Tik..tik..tik..tik. If you are a watch enthusiast, those words need not be explained. As a matter of fact, this methodical and punctilious melody is one of the most soothing tunes that will ever grace your ear drums. This sound, although getting rarer by the day, is closely associated with watch movements. As the name suggests, a movement is essentially what allows a watch to function or to ‘move’. This blog, in its entirety, will be dedicated to provide you with a better understanding of what watch movements are and the various types of movements that exist today.
There are three types of watch movements that you need to know about.
- Manually wound
Let’s keep it simple, shall we? Mechanical movements are the epitome of watchmaking engineering. They are intricate, complex, and sophisticated structures that keep time with virtually as accurate as +/- 2 seconds per day.
Time on a mechanical movement is read via a spring drive. The mechanism basically uses a spring to derive power. The spring, more accurately called the ‘mainspring’. In automatic movements, this is wound automatically using the user’s wrist movements. In the case of automatic movements, this is wound manually periodically.
The world of mechanical watches is a complicated one for sure, but it is also one with passion. It is essentially a work of art that witnesses a smooth confluence of romanticism, ingenuity, and hardcore engineering.
There are two different kinds of mechanical movements.
Manually Wound Movements
Manually wound movements are the oldest in this list. Traditionally known as hand-wound movements, these pretty little things are insanely complicated creations. They date back to the 16th century which makes you wonder the amount of attention to detail required to build them, given that technology was not the same back in those days. Unlike modern-day electronic technology, in watchmaking, manually wound watches are considered more valuable than the rest.
Things to remember before buying a manually wound mechanical watch –
- Requires daily winding
- Has to be wound till there is a sensation of tension building up in the crown
- Damage to movement might occur if wound past the point of maximum tension
The crown is usually located on the side of the watch at the 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock positions. However, there are watches that have crowns at atypical positions as well. It is used to set time and can also be turned to wind the watch to operate.
This thing is the power source of the movement. The kinetic energy generated from the winding of the crown is then transferred to the mainspring, a coil shaped object. The spring gets tighter as the crown is wound. This spring then periodically unwinds to supply the necessary power.
The gear train is responsible for transferring this stored up energy through a series of gearsand help it reach the escapement.
You might have heard the term ‘escapement’ multiple times. Omega likes to use it a lot. Case in point, the ‘Co-axial escapement’. This is basically a distribution system that supplies equal amounts of energy to the various parts of the watch.
This is the heart of the whole movement. It receives the energy from the escapement. The balance wheel usually beats, or as sophisticated folks like say, oscillates, in a circular motion. This oscillation varies between five to ten times every second.
This is another component that is imperative to the proper functioning of a manually wound watch. This component transmits the measured and regulated energy from the balance wheel to the watch hands.
Jewels are synthetic rubies that are paced at points of high friction. This prolongs the life of the mechanism. You see, rubies are good at absorbing heat and are really tough in general.
How does it work?
The mainspring is wound through the crown which then unwinds and fuels an escapement. The escapement relays the power to the balance wheel. The balance wheel then oscillates a number of times every second. This frequency is measured in VPH or Hertz. This process helps the gear train to advance which eventually helps the second, minute and hour hands to progress. Note that the accuracy of a mechanical watch can vary by up to 30 seconds per day, although most modern day high-precision mechanical watches are fairly accurate. A few examples being, Omega and Rolex.
The tale of the automatic movement began in the early 20th century. When you look at the bigger picture, it is a fairly new invention. Also known as a self-winding movement, it basically winds itself using the movement of the watch wearer’s wrist. This completely eliminates the need to wind the watch on a daily basis. Of course, if the watch runs of power due to lack of use or as they say, it runs out of the power reserve, hand winding will be necessary. In such a scenario, you might find yourself winding the crown or rigorously swinging your wrist in the air. Avoid the latter in public.
- The Crown
The crown is located at the side of the watch and is used to set the time as well as wind the crown.
- The Mainspring
The Mainspring in an automatic watch is similar to a manually wound watch. It is the primary power source of the watch and provides fuel to the rest of the mechanism.
- The Gear Train
The gear train transfers the stored power to the escapement.
- The Escapement
The escapement allows thorough and regular supply of power.
- The Balance Wheel
Once again, the balance wheel is the heart of the movement. The balance wheel beats in a circular trajectory varying between five to ten beats per minute. This can be increased or decreased by the horologist in order to increase or decrease the speed of the watch.
- The Dial Train
The dial train is the same in automatic watches as it is in manually wound watches. It carries forward the power it receives from the balance wheel to the hands of the timepiece.
- The Jewels
Once again, points of high friction are prone to damage and wear and tear over the course of time. Jewels, which are basically rubies, prevent that. They are good at absorbing high temperatures and they are inherently tough.
- The Rotor
The rotor is a key component in an automatic movement. One can say that it is the very life of it. The rotor is a semi-circle structure that is attached to the movement and can move freely up to 360 degrees. The rotor is attached to the mainspring via a series of gears. As the rotor moves, it automatically winds the mainspring. The structure also has a clutch that stops the connection when the spring is fully wound.
How does it work?
The rotor moves as the wrist turns. This in turn winds the mainspring. The crown can also be turned to wind the mainspring. The gear train transmits the power to the escapement. The escapement then supplies the power into other parts. The balance wheel utilizes this regulated energy to oscillate at a frequency. The dial train then carries forward this momentum to the hands which then advance.
It all started in 1969, when Japanese watch manufacturer Seiko introduced the world to the Quartz movement. In cricketing terms, the Quartz movement was a ‘wrong one’ or a googly. It was an innovation no one expected and, to be honest, no one in the mechanical watch industry wanted. This technology opened up the Pandoras box and no one knew what was about to happen.
In response to the Japanese Quartz technology, Swiss watch companies started making their own version of quartz movements, hence beginning a new era of battery operated watch movements.
- The Battery
Quartz watch equivalent of a mechanical watch mainspring. This is the primary power source of the timepiece. Once the battery is out, be sure to replace it as it can start leaking acid and damage the whole movement.
- The Integrated Circuit
Relays the electrical charge to the quartz crystal.
- The Quartz Crystal
The quartz crystal acts similar to a balance wheel. The Integrated circuit relays the electricity from the battery to the quartz crystal. When electricity is applied to the quartz crystal, it vibrates and generates voltage.
- The Stepping Motor
The stepping motor plays a crucial role as it converts the electrical energy to mechanical energy.
- The Dial Train
It’s the same as in the case of mechanical movements. The dial train is responsible for relaying the power to the hands.
How does it work?
A quartz movement is powered by a battery that operates on electrical signals. This electrical signal is channeled through a piece of crystal quartz which then vibrates rapidly at about 32768 times per second. This in turn sends a precise frequency. The vibrations are measured by a circuit and are converted into a singular pulse. This pulse beats every second resulting in the hands of the watch moving constantly. Sounds way simply than it actually it.