The TOP-MOST aspect every watch lover should know!

What is the top-most aspect of a watch?

We all love our watches. They come in different shapes, forms, some are affordable, some burn our pockets deep! Some are digital, some are analog, some are sporty, some are formal, some are boring, some are sexy!

But there is one fundamental difference between various watches and that is related to the movement of the minute and second hands and functioning of the movement. Here we are talking about analog watches and two similar looking analog watches might have different movements. Cool, yeah? Or confused?

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Well if you are going to buy watches, that’s the least you should know. Or else you wouldn’t know why certain watches are so expensive and what is the big deal behind them!

So, analog watches have primarily 2 type of movements; mechanical and quartz movements.

Mechanical movement

These type of watches are made up of many small parts (gears, jewels and what not!) and the chief here is called a ‘Mainspring’. This is essentially a coil.

Once this coil is wound to its limit, it unwinds itself and in the process, moves different parts of the watch and ultimately moves the watch hands.

Well, the illustration might be too lame, but you get the idea right?

Now, some mechanics and science stuff!

A mechanical watch requires this coil to be wound frequently and once that is done, the mainspring unwinds thereby moving all the other parts of the watch. The combined movement makes the second, minute and the hour hand move.

There are many other pieces that form a part of this complex machinery. Jewels are also used, yes jewels, rubies! Hold back your emotions, nowadays synthetic rubies are used.

The Swiss are pioneers in making mechanical watches. You might have heard of Swiss movement watches; essentially it is mechanical movement (or automatic, coming up later in this article).

Let’s look at a nice diagram of the real deal!

mechanical movement mainspring

Quartz movement

Quartz movement watches don’t have a mainspring, the chief here is the Quartz crystal.

This quartz crystal or oscillator is a funny guy! When electricity is passed thru, it dances.

But this dance is actually mini oscillations or movements. The mini-movements ultimately make the seconds hand move (there are a lot of other parts involved though). A battery is used to provide this electricity.

SEIKO brought the quartz revolution to the world. So much so, that they gave the Swiss mechanical movement watches a tough time. That period in the 1970s and early 80s is called Quartz crisis because of the economic pain it brought to the mechanical watch industry. As these were relatively cheaper and produced at a mass rate, people were flocking towards it!

See this rear view of the Quartz watch. Not a fun view as compared to mechanical watches right?

quartz movement watch

Automatic watches

Now people liked mechanical watches. They loved their artistry.

But people didn’t have the patience and time to wind a watch and to see what? Time!

Automatic movement watches are mechanical watches but these need not be wound manually every time to keep it working. Good lord!

The mainspring is self-winding in these watches. Some smart people put what is called a rotor which moved every time there is a movement of the wrist and this, in turn, helped wind the mainspring (ultimately moving the hands). How cool!

MYTH – Automatic watches are powered by our pulse!  

How was this myth spread? This was probably due to ignorance of the mechanics behind the movement. One smart person would have tried to figure out how this watch works when worn on the wrist. As there is nothing else on the wrist other the ‘pulse’, which makes some movement, that link was conveniently established!

The Quartz industry didn’t want to be left behind. Though there was no effort needed to wind Quartz watches, people wanted a watch which goes on and on without changing a battery. So they made automatic quartz as well.

But the industry always equates ‘mechanical movement’ watches as ‘Automatic’, if they offer automatic winding.

How does it matter and which one to choose?

Nowadays, all mechanical watches are automatic (self-winding). You rarely get a manual winding watch.

So if you don’t care about the movement, you could go for pretty much anyone.

Before you read a real techie comparison, you should know the primary difference to help you choose your next watch!

Quartz watches are very accurate and don’t lose time as compared to mechanical (yes that is correct, there is a loss of a few seconds here and there).

But if you really like exquisite art and craftsmanship, mechanical movements are the one!

Times have changed!

Nowadays, there are many cross-overs or hybrids like automatic quartz, kinetic quartz, solar quartz and many more!

But as long as you know these basic watch movements, you are good to buy your next one!

Photo courtesy –
Alexander Mils on Unsplash
G. Seielstad – Retrieved April 15, 2015 from John E. Lodge, “New triumphs in age-old quest for perfect timepiece” in Popular
By Garitzko – Own work, Public Domain
By Petar Milošević – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

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