If you’re out to buy your newest watch, or need a great gift for someone special, you are probably asking which kind of watch you should get. All the terms flying around can make it a bit difficult to narrow down the list. And with the price tags on fine watches, you want to be sure you’re getting the right watch, with the right kind of movement for the owner to enjoy.

To help you along on your watch-buying journey, we’ve thought through some questions people have on watches. We’re looking primarily at quartz watches, but the information below should give thoughts on other watch movements as well.

What is a Watch Movement?

As you shop for fine watches in a physical store or online, you’ll notice information about the caliber of the watch. The term for the watch movement in the study of time-keeping, or horology, is the caliber.

The movement of a watch is the mechanism that powers, or moves, the watch so that it keeps time. Each kind of movement has different components.

What are the Types of Watch Movements?

watch movements

Feature image via Astor Bond

There are three basic types of watch movements, though technically there are at least six types of movements that have been used throughout the history of watches. For our purposes, we’ll focus on the three main calibers that power the modern wristwatch.

Manual Watches

Manual wristwatches are one of the two mechanical wristwatch movements that we’ll look at today. The manual movement is a caliber that must be wound in order to keep the watch going. If you’ve ever looked at a fine analog watch, you’ve probably noticed knobs on the sides. These knobs are for winding up the mainspring inside of the mechanical movement watch.

Manual mechanical watches must be consistently wound to keep them running and accurately telling the time.

The Mainspring

The mainspring stores the mechanical energy produced by winding the knob on the side of the watch case. This energy is what powers the watch.

The Gear Train

The mainspring connects to the gear train, which transmits the force of the mainspring to the balance wheel. The gear train also allows the hands of the watch to move about the dial.

The Balance Wheel

The balance wheel swings, or oscillates, back and forth within the watch mechanism. This motion happens in precise increments of time, and is the specific component of the mechanical watch that keeps time.

The Escapement Mechanism

The escapement mechanism both keeps the balance wheel vibrating, and allows the gears of the watch to advance, or “escape,” by a set amount with each tick of the gears. This part of the watch is the source of that familiar ticking sound we hear from running watches.

The Dial

Finally, the dial is the face of the watch on which numbers are displayed, and the hands of the watch can be seen moving around, indicating the time.

Automatic Watches

An automatic watch is a mechanical watch that doesn’t need to be wound. Instead, an automatic, or self winding watch uses the kinetic energy created by the wearer. This kinetic energy is created through the movement of the wearer’s wrist and arms as he or she functions normally throughout the day.

This kind of movement was first introduced to the public in 1988, by the Japanese watchmaking company, Seiko.

Quartz Crystal Watches

The third basic kind of watch movement used in contemporary wristwatches is the quartz movement. A quartz watch is another automatic watch that uses electricity to power the movement, instead of kinetic or mechanical energy.

How Does a Quartz Watch Work?

mechanical watch movements

Image via Wixon Jewelers

Quartz crystal watches utilize electricity, and the conductivity of the modified quartz crystal to power them.

  1. Electricity moves through the quartz crystal from the battery, via an integrated circuit.
  2. The quartz vibrates 32,768 times because of the electricity coursing through it.
  3. These vibrations go through the integrated circuit into the stepping motor.
  4. The stepping motor sends the 32,768th pulse to the gear train.
  5. The gear train makes the hands on the watch dial move, enabling you to tell the time.

What Makes Quartz Crystal Watches so Great?

Quartz watches are a great choice for most people who aren’t looking for a status symbol. Of course, some quartz watches can still make that statement, but watch snobs predominantly choose automatic or manual mechanical watches for their collections.

Quartz watches have a couple of advantages over mechanical watches, though. They’re much easier to maintain, since they automatically pulse and transmit electrical signals to keep time. Basically, all you’ll need to do with a quartz watch is take it to a dealer to have the battery replaced when it dies.

Quartz watches are fairly durable, as well. The quartz movement minimizes the number of moving parts within the watch, which means they can handle a lot more than their mechanical counterparts can. This also means fewer repairs will be needed.

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