Introduction to Watch Movements | A Quick and Easy Guide

Watches are quite popular accessories that men and women wear today. Some just love to wear them, while others appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into creating the timepiece. One such craftsmanship is the watch’s movement. Behind every watch, you’ll find a tiny component responsible for many of its features — watch movements. 

You’ve probably heard about the movement inside a watch, but what does it do, and why does it matter? The answer is simple: Understanding how watch movements work will help you appreciate your timepiece more.

What Are Watch Movements?

A watch movement is fondly referred to as the heart of a watch. The mechanism keeps time and drives the hands (or dial), displaying hours, minutes, and seconds. Without it, your watch would be nothing more than a piece of jewelry. 

As a new watch enthusiast, you may be more concerned about the physical and aesthetic parts of the watch. Still, on closer inspection, the movements are what make the watch whole. 

To understand why movements are so important, we must go back to the invention of timekeeping devices. 

The first clocks were created in Europe during the 14th century. They were used primarily by churches to keep track of daily services and prayer times. As these clocks became more elaborate over time, they became beautiful works of art that could tell time, date, lunar phases, and even solar movements.

Origin of Watch Movements

Before watch movements were invented, Sundials and water clocks were used to track the time. Along the line, in the 16th century–as timepieces began to evolve–time was kept accurate with portable spring-driven clocks. While this method of keeping time was accurate, it was not always reliable. 

A few decades later, in the 1800s, the mechanical movement watch was engineered alongside the first appearance of wristwatches. They were followed shortly by automatic movements, which were made available only as pocket watches at the time. The automatic movements later appeared in wristwatches a few years after.

Lastly, the quartz movement was released on December 25, 1969, by Seiko. The wristwatch it appeared in was the first of its kind and was called “Seiko Quartz Astron 35SQ”. The discovery of this movement changed the scope of watch manufacturing; decades later, various brands adapted the movement. 

Mechanism of a watch movement

The mechanism of a watch’s movement is an intricate system of gears, springs, and levers that powers the watch’s timekeeping functions. The movement contains a series of gears that transfer energy from the mainspring to run the watch’s hands and keep time. It consists of four parts:

  • The mainspring stores energy in a coiled spring and releases it slowly to keep the watch ticking.
  • A gear train that receives energy from the mainstream and passes it through multiple small gears
  • A toothy circular part called the escapement that receives energy from the gear and passes energy to the balance wheel
  • Finally, the balance wheel, which swings back and forth to complete the movement cycle

The movement plays a critical role in a watch. It keeps track of time and controls other functions, such as date and calendar displays. Asides from these basic four, there are other specific mechanisms that each type of watch movement uses. We will see them going forward. 

Types of Watch movements

There are three types of movements, each with its own pros and cons. Before going in-depth into the types of watch movements, a clear distinction should be made between watch movements and watch types. 

Generally, watches are categorized by design, branding, and functionality but watch movements are a more fundamental factor. Some popular types of watches include pilots, divers, dresses, and sports watches. Each with its own design. But putting it into perspective, a divers watch can have any type of watch movement while being unique due to brandings–like Rolex or IWC. On the other hand, mechanical movement can be present in both brands. 

The three types of watch movements include:

  • Mechanical movement
  • Automatic movement
  • Quartz movement

Mechanical Movement

A mechanical watch uses mechanical movement to keep time. The Mechanical movements are very popular because they are the oldest type of watch movement. They are composed of several parts, such as the mainspring and escapement, which store and release energy to keep the watch ticking.

The term “mechanical” refers to the fact that no electrical parts are involved in keeping time. Instead, a mechanical watch uses springs, gears, and other moving parts to provide the energy needed to keep time. 

To keep time, a mechanical watch must be manually wound. When the mechanical watch is wound. You adjust the balance wheel to keep it running consistently by turning a small metal knob known as the crown. After that, the mechanical watch builds and stores momentum in the mainspring, a small piece of coiled metal. 

This momentum is then released in intervals, and it is regulated by the watch’s intricate design. An escapement mechanism also regulates the release of the momentum to make the watch tick. 

The escapement works in tandem with the balance wheel, which is one of the most delicate components in a mechanical watch. This whole process is repeated to keep the watch ticking. 

One common type of mechanical watch movement is the Omega’s calibre 8500, first released in 2007. With the entrance of automatic and Quartz watches, Mechanical movement watches are not as popular as they used to be. Instead, they are considered vintage and are very valuable to collectors worldwide.

Automatic Movement

Automatic movement is the most common type of movement in watches. After the mechanical movement of watches, watch manufacturers started to ponder how to make watches more user-friendly and sleek. This drove the discovery of automatic movements. 

Automatic movements are also mechanical movement-oriented, but they rely on the motion of the wearer’s body to wind them. Thus, they are not manually adjusted. 

The first automatic watch was created by Abraham-Louis Perrelet in the 1700s, who patented a watch that uses the wearer’s wrist movement to wind it.

Automatic and mechanical movements are fundamentally similar. The major difference is that automatic watches convert the kinetic energy generated when you move your hand around to keep the watch running. This means that the watch stops ticking when stationary for an extended period. 

Luckily, there is an option to manually wound the watch to get the self-wounding system started again.

Quartz Movement

Quartz movements simplified watches generally and made them more accessible for everyday wear. 

Watches with quartz movements do not need winding by the wearer because they are battery-powered.  

The quartz movement was invented in the mid-20th century to power watches. Generally, a quartz watch relies on a battery to keep ticking, eliminating the need for winding by the wearer. The battery in a quartz watch keeps it ticking by providing a source of electricity. This electric current then converts to mechanical energy vibration in a piece of Quartz inside the watch. This piece of Quartz then vibrates at a specific frequency, completing the cycle and keeping the watch ticking continuously.

Seiko first invented Quartz movements in 1969, quickly gaining popularity worldwide due to their convenience and accuracy. 

Their popularity greatly affected the other two movements, earning the term “Quartz crises.” They were also less expensive to produce than other types of movements at the time. Quartz movements are now found in nearly every type of watch on the market, whether digital or analog models.

What type of watch movement is best?

Generally, the best type of watch movement depends on what you want from your timepiece. A quartz movement watch may be right if you’re looking for something inexpensive and simple. 

Quartz watches are very accessible and inexpensive. Imagine never having to concern yourself with winding the watch manually over and over. This ease of use puts Quartz watches ahead of the rest.

Suppose you are more involved in watch culture and want something with more complications. In that case, mechanical and automatic watches will be more up your alley. Mechanical watches are the most expensive, but they have a certain quality. 

First, their lack of battery replacement is a good thing. Quartz batteries tend to run out after a few years, but not mechanical watches. They can last for decades without any issue. So if longevity is your motive, mechanical watches are on top.

At this point, you might wonder what automatic watches offer. The watches sync up to your body. Simply put, they become a part of you when you wear them. 

The watches take energy from your system, making you the power behind them. Your kinetic energy will keep the watch working as long as you wear it. Even after removing it, it can function for up to 40 hours afterward. So you don’t have to sync it up every time.


Ultimately, there’s no one “best” watch movement for everyone. 

Each movement serves its own purpose and will work best for a certain type of person. And that’s why it’s so good that watch movements have become so popular once again. 

People have many options for wristwatches, and they’re not limited to just one type of movement.

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