The watch movement, or the watch's internal mechanism, is considered the most essential part of any timepiece. The movement can be the difference between a watch that lasts two years and one that lasts two decades, which means they are worth paying attention to before you buy. Here’s an overview of the three main types of watch movements and why they matter when choosing your next timepiece.
Manual Watch Movements
Manual watch movements were the first watch movements that were invented and are still available today. They were first found in pocket watches and eventually made their way into wristwatches. Today these kinds of movements are primarily used in luxury watches because they tend to be more expensive than other kinds of movements due to their complexity and craftsmanship required to make them.
Manual watch movements are driven by a mainspring that is wound manually with a crown on the side of the case. The energy stored in these springs is what powers your watch’s gears and keeps timekeeping accurate over time.
Because they are powered manually, they do not require batteries and will continue to run as long as you own them and maintain them by winding them regularly. Indeed, many of them are able to make it all the way to future generations, given the great longevity they typically provide. Even though it's not as technologically advanced as modern electronic watches, a mechanical watch has many qualities that make it desirable for collectors, and one of the best things about them is its aesthetic appeal.
The downside is that they need to be wound manually. This process requires you to turn a crown that winds up a mainspring, in essence providing power for your watch. However, no amount of winding will allow the watch to keep going if it hasn’t been worn for some time. It should also be noted that these watches are not quite as accurate as automatic watches.
Automatic Watch Movements
Automatic watch movements were first created by Peter Henlein in 1777. Automatic watches weren't popular until almost two centuries after their invention, because early versions were too fragile and required constant maintenance. Until as late as 1969, just one percent of all watches sold were automatic.
Automatic watch movements are similarly designed to manual ones, which is why they are both referred to as mechanical. An automatic movement contains a number of internal pieces such as a mainspring, barrel, and gear train. The motion you produce by wearing the watch activates these inner mechanisms, storing the energy and releasing it gradually in the form of its mechanized movement.
Automatic watches are perfect for those who want a high-quality timepiece without having to worry about winding or changing batteries as they’re almost always self-winding and able to store energy from any sort of movement. Automatic watches can be more expensive, but they often come with more prestige, style, and quality as they're engineered to be more durable and accurate.
Automatic watches have an added mechanical layer of complexity. They may need servicing once in a while and are more costly than other types of watches, but if you're looking for something unique and fashionable yet still highly functional, look no further than an automatic.
Quartz Watch Movements
The first quartz watches were released in 1969 and became popular because of their accuracy and affordable price. Today, quartz movements are common in many varieties of watches, including low-end, mid-range, and luxury brands.
The mechanism of a quartz movement is much simpler than a mechanical one and consists of two electrical components, a battery and a tiny piece of quartz crystal. When the battery sends an electric current through the quartz, the quartz crystal vibrates back and forth up to 32,000 times per second. The electric circuit that sends power to the crystal regulates its speed, and hence controls how fast the second hand moves across the watch face. This creates extremely accurate timekeeping.
Quartz watches are less costly than mechanical ones and easier to maintain. They require no regular cleaning or oiling, although you should occasionally remove them from your wrist and store them in a cool, dry place. They’re also more durable than mechanical watches, as they have fewer moving parts that can break or come loose.
Although they are more accurate, quartz movement watches are considered less prestigious than mechanical ones due to the complexity of the manufacturing process and the labor required to make mechanical movements.