1247. Based on proven quality and reliability, there’s a strong argument for this being the best ETA movement at the market’s affordable end.

• Diameter 25.6mm (11.5 lignes)
• Height: 4.6mm
• Automatic
• Hours, minutes, sweep second, quickset date
• Self-winding mechanism with ball bearing
• Hacking
• Incabloc shock protection
• Frequency: 28.800 VPH; 4 Hz
• 25 jewels
• Power reserve: 40 hours

Watches using the ETA 2824-2

The Laco Venedig Erbstück Pilot's Watch from WatchGecko

The Laco Venedig Erbstück Pilot's Watch, powered by the ETA 2824-2 and available here! - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

Who uses ETA watch movements (or has done)? How long have you got? While holding ETA up as one of the best watch mechanism brands, many non-manufacture brands use ETA’s 2824. Historically, many classic timepieces are based on ETA movements. These are often modified and given in-house identifiers (e.g. Omega’s 1120 in the Seamaster Professional 300).

The Laco Wien Automatic Pilot's Watch from WatchGecko

The Laco Wien Automatic Pilot's Watch, powered by the ETA 2824-2 and available here! - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine 

Here’s a sample of ETA 2824-2 users: the Geckota K-01 A-Type pilot’s watch, Steinhart Military 42 Automatic, the original Tudor Pelagos, Sinn’s 556A and Certina’s DS Action Diver with ETA’s Powermatic 80 (ETA C07.111). And then there are all those in-house ETA 2824 adaptations…

Miyota

The Geckota C-01 Racing Chronograph Gen 2 from WatchGecko

The Geckota C-01 Racing Chronograph Gen 2 powered by Miyota - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

Heading now to Japan, another stalwart of affordable watch movements is Miyota. Originally founded by Citizen in Miyota, Nagano prefecture, in 1959, the company built its reputation among Japan’s top watch mechanism manufacturers with calibers such as the Cal. 2035, 2115 quartz movement and the 8000 and 9000 series.

Over decades, Miyota workhorses such as the 8215 have been used by brands as diverse as Festina, LIP, Laco and Geckota (in the original K-03 diver). Variants such as the 8218 with small seconds are also popular for affordable timepieces. However, for now, we’ll focus on Miyota’s 9015 – their ETA 2482/Sellita SW200 equivalent.

Miyota 9015

The Miyota 9015 automatic watch movement

The Miyota 9015 - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

Launched in 2009, this hi-beat movement was an improved version of the basic-but-reliable 8215. It’s closely related to the Miyota 90S5 (essentially a 9015 with open heart and no date).

• Height 3.9mm
• Diameter: 26mm (11.5 lignes)
• Mechanism: automatic, self-winding
• Hours, minutes, central seconds, quickset date and calendar, hand winding
• Shock protection: proprietary
• Frequency: 28,800 VPH
• Jewels: 24
• Power reserve: 42 hours

Brands using Miyota's 9015

The 9015 has long been a staple of microbrands. Companies such as Helson, Obris Morgan, Geckota, Halios (Tropik), Smiths Everest (PRS-25) and Zeppelin (Night Cruise Automatic 7264M-2) have used the movement as a way into ETA 2824/Sellita SW200 space. Citizen have also put the similar Miyota 9012 (a decorated 9015) in watches such as their Signature Grand Touring Sport.

Ronda

Alphabetical order now takes us back to the author’s favourite Alpine republic again. As one of the world’s largest makers of mechanical and quartz watch movements, Ronda Group sets its store out clearly when it says: ‘Ronda produces mechanical and quartz watch movements with Swiss precision for numerous leading watch brands. Our products can be found inside brand name watches ranging from elegant and sporty timepieces to stylish fashion accessories to luxurious models.’

Ronda’s story began in 1909

Ronda’s story goes back to William Mosset and Switzerland’s Waldenburg Valley in 1909. However, it was only after WW2, having perfected his skills at Oris, that Mosset founded Ronda SA in the Liestal near Basel. Apparently the name was inspired by the French ‘arrondir’, which refers to rounding off watch pivots.

Expanding globally, Ronda developed mechanical movements – albeit discontinued in the 1980s. The business survived the ‘watchmaking crisis’ and thrived on making over 20 million quartz movements each year. However, at Baselworld 2016, 30 years after eschewing mechanical watches, Ronda returned with its 11.5-ligne R150 ‘Mecano’ calibre. Development began in 2011, the year Swiss regulator COMCO approved ETA’s phased cuts to third-party movement supply. The R150 was aimed clearly at the ETA 2824. The company now confidently positions these mechanisms alongside well-received quartz movements such as its 715LI and 785.

Ronda 515 Quartz

The Yema Superman Quartz Diving watch from WatchGecko

The Yema Superman Quartz using the Ronda 515 movement - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

The Ronda 515 is one of the company’s most popular analogue quartz movements, is widely used in affordable Swiss-made quartz timepieces. It's a fantastic option from Ronda that is reliable with parts widely available if needed. It also can be found in a range of great watches which we will cover below!

