28 June 2024

Types of watch movements – Luxury Watch Repairs


Watches are intricate pieces of craftsmanship that are unique to the manufacturer – but aside from the functional and aesthetic preferences of the brand, each wristwatch is defined by its movement.

The movement, or the calibre, is the engine of the watch that powers its functions and determines its accuracy. There are three key types of watch movements: mechanical, automatic, and quartz. Each of these movements has unique characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages which align them with different purposes and preferences.

Mechanical watch movements

Mechanical watches – sometimes referred to as manual watches – are the oldest type of wristwatch mechanism, having been in development since the 14th century and championed by Peter Henlein, who is thought to have produced the very first pocket watch in 1510.

These little wonders of engineering rely on intricate gears and springs to keep time. They are powered by a mainspring that is wound manually by turning the crown of the watch, and as the stored energy is gradually released, it drives the gears and moves the hands.

The advantages of mechanical watches:

  • Mechanical movements are revered for their craftsmanship. The intricate assembly of hundreds of tiny parts requires exceptional skill and precision, as demonstrated by some of the best-known luxury brands, including Rolex, TAG Heuer, Breitling, Omega, and Patek Philippe.
  • The smooth sweeping motion of the second hand in a mechanical watch is visually pleasing compared to the incessant ticking of a quartz watch.
  • With proper care and maintenance, mechanical watches can last for generations, becoming treasured heirlooms that will stand the test of time.

The disadvantages:

  • Mechanical or manual watches are generally less accurate than quartz watches. You can typically expect variations of a few seconds to a few minutes per day.
  • They require regular maintenance and servicing, which can be costly.
  • Manual watches need to be wound regularly, which some users can find inconvenient.

Automatic watch movements

Automatic watches, aka self-winding watches, are actually a subset of mechanical watches. They harness kinetic energy from the wearer’s wrist movements to wind the mainspring, meaning they don’t need to be physically wound via the crown.

Automatic watches came along much later; they were first developed by a Swiss horologist in 1770 before being adapted by a British inventor who introduced a rotor mechanism around the time of the First World War.

The advantages of automatic watches:

  • Automatic watches wind themselves as long as they are worn regularly, removing the need for manual winding and making them a useful option for people who are prone to forgetting that they need some attention!
  • Like mechanical watches, automatics are prized for their intricate mechanisms and smooth hand movements.
  • They can last for many years with proper care and maintenance.

The disadvantages:

  • While generally more accurate than manual mechanical watches, automatics are still less precise than quartz watches. More on this later.
  • They can be expensive to purchase and require regular servicing, the cost of which can escalate over many years.
  • If not worn for a period, automatic watches may stop and need to be manually wound or reset. So, they are not a great option for buyers who plan to keep their piece in storage for some time.

Quartz watch movements

Free from the complex components of manual and automatic watch mechanisms, quartz watches are powered by a battery that sends an electrical current through a small quartz crystal, causing it to vibrate at a precise frequency. These vibrations are converted into mechanical movements that drive the watch hands.

Quartz watches caused something of a stir when they were first introduced in the 1960s. While the mainstays of the Swiss watchmaking industries decided to remain focused on using age-old technology, newer brands such as Seiko and Citizen were able to produce quartz-powered watches that were much more affordable, filling out the middle and lower sections of the market in the process.

The advantages of quartz watches:

  • If you’re keen to invest in elite accuracy, quartz watches are your best bet! They often only gain or lose a few seconds a month.
  • Quartz watches require minimal maintenance. In fact, their battery typically only needs to be replaced every few years.
  • Despite their exceptional timekeeping qualities, quartz watches are generally more affordable than mechanical and automatic watches.

The disadvantages:

  • These timepieces do heavily rely on batteries, which need to be replaced periodically. It’s not a huge expense, but it is one you will need to consider in the long term.
  • The ticking movement of the second hand in a quartz watch is less smooth and less aesthetically appealing than the sweeping motion of mechanical watches.
  • Quartz watches typically do not have the same lifespan as mechanical watches, as there is the potential for their electronic components to degrade over time.

Each type of watch movement offers distinct benefits and appeals to different tastes and needs. For example, mechanical watches are celebrated for their legacy and tradition; automatic watches provide a blend of convenience and craftsmanship that’s hard to resist; and quartz watches offer unparalleled accuracy and low maintenance, which can appeal to buyers who are searching for a fuss-free (and often more cost-effective) option.

Ultimately, however, the type of watch movement you choose will depend on your preferences, your lifestyle, and how much value you place on each feature. For more information on the different movements in watches, or to get advice on maintaining timepieces with any of the functions explained here, contact Luxury Watch Repairs now.

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