A watch movement (also known as a “calibre”) is the engine of a watch that acts as the powerhouse to make the watch and its functions operate. This internal mechanism moves the hands and powers any complications such as a chronograph, annual calendar or dual time zone. The movement drives all timekeeping functions and is essential to keeping accurate time. A watch would not function without it.
There are countless different movements created by watch manufactures that utilize proprietary innovations, but each of these movements falls into one of two categories: quartz or mechanical.
An easy way to differentiate a quartz from a mechanical movement is by looking at the second hand. On a quartz watch, the second hand has the tick-tick motion that moves once per second while mechanical watches have a smooth, sweeping seconds motion.
Quartz movements are very accurate and require minimal maintenance aside from battery replacements. They tend to be low-cost since they are battery powered and have few moving parts. Quartz watches aren’t as desirable to most watch enthusiasts because they lack the technical craftsmanship and engineering of mechanical timepieces. Quartz movements in fine Swiss watch brands, such as Patek Philippe, are designed to comply with their strict quality standards.
How a Quartz Movement Works:
A quartz movement utilizes a battery as its primary power source and is typically the type of movement that you will find in your standard, no-frills watch. To create power in quartz watch movements, a battery sends an electrical current through a small quartz crystal, electrifying the crystal to create vibrations. These vibrations keep the movement oscillating and drive the motor to move the watch hands.
Mechanical movements are often chosen over quartz movements for luxury watches due to their high level of quality and craftsmanship. Skillfully created by expert watchmakers, these movements contain an intricate series of tiny components working together to power the timepiece. Although the general design of mechanical watches hasn’t changed much in centuries, technology has allowed for more precise engineering and greater attention to detail.
How a Mechanical Movement Works:
Unlike quartz movements, a mechanical movement uses energy from a wound spring to power the watch. This spring stores energy and transfers it through a series of gears and springs, regulating the release of energy to power the watch.
Differences Between Mechanical Movements
There are two types of mechanical movements found in luxury timepieces today — manual and automatic — both of which have unique characteristics. Although mechanical movements are the preferred movement, the type of mechanical movement for you comes down to personal preference.
Considered to be the most traditional movement, manual movements are the oldest type of watch movement. Manual-wind watches are often beloved for their beautiful display of the watch movement, which can usually be seen through the case-back. These movements are often referred to as “hand-wound movements” because they have to be manually wound by hand to create energy in the watch’s mainspring.
How a Manual Movement Works:
The wearer must turn the crown multiple times to wind the mainspring and store potential energy. The mainspring will unwind slowly and release energy through a series of gears and springs that regulate the release of energy. This energy is then transferred to turn the watch hands and powers the watch’s complications.
Winding intervals for manual-wind watches depend on the power reserve capacity of the movement, which could be anywhere from 24 hours to five days or more. Some watches will require daily winding while others like the Panerai Luminor 1950 GMT, which has an eight-day power reserve, only need to be wound approximately every eight days. Many manual-wind watch owners are simply in the habit of winding their watch before they put it on.
The second form of mechanical movement is automatic. Often referred to as “self-winding,” automatic movements harness energy through the natural motion of the wearer’s wrist. Watches with automatic movements are very popular because the wearer doesn’t have to worry about winding the watch daily to ensure constant operation. As long as the watch is worn regularly, it will maintain power without requiring winding.
How an Automatic Movement Works:
An automatic movement works largely the same way as a manual movement, with the addition of a metal weight called a rotor. The rotor is connected to the movement and can rotate freely. With each movement of the wrist, the rotor spins, transferring energy and automatically winding the mainspring.
Watches featuring an automatic movement will still require winding, but far less than a manual watch. If the watch is worn every day, it will maintain timekeeping functions without winding, but if the watch hasn’t been worn for an extended period of time, it will need a quick wind to garner initial power. A great alternative to hand-winding automatic watches is to use a watch winder, which will keep the watch fully wound when it’s not being worn.