Inside a Breitling watch, seeing movementIn an earlier article, we talked about the basic parts of a watch. Let’s take our treatment a little deeper and discuss the differences between watch movements.

The movement, housed within the watch’s case, is what powers the watch. Most modern day movements fall into 3 categories: quartz, mechanical and automatic. I think a knowledge of these differences will prove a useful gauge in selecting your next timepiece.

Quartz Movements

This one is rather simple. Quartz movements, popularized in 1969 by Japanese company Seiko, hold a piece of synthetic quartz, known as an “oscillator,” that responds to vibrations from electricity provided by a battery. A tell-tale sign that a watch has a battery is a ticking seconds hand, rather than one with a fluid, sweeping motion.

Inside working of a quartz watch

Click to enlarge

Quartz watches, which are more cost-effective to produce than other types, make up over 90% of the watches produced and sold today. The batteries in quartz watches can last from one-and-a-half to three years, depending on what other features are in the watch, like a date window or a chronograph. Why? Because these features uses more power in  the battery quicker than a watch without these features. They are efficient at keeping time, with minimal time loss, usually a couple seconds every month. In fact, quartz movements can be far more accurate than automatic or mechanical movements because the oscillator is steadier than one in a mechanical/automatic watch.

The advantage of a quartz watch is that the movement needs no winding, and it’s far easier to maintain and service the watch. Maintaining a watch primarily consists of replacing the battery. This can be done almost anywhere for a minimal charge, but please keep this in mind: if your watch is classified as ‘water-resistant’ you have to bring it to a jewelry store or place that works on water-resistant watches. It’s easy to tell, as it will be stamped on the caseback. These watches contain gaskets inside the case that help maintain water-resistancy and have to undergo a pressure test that places like SEARS can’t handle.

Change your batter shortly after it stops. Keeping a depleted battery in the watch for extended periods of time can become a big problem when the battery corrodes and leaks onto the movement. Luckily, in most cases the movement itself can be replaced.

Automatic / Mechanical Movements

This one is a little more complex than a quartz movement, and it should be. These movements are powered by a complex collection of many moving parts, gears and a mainspring, that power the watch. These movements are broken down into two subsets: Automatics and Mechanicals.

Automatic Watch Movements

isolated automatic watch movement for serviceSimply put, automatics are powered by the natural movement of your wrist. Your hand movement provides the energy to an oscillating rotor that runs the watch! The rotor spins when the watch is in motion, and sends the needed energy to the main spring to maintain time. The gear train in turn transfers that energy to the escapement, which regulates that energy to the balance wheel. That wheel provides the energy to the hands to show the time. This kind of movement requires constant movement to run properly. If you wear your automatic watch daily, this won’t be an issue; however, if you have multiple watches (which I’m sure you do, you dapper fellow), I advise investing in a watch winder to maintain the full power reserve.

Mechanical Watch Movements

Mechanical watches are powered by manually winding the mainspring via the crown. The mainspring then transmits energy to the gear train, through an escapement, which regulates that energy to the balance wheel. The wheel draws power to the dial train, which makes the hands move. The primary difference between a mechanical movement in comparison to an automatic? You have to wind the crown everyday when the stored energy is depleted.

When a watch is fully wound, the mainspring should last about 2 days. You can also add to your power reserve manually by turning the crown as well. There are, for a price, watches that can hold longer reserves of up to 10 days. Unlike quartz movements, there is a possibility of some time loss, as the gear trains can be inconsistent in providing proper energy. And both automatics and mechanical movements require a much more intricate servicing, called an overhaul, every 4-6 years. More on that in the next article.

Watch being serviced by professional

What’s “Best” / Most Desirable

Mechanical movements are the most revered of all the movements and are highly regarded by luxury watch collectors for their history, tradition and intricacy. Properly maintained, these watches can last generations.

Overwhelmed? You shouldn’t be. You’re now armed with the basics of differentiating between watches. Take your new-found knowledge, head into that store, and strike up a conversation! Watch guys love to talk.