• Height 3mm
• Diameter: 26mm
• Mechanism: analogue quartz
• Three hands and quick-change date
• Hacking: yes
• Battery: 371
• Battery life: 45 months
• Jewels: 1

Watches using the Ronda 515 Quartz

The Yema Superman Quartz Diving watch from WatchGecko

The Yema Superman Quartz using the Ronda 515 movement - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

Luminox 3900, Wenger Heritage Attitude and most noticeably, the Yema Superman Quartz!

Seiko

The Seiko SARB033 on a metal watch strap from WatchGecko

The Seiko SARB033, learn more about this model here - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

Discuss Seiko movements (particularly the ‘best Seiko movement’), with horologists such as Anthony O’Boyle at Hour Vintage Watch Shop in Northern Ireland, and the word ‘workhorse’ is soon used. In particular, the vintage Seiko 7005A and 7625D seem particularly well-rated. That’s hardly surprising given Seiko’s long history in affordable watchmaking. With all their movements being in-house, Seiko (and subsidiary Orient – check out the Mako II’s F6922) holds a deserved place as leader among Japanese watch movement manufacturers.

Sheer value and affordability

If affordable watches interest you, it won’t be long before a Seiko passes through your hands – probably several. It’s hard to knock Seiko movements’ sheer value and affordability, whether in their watches or indie brands. Fun as it would be to investigate classic vintage Seiko calibres – along with recent stars such as the 7S26 in the ubiquitous SKX007 – we’re focusing on two automatic mainstays of affordable Seikos from recent years. And for variety, their meca-quartz VK64.

Seiko NH35 Movement

This is a hand-winding upgrade to Seiko's venerable NH25. It’s an unbranded (‘trade’) version of the Seiko 4r35 movement in many affordable timepieces from leading watch manufacturers.

• Height 5.32 mm
• Diameter 27.4mm (12.1 lignes)
• Mechanism: automatic, hand-winding (bi-directional)
• Hours, minutes, central seconds, date, hacking:
• Shock protection: Seiko Diashock
• Frequency: 21,600 a/h
• Jewels: 24
• Power reserve: 41 hours
Watches and brands using the Seiko NH35 Automatic
Vostok Amphibia, Invicta ProDiver 8926, Gigandet Sea Ground, Seiko 5 Sports...

Seiko 4R36 Automatic

the Seiko 4R36 Automatic watch movement

The Seiko 4R36 Automatic - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

The 4R36 family (variants include the 4R35, 4R37, 4R38 and the 4R39) directly succeeds Seiko’s 6R15 movement and the earlier 7S26 in the SKX007. Dating from 2011, it’s a contemporary of Miyota’s 9015 movement. The big buzz around the 4R36’s introduction was the hand-winding and hacking capability it brought to affordable mainstream watches such as Seiko’s SAR, Seiko 5 Sports, numerous diving watches and independent brands too.

• Height 5.32mm
• Diameter 27.4mm (12.1 lignes)
• Mechanism: automatic with manual winding
• Day, date and hacking
• Shock protection: Seiko Diashock
• Frequency: 21,600 a/h (3 Hz)
• Jewels: 24
• Power reserve: 40 hours

Watches and brands using the Seiko 4R36

The Seiko Turtle watch

The Seiko 4R36 Automatic sits in the popular Seiko Turtle - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

SEIKO SRPB69J1 Presage, Seiko SRP Turtle Diver's Watch, Undone Dark Sea, SEIKO SRP129J1 Worldtimer (4R36A), 5 Sports Mount Fuji World Heritage Limited Edition, SRP785K1 (4R36A), Seiko Prospex SRP777 and Seiko Orange Monster SRP309…

Seiko Sii VK64 Meca-Quartz...

Seiko Sii VK64 Meca-Quartz movement

The Seiko Sii VK64 Meca-Quartz - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

The popularity of meca-quartz chronograph movements is predicated on the idea of combining quartz accuracy with mechanical ‘feel’. Compare a Seiko meca-quartz with, say, the Seiko SNA411’s 7T62 quartz movement in to experience the difference.

Meca-quartz isn’t just for affordable watches. Since Jaeger-LeCoultre and Frédéric Piguet first added a mechanical component to quartz watches in the 1980s, other luxury brands have used meca-quartz movements. They include Omega, Breitling, Porsche Design and IWC (e.g. the Ref. 3741 and Cal 631 flieger chronographs, the latter using the JLC 631 movement).

Luxury meca-quartz never really took off

History shows that these luxury hybrids never really caught on. However, with calibres such as the VK63, VK64, VK67 and VK83, Seiko made this electro-mechanical technology theirs. The VK64 powers affordable chronographs from many third-party watchmakers.

