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The mechanisms of time: watch movements that determine precision and style

Different kinds of watches

What is it that makes a watch tick? Is it the design? Is it the make? Or is it the caliber? Designs and brands are of course of paramount importance when you are shopping for luxury watches, but there is nothing more important that the movement of a watch.

The movement of a watch refers to the mechanism that moves the hands and powers the features like dual time zones and calendars. While most people simply buy a watch based on brand name and looks, we are sure that you are here because you have a taste for the finer things in life. The true value of a watch lies in its calibration and not its looks! It may be difficult to believe but, once again, it’s what’s on the inside that really matters.

The true finesse of a watchmaker is expressed by the mechanism of a watch. It is usually the mechanism that determines a masterpiece. You can easily tell apart a glaring example of watchmaking mediocrity from a luxurious masterpiece by studying the mechanism that makes the watches tick.

Based on movements, watches have been classified into 3 categories. Each one has its distinct charm. While some of them are seen in the most en vogue pieces only, some of them have survived the tides of time and are now seen in private antique collections. Here are the 3 basic types of movements that can be seen in the world of watches:

  • Mechanical: this is the oldest of them all and has an element of nostalgia associated with the process. In these watches, the second hand moves in a smooth, sweeping action. You will need to wind it manually from time to time to keep this watch ticking.
  • Automatic: this is rather cool. This watch does not require manual winding or batteries. Kinetic energy generated by the movement of the wearer’s wrist is enough to keep this ticker going.
  • Quartz: this is the suavest kind of mechanism. This is usually powered by a battery. The second hand moves in individual ticks.

Quartz watch

Quartz watches: a new time for innovations

In 1969, Seiko brought the quartz movement into market. This revolutionized the regular habits and routines of people by eliminating the need to wind wristwatches altogether. This also challenged the traditional time houses who depended on mechanical movement to power their sales.

Quartz watches are loaded with features and functionalities including:

  1. 32,768 vibrations per second caused by electrical pulses
  2. The electricity is carried to the Quartz crustal through an IC (integrated circuit)
  3. The watch uses a stepping motor to send the pulses
  4. Every 32,768th pulse is sent to the Dial Train by the stepping motor
  5. Finally, the dial train moves the hands of the watch on its face

This precision ensures that the movement is accurate and infallible. According to Joe Cooper from Dezeen Watch Store, “You buy them and then you can forget about them. They don’t demand regular winding. They are definitely much cheaper.” As a result, you can aim higher up in the brand hierarchy if you want to go for Quartz mechanisms.

Mechanical watches: good old touch of nostalgia

We have seen our grandfathers wear these. We have seen pictures of war veterans with these mechanical watches. Heck! We have even seen the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland with one of these (pocket watches). You can find mechanical watches way back in the 16th century as well.
You will need to wind your watch at least once per day depending upon how much energy the watch can store. Here’s how a mechanical watch works: 
  1. The potential energy from the wound spring is used to power the watch.
  2. The energy is transferred through a number of gears and smaller springs that power the hands of the watch.

These watches can survive rain and dust. Mechanical watches are favorites of those who want value for their money. Ever since the dawn of time, people have considered winding watches manually a desirable ritual that kick starts their day.

On top of everything, most of the mechanical watches have a clear sapphire casing that allow you to see the movements of gears and springs that move the hands.


Automatic movement: an era of self-sufficiency

These self-winding watches power the movement of their hands from the wearer’s wrist movement. The mainspring is wound from the daily movements of your wrist. So if you are particularly active, this is the watch you should go for.

What is the mechanism that makes it tick?

  •  It all starts with a metal weight or a rotor that is added to manual parts.
  • The rotor rotates freely and is directly connected to the movement.
  • The movement of the wrist generates energy that is transferred to the mainspring.
  • Mainspring winds automatically from the energy transfer process.

An automatic watch completely eliminates the entire process of battery change and daily mechanical winding. The watch powers itself from regular wrist movements. These watches are much chunkier as compared to mechanical watches. Many people simply opt for automatic winding watches because they are bigger, thicker and heavier. This is ideal for men and women who love to create statements with their accessories.

The sign of a good automatic watch is its weight. The rotors add extra weight to the machine and a good watch is at least thrice as heavy as a mechanically wound watch.

What’s the verdict?

While the mechanism determines the movement of the hands, the choice of mechanism hugely depends upon your need. Your budget is a huge factor that will also determine the kind of calibration you will be opting for.

Quartz mechanisms have evolved to become one of the most accurate time telling devices in the history of mankind. However, they have also grown to be one of the costliest depending on the levels of accuracy you are willing to go for.

If you are thinking, going for mechanically would watches will be the cheapest option, think twice. Most mechanically would watches come from traditional time-houses that are known for their brand names.

Buying a perfect watch is more difficult that finding your significant other. You need to know about the mechanisms, brand history and their services before you can make a long-term commitment.