WHAT IS A WATCH MOVEMENT?
- JUNE 6, 2022 -
In the watch world, a movement is the mechanism within a watchcase that powers a timepiece. The term originated with early clockwork machines made up of many moving parts. Movements, also known as calibers, vary widely by watch and can be mechanical, automatic or quartz. Just remember, regardless of the watch movement type, its core purpose is to tell accurate time.
Ready to find out what a mechanical movement is? Learn that and more in this watch basics guide.
Watch movements fall into one of two categories: mechanical vs. quartz. As their names imply, mechanical movements are a series of interconnected parts that move together ‘mechanically,’ without electricity or battery usage. Quartz refers to the exact opposite, a watch movement powered with the use of a battery.
There are two types of mechanical watches: manual and automatic. The first must be hand wound via the watch’s crown every few days. The second, invented at the end of the 18th century, is self-winding, meaning when worn consistently winding the watch by hand is unnecessary.
Both mechanical watch movements are comprised of a crown, mainspring, gear train, escapement and balance wheel. Very simply, the mainspring is the power storage, which stores energy and transfers it through gears and springs, regulating the release of energy and ultimately powering the watch.
The amount of energy stored varies by movement, and is described as power reserve. For example, a hand winding mechanical watch with an 80-hour power reserve must be rewound every 80 hours to continue running.
Automatic mechanical watches also have power reserves, but thanks to the addition of a metal weight called a rotor, energy transfers automatically with the natural movement of your wrist. What does this mean? If you have an automatic watch, it will continue to work unless the rotor isn’t activated sufficiently (e.g. you aren’t wearing the watch) for a period of time that exceeds the specified power reserve.
In 1957, Hamilton released the world’s first electric, battery-powered watch, the triangular-shaped Ventura. A favorite of Elvis Presley, the iconic timepiece changed the watch industry forever by using a battery to as its primary power source.
As technology progressed, a quartz-crystal resonator replaced the balance wheel creating an integrated circuit, which applies electricity from the batter to the quartz crystal in a consistently and continuously.
By 1970, Hamilton would once again transform the watch industry with the announcement of the Pulsar, the world’s first digital electronic watch – a futuristic timepiece with a bright red LED display and no moving parts. In 2020, we celebrated the 50th anniversary with our PSR Digital Quartz.
Mechanical or quartz movements can both power analog watches. However, it’s easy to tell the difference by watching the second hand move. If it smoothly glides from second to second with no sound, you’re looking at a mechanical watch; if it visually and audibly ‘ticks,’ it’s quartz.
On the other hand, all digital watches are battery powered, and today range from simple LCD time tellers to complex smart watches.
While quartz watches are superior in terms of accuracy and reliability, watch enthusiasts and collectors often prefer mechanical watches thanks to their precise craftsmanship and rich heritage. If you want a watch that tells time and is full of character, a mechanical watch is the choice for you. In fact, check out the original soldier’s watch, our hand winding Khaki Field Mechanical for a watch with a story to tell.
Mechanical is an umbrella term that can refer to hand wound or self-winding watch movements. However, mechanical is often used to designate a watch as manual vs. automatic. Manual mechanical movements must be wound; automatic mechanical movements self-wind as kinetic energy from the wearer’s wrist is transferred to the mechanism inside the watch. Quartz watch movements have few or no moving parts and are powered by a battery.