Watch Movements

Movement Types

What is a Movement?

In a nutshell, the Movement is the mechanism that “runs” the watch. Watchmakers either build up the Movement by combining parts from different companies or buy the whole thing from one company. Still, there are several companies who prefer making their own movements. They are “vertically integrated” and don’t buy parts from subcontractors at all.
Such watchmaking companies are known as Manufacturers. The watches these companies make are more cohesive and thus more expensive than the others.

Watches are some of the last remaining gadgets in which mechanical technology hasn’t been erased by electronic breakthroughs. Both automatic and manual movements are designed on the principles of mechanical motion using parts like springs, gears, etc. There are electrical alternatives as well that have quartz and non-quartz movements. These movements are controlled via an electric circuit. They work on batteries but sometimes incorporate a few mechanical parts. Even though the inclusion of electrical technology has raised the efficiency of watches, mechanical watches are still more expensive and in demand because of the labor they require. Mechanical watches are the first choice by most enthusiasts and watch collectors as they have a 600 years old history behind it, something electrical watches can never compare to.

Manual Movement

Manual Movement


The oldest watch movement that was developed in the 16th century, Manual Movement or Hand-wound Movement requires the wearer to rotate or wind it on a daily basis. These are the oldest type of movements that are still around and are bought usually for their conservative value.

There are a few parameters everyone should know before purchasing a vintage, manual movement watch:

  • The watch requires winding on a daily basis to operate
  • In case of a manual watch, the user should wind the watch until he/she feels tension at the crown. Winding the watch past this point can result in internal damage and lead to inaccuracies.
  • The watch must be wound on neutral ground, meaning you must not be wearing it, otherwise the crown or movement could be damaged.

— Components of the manual movement —

This is used to wind the watch so it can “go”. This wheel is primarily used to set the time.

A coil shaped mainspring stores the elastic potential energy that powers the movement. Turning the crown produces kinetic energy that is stored as potential energy within the mainspring, which is released when the crown is let go.

Gear Train
A string of small gears makes up the gear train that sits between the mainspring and escapement, transmitting the stored energy.

This may be thought of as a brake that splits the energy from the mainspring to equal, uniform parts for utilization for the balance wheel.

Balance Wheel
The wheel receives energy from the escapement in the form of regular pulses. These pulses make the balance wheel oscillate 5 – 10 times a second in a circular fashion. The rate of oscillation controls the speed of the watch; this is set by the watchmaker.

Dial Train
This is another train of gears that delivers equal pulses of energy to hands of the watch.

These are artificially made rubies, fitted at points where contact is too abrasive, i.e. the center of a gear, etc. The rubies act as bearings to minimize friction and thus excessive wear & tear. Reduction in friction means lesser amount of energy is lost in the form of heat that makes the watch more efficient and accurate. The rubies also function as heat absorbers.

Attached to the movement is a semi-circular piece of metal that swings freely in 360 degrees with the motion of the wrist. The rotor is joined with the string of gears in the mainspring so as the rotor moves, it charges the mainspring, extending its life before another winding is needed. The rotor has a clutch that automatically splits off the connection with the mainspring once it has fully charged.

How automatic movements work:

  1. These watches don’t require a winding so they are powered by movement of the wrist. The operation of the rotor takes over as the primary power source for the watch, however most automatic movement watches give the user the ability to charge it via crown.
  2. The energy is delivered to the escapement through a gear train.
  3. The escapement splits out the received energy into equal parts.
  4. These pulses are then used by the balance wheel to beat at a uniform rate.
  5. The dial train delivers the energy to hands after a specific number of beats.
  6. This leads to the movement of the hands.

Quartz Movement

Quartz Movement


Unlike mechanical watches, these watches are powered by a quartz crystal. Quartz movement is the most accurate mechanism available for operating watches.

— Components of the quartz movements —

Just as a mainspring functions as the power source on a mechanical watch, the battery is the source for quartz movements. The battery timing for a quartz watch is somewhere between 12 and 24 months before a replacement is required. The battery must be replaced as soon as possible as delay can lead to potential acid leakage that can damage the movement.

Integrated Circuit
This is powered by the battery and is responsible for controlling different parts of the watch.

Quartz Crystal
This is analogous to the balance wheel. The quartz crystal receives a uniform stream of pulses from the Integrated Circuit; it then vibrates with each pulse of electricity and generates voltage.

Stepping Motor
This converts the generated voltage into mechanical power.

Dial Train
Similar to a dial train on a mechanical movement watch.

How quartz movements work:

  1. Electric charges originate from the battery and are transmitted to the quartz crystal through an Integrated Circuit.
  2. The electric pulses make the quartz vibrate at a speed of 32,768 vibrations/second.
  3. The vibrations result in voltage impulses that are sent to the stepping motor.
  4. The dial train receives every 32,768th pulse from the stepping motor.
  5. This leads to movement in the hands of the watch.