Mechanical and Quartz: Watch Movements Explained

Mechanical and Quartz: Watch Movements Explained

Watches have been in use for centuries and in some fundamental ways, they haven't changed all that much. The core differences boil down to their internal movements. The way a watch moves is in effect the engine that helps it to run and keep time. Watch movement (or "caibre") is the powerhouse of a watch and supports its functioning as well as all its features. Watch movement is the internal mechanics of the watch, which moves the hands, keeps time and also powers additional features like an annual calendar, chronograph or dual time zone functioning.

Clearly, watch movement or calibre drives all of the functions of the watch and is essential to both its overall operation and ability to keep time. There are a wide variety of different specific watch movement iterations that have been created by watch designers and manufacturers over the decades; yet while there are countless patented proprietary designs and innovations in watch movement, there are actually only two main categories: mechanical and quartz.

Mechanical