Watch Movements: Understanding Watch Movement Types

In order to weigh up the pros and cons of different types of watches, understanding watch movements are vital. In other words, what makes a watch tick?

There are three main watch movement types: manual, automatic and quartz. The former two are under the umbrella of mechanical movement. Whilst the latter is completely electrical.

In general, mechanical watches are more expensive as the manufacturing process involves significant labour. 

Moreover, many people prefer this type of watch as it is steeped in history. It is the result of years of innovation in the watch industry. And therefore has sentimental value. 

As for quartz watch movements, it is extremely accurate. Making for incredibly trustworthy timekeeping. 

Additionally, watches with quartz movement tend to be more budget-friendly and therefore widely accessible.

Now that you’re aware of the types of watch movements, let’s delve into the details of each one.

Manual Watch Movements

Manual Watch Movements

The first of the mechanical movements, manual is an age-old method of winding watches. Dating back to the 16th century. 

German clockmaker Peter Henlein invented the first mechanical watch in 1510. However, it didn’t resemble modern manual wristwatches in the slightest. To start with, it had to be worn around the neck or on a belt.

Fast forward to 1676 and we have Daniel Quare’s invention of the minute hand. Bringing a new level of accuracy to manual watches

By the 1900s, thanks to industrialisation, mass production of manual watches became possible. This could be labelled the official origin of the watch industry, seeing a rise in popularity of the invention.

Watches using manual movement require the wearer to wind the watch regularly. Preferably, once a day. 

As you wind manual watches, you are winding the stem and crown which in turn powers the mainspring. 

This power is more short-lived in manual watches than in automatic. Which is why you should wind the watch daily.

So, why do some people prefer manual movement? Firstly, the mechanism of a manual watch is simpler than that of an automatic. As there are less moving parts needed. 

Namely, the motor is not necessary in a manual watch. As a result, this type of watch tends to be cheaper and lower maintenance in terms of repairs.

Moreover, many watch-lovers adore the aesthetics of manual watches, as you get a great view of the moving parts inside the watch. In fact, many collectibles have manual movement as it creates a vintage look.

On the other hand, there are several downsides to manual movement. Timekeeping is not always precise; there can be slight variations in time. 

Moreover, it’s possible for a manual watch to stop unexpectedly owing to the limited power reserve.

Finally, some people find that manual watches are simply an inconvenience as they require daily maintenance in the form of winding the watch.

Automatic Watch Movement

Automatic Watch Movement

Whilst automatic movement falls under the same ‘mechanical’ category as manual movement, the additional motor renders the functioning completely different.

Abraham-Louis Perrelet is credited with inventing the first automatic watch in 1776. 

The Swiss church elder had started a revolution in the watch industry that would lead to the mass production of self-winding watches. At the time, however, he didn’t have great success as people regarded his automatic watch as too expensive.

In 1924, we saw the creation of the first wristwatch with automatic movement by the Englishman John Hardwood. This type of watch had much more in common with the ones we see today.

Concerning automatic movement, the rotor is key. As the wrist moves, it triggers the rotor, which then winds the barrel and mainspring. Thus, the power reserve in automatic watches is incredible as they are essentially self-winding.

However, it is vital to wear your automatic watch as often as possible in order for the rotor to pick up on the wrist movement. Otherwise, the watch will need to be wound just like a manual watch, albeit less regularly. 

Watches with automatic movement have taken the industry by storm. It is unquestionable that they make up more watch purchases than their manual counterparts. They successfully combine the classic appearance of manual watches and the convenience of quartz watches to engender a product that is traditional yet modern.

However, whilst the accuracy of automatic watches is reasonable, quartz watches come out on top in this category. 

Similarly, the power reserve in quartz movement is exceptional. Automatic watches cannot compete with this as they still require winding every once in a while.

Quartz Watch Movements

Quartz Watch Movements

Last but most certainly not least, we have quartz movement. 

This type of movement has become increasingly popular thanks to its affordability and the ease of mass production. It’s commonly associated with prestigious brands of watch.

1969 was a year of great innovation in the world of watches. The first quartz watch, the Seiko Quartz Astron 35SQ, gained a great reputation for accuracy. Though its large size was a potential drawback. 

Quartz movement is the simplest of the three. It uses a battery to run the engine and a quartz crystal to make the hand tick at the correct rate. To be exact, the battery transfers an electric signal through the quartz which creates vibrations.

Without a doubt, quartz watches are superior regarding timekeeping accuracy. As we aren’t relying on ourselves to wind the mechanism, we can trust that a quartz movement watch will be incredibly precise. 

Additionally, the freedom of not needing to wind the watch is excellent for the low-maintenance among us.

Overall, quartz movement watches are the most cost-efficient. Not only are they cheaper due to the low-intensity manufacturing process, they are also more durable. 

As there are fewer moving pieces in a quartz movement watch, there is less chance that a part will break and be in need of repair. With the batteries also lasting several years, there’s no doubt that quartz movement watches tend to be budget-friendly.

In summary, there are three main types of watch movement: automatic, manual and quartz.

Hopefully after learning about the history and mechanisms of each one, you can decide which one suits you the best. 

After all, understanding watch movement types  is a great basis for understanding watches.

Lastly, whilst you’re here, why not check out some of our beautiful British swiss made watches and find your perfect match!

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