Watches have been around for a long time now and even though they can do all sorts of cool things now, smartwatch anyone? Their primary function still remains telling us what the time is no matter where you are in the world.
Over the years, watches have undergone various transformations and have evolved from being carried around in a pocket to being worn on the wrist.
There are different types of movements also known as caliber and this is essentially what allows a watch to tick.
A lot of watch buyers usually make their decision mostly based on the way it looks on the outside.
Notwithstanding buyers who appreciate details and have an eye for it usually appreciate the inner workings of the watch. They usually want to know what goes on inside the watch and how it works.
In this article, we’ll be exploring the different types of movements that allow watches to function and all things related to how watches work. Without further ado, let’s answer the question, “how do watches work?”
- Round watch featuring corrugated dive-style bezel, luminous hands/indices, two subdials, and date window at 6 oclock
- 41.5 mm stainless steel case with anti-reflective sapphire dial window
- Swiss quartz movement with analog display
- Stainless steel bracelet with fold-over clasp with safety closure
- Water resistant to 200 m (660 ft): In general, suitable for professional marine activity and serious surface water sports, but not scuba diving
How Watches Work — Understanding Movements
Like we’ve mentioned earlier, a watch movement is what facilitates the ticking of a watch. They play an important role and since the invention of watches, there have been different types of movements that have also emerged.
To understand how watches work, we will need to briefly explain the different types of movements.
Movement is known as the device which moves the hands on the face of a watch. It is also sometimes referred to as the heart or center of the watch. It is also referred to as a “caliber.”
You can think of it as the watch’s engine which functions as a powerhouse that facilitates the watch and all its tasks to work.
This is the mechanism that is responsible for powering the complications of a watch including features such as a chronograph, and a calendar function.
If your watch has a dual time zone feature, then it’s powered by the movement as well.
Watchmakers tend to spend most of their time on designing the inside of the watch rather accurately.
Watchmaking is an intricate art and the mechanisms which are carefully manufactured make them masterpieces and make them distinct from an ordinary watch.
Watch movements can be put under 3 categories and they are listed below:
1. Mechanical Movement
The mechanical type of movement moves the seconds’ hand of the watch in a sweeping motion which is pretty smooth. This type of watch usually needs to be wound manually in order for it to function.
2. Automatic Movement
In this type of movement, the energy from the wrist of the watch owner known as kinetic energy is automatically transferred to the movement inside the watch, therefore, powering it.
3. Quartz Movement
The mechanism here allows the second’s hand of the watch to tick individually. It gets its power from a battery.
Now that we’ve established the different types of watch movements available, let’s take a more in-depth look at how the make watches work.
How The Different Types Of Movements Make Watches Work
1. Mechanical Movement
The movement referred to as mechanical paved the way for quartz movements by almost 1000 years!
As time passes by on a watch driven by mechanical movement, time is measured with the help of a spring-driven mechanism.
This spring is also referred to as a mainspring and it requires periodic winding i.e. you have to wind it ever so often to keep it functioning properly.
Mechanical watches are also called manual watches and they can carry out pretty much all the same functions as quartz-movement-powered watches.
Even though these types of watches lack something referred to as a batter, they do have an addition which tends to catch the attention of watch enthusiasts.
These watches are a whole world of all things mechanical with moving gears and spiraling springs which are quite complex. All these components help to power the watches movement i.e. the hands and all with accuracy and elegance.
Some of the mechanisms of the rotor which can be found on these mechanical watches work in combination with the gravitational pull of the earth. They achieve this by constricting the mainspring when the wearer’s wrist is moving. This creates energy which is kinetic in nature which powers the automatic winding movement.
Due to the fact that the movement in mechanical watches is quite intricate, it’s usually likened as art. As a matter of fact, with some of these mechanical watches, to the wearers, checking time, is actually more of a second thought.
This is because, after a while, these watches evolve into something much more precious than just a watch. In the eyes of these wearers, these classic timepieces are considered collectors’ items, and accessories.
How The Movement Of A Mechanical Watch Works
1. This type of movement is powered by the energy obtained from a mainspring which is wound in order for it to supply the watch power. It is not battery operated like quartz watches.
2. Via a number of gears and springs, the mainspring transfers energy which allows the watch hands to function, including the watches other complications.
The Components Of A Mechanical Watch
If you decide to take apart a mechanical watch to have a look, here’s what you’ll find:
These have two purposes and the first is to increase rotation speed which is powered by the mainspring. With their assistance, the mainspring, a rather sturdy material, can provide power to the complexities of a watch for a few days before it stops winding completely.
There’s no doubt about the fact that every watch requires a source of power. This unit consists of a stem which when the wearer rotates drives the motion to a component known as the wounding gear.