• Height 5.10mm
• Diameter 30.8mm (13.5 lignes)
• Mechanism: hybrid meca-quartz
• Accuracy: ± 20s/month at normal temperature range
• Hours, minutes, central chronograph seconds, 1/5 seconds, 60-minute counter at 09:00, 24-hour indicator and date
• Frequency of tuning-fork oscillator: 32,768 Hz
• Jewels: 0
• Battery: (SR936SW silver oxide)
• Battery life: approx. 3 years

Watches and brands using the Sii VK64 Meca-Quartz

The Furlan Marri Chronograph on the wrist

The Furlan Marri Chronograph using the VK64 Meca Quartz, read more about this piece here! - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

Autodromo Prototipo and Ford GT Endurance Chronograph, Helgray Silverstone, Geckota P-02 Dress Chronograph and C-02 Chronograph...

Sellita

For many years, ETA used Sellita Watch SA in La Chaux-de-Fonds to outsource movement manufacture (with ETA parts). The relationship ended in 1990 when ETA began assembling their own movements and competing with their long-standing partner.

Switzerland’s second-largest movement maker

Nowadays, thanks to the expiry of intellectual property on movements such as ETA’s 2824 (and, so the story goes, with the blessing of Nicolas Hayek) Sellita goes from strength to strength. Today it’s clearly Switzerland’s second-largest movement manufacturer. With ETA’s reduced willingness to supply third parties, Sellita has assuredly stepped into the breach – making a point of doing so the background so individual brands remain the horological stars. The first independent Sellita calibre, launched in the early 2000s, was their ETA 2824 equivalent. It was the 98-per-cent-Swiss SW 200 – the first of tens of millions of calibres that Sellita has since sold.

Sellita SW 200-1

Sellita pinned their hopes on the original Sellita SW200 after ETA outsourcing stopped in 2004. With the tiniest of variations (26 jewels vs.27), it’s essentially an ETA 2482 clone. And legitimately too, because the intellectual property on the design was already in the public domain.
• Height 4.6mm
• Diameter 25.6 mm (11.5 lignes)
• Mechanism: automatic, self-winding
• Hours, minutes, sweep second hand, quickset date and hacking
• Shock protection: Incabloc
• Frequency: 28,800 VPH (4 Hz)
• Jewels: 26
• Power reserve: 38 hours
Over nearly 25 years since the SW200’s launch, Sellita’s range has increased. Popular movements include the SW300 (ETA 2892 premium equivalent), SW 500 (ETA 5750 Valjoux movement) and SW1000-1…

Brands using the Sellita SW200

The Sellita SW200 automatic movement

The Oris Big Crown Pointer Date movement - Image Credit: WatchGecko Online Magazine

Whether unadulterated or modified (e.g. Alpina’s AL-860 chronograph, based on the SW500, or the SW200-1 based red-rotor Oris 733) brands such as Bruvik, Christopher Ward, Porsche Design (P’6351 Flat Six), Davosa (Argonautic BG, automatic diver), Eterna (Super Kontiki) and Invicta (Reserve 6883) have used Sellita movements.

Soprod

And so to another Swiss movement maker, albeit one that trails far behind Sellita in volume terms. Soprod SA Les Reussilles was founded in Tramelan (originally Tramlingen) in Switzerland’s Jura, in 1966. Nowadays, Soprod (today owned by Spanish-based Festina) includes several horology companies. In particular, mechanical movements are made in Les Reussilles, while quartz movements emanate from Sion in Valais. With phased withdrawal of ETA movement supply nearing completion, Soprod, Sellita and Ronda provide some hope of equipoise in Swiss-movement manufacture. If not one of Switzerland’s leading watch manufacturers, Soprod SA is undoubtedly one of today’s leading movement makers.

The Alternance A-10

In recent years, one of the oft-encountered Soprod movements has been the automatic Alternance 10 (A10 or A-10) base movement. Soprod claims that this matches the ETA ‘Top’ movement standard. Apparently inspired by Seiko’s 4L, the A-10 was introduced in 2004. At the time, it was Soprod’s equivalent to ETA’s premium hi-beat 2892; the M100 later succeeded it in Soprod’s line up. Brands that have used the A-10 include Sinn, Steinhart, STOWA and the Orange Watch Company.

As for Soprod’s drop-in ETA 2482 equivalent, that was once their ST.5 (or ST5). However, the Soprod website now reveals the M800 as the equivalent to the ETA classic. Which watch brands actually use the Calibre M800 movement acquired by Soprod with the IP of now-defunct Technotime SA? I’ve struggled to find the answer. If you know or own a Soprod M800-powered watch, please leave a comment.

Soprod M800

• Height, 4.4mm
• Diameter 25.6mm (11.5 lignes)
• Mechanism: automatic, self-winding
• Hours, minutes and seconds; hand-winding, quickset date wheel; hacking
• Shock protection: Incabloc
• Frequency: 28,800 VPH (4 Hz)
• Jewels: 24
• Power reserve: 42 hours

Into the future

So there we have it, from Grenchen and Sion in Switzerland to Tokyo and Nagano in Japan, a brief introduction to some of the better-known affordable watch movements. It’s not a comprehensive guide to all, or the most up-to-date, watch movements. That would be nigh-on impossible to achieve given the ongoing development and constant launch of new movements. Have I omitted a brand or movement that you feel deserves more recognition? Please tell us in the Comments section below.