This gear then proceeds to wind the mainspring which is a rolled-up and long spring resting inside a flat and round barrel. The back of this barrel functions as an additional wheel and is known as the barrel wheel.
As the mainspring is unwound slowly, it turns the barrel wheel it rests on. The barrel spring drives the energy forward to the gear train which is also known as the wheels.
3. A Controller (Made Up Of The Oscillator And The Escapement)
Unlike the other components, the escapement wheel only spins in phases. It achieves this by connecting a pallet that is linked to the oscillator and also sorta functions as breaks.
Put another way, the escapement wheel gives energy to the oscillator i.e. it pushes it while, in turn, obtaining speed regulation.
The controlled speed of the escapement wheel determines the speed movement of the gear train at the back of it.
It’s important to note that the boundaries of the pallet are normally set using gems so they don’t get worn out.
4. Time Indicator
Due to the oscillator and the escapement, the wheel in the middle of the train gear turns as a controlled speed. It has joined to it a cannon pinion which helps to turn and hold the minute hand. In addition, it turns a selected hour wheel which turns the hour hand.
Advantages Of The Mechanical Movement
A lot of watches which are mechanical come with a sapphire casing that’s usually clear at the back. This allows wearers to have a perfect view of the oscillations and rotations of the tiny working parts and is quite fascinating to watch.
Mechanical watches which are built well usually last for a lifetime as long as they are cared for properly.
This is a very convenient watch to have as wearers don’t have to be concerned with replacing the batteries which sometimes can be very inconvenient.
A lot of owners prefer to just rewind their watches manually and save themselves the hassle of replacing batteries ever so often.
To see how a mechanical watch truly works, check out the video below:
2. Automatic Movement
This type of movement is usually also known as self-winding. A watch which has an automatic movement obtains energy which is kinetic in nature from the wearer’s wrist as they move about.
As the wearer’s wrist moves around, this automatically winds the mainspring. This means that watch owners don’t need to manually wind their watches.
(Learn more in our article: How Do Automatic Watches Work? Click here to read it.)
How The Movement Of An Automatic Watch Works
The core movement is similar to the movement of a mechanical watch.
1. A rotor which is a metal weight is included in the parts which are manual.
2. This rotor is allowed to freely rotate and is associated with the watches movement.
3. Every time the wearer moves their wrist, the rotor rotates, therefore, transmitting energy to the driving force.
4. Due to this transfer of energy, the mainspring is wound automatically.
Advantages Of The Automatic Movement
1. Wearer’s don’t have to wind their watches every day which can be a source of frustration for some wearers.
2. As long as the watch is worn regularly, the watch will function normally.
Note that watches with mechanical movements usually have a slim shape and are rather delicate. On the other hand, models with an automatic movement tend to be quite thick due to the fact that they have extra rotors.
If you want to know if a mechanical watch that’s high quality, then you need to weigh it in your palms. If it’s excellent quality, then it should feel heavy in your hands.
Here’s a short video showing how the automatic movement works.
3. Quartz Movement
The Japanese owned brand Seiko in the year 1969 acquainted the world with a new watch movement known as quartz.
This technology unveiling defied other houses that manufactured watches and depended on movements which were mechanical.
As a result of this, a number of pretty big brands started to release versions of quartz watches designed by and belonging to them. This led to a time period of wristwatches which were operated by batteries being released from this point on.
How The Movement Of A Quartz Watch Works
1. A quartz wristwatch derives its power from a battery. The battery sends an electric via a crystal quartz piece.
2. The crystal quartz vibrates 32768 times every second which creates a signal with a frequency that is super precise.
3. These vibrations are measured via the circuit. It is then changed into a single pulse every second.
4. The result of this pulse is the steady movement of the hands of the watch.
Advantages Of The Quartz Movement
A watch that is running on a quartz movement contains a smaller number of moving parts. This means it does not need as many repairs thereby making for a sturdier watch than watches with a mechanical movement.
2. It Gives A Precise Time Reading
Quartz watches hardly ever deviate from giving you an exact reading of the time. Their time-telling accuracy is simply excellent.
3. It’s Not As Expensive
Automatic and mechanical watches need more skill put into their making which also means more time is put into their manufacturing. This makes Quartz watches more affordable, as a result.
4. They Are Easy To Use
Due to the fact that they are powered by batteries, they don’t need their owners to wind them before they continue ticking.
5. The Maintenance Required To Keep Them Is Low
One of the advantages of having this type of watch is that it contains a smaller number of moving parts, which means less maintenance. It is also battery powered which also makes such watches even easier to maintain.
It’s interesting to note that watch collectors who go for luxury watches tend to favor mechanical watches over other kinds of movements
On the other hand, some watch collectors prefer quartz watches due to the fact that they have greater reliability and accuracy. They also prefer these watches for regular and everyday use.
Here is a short video explaining how a quartz movement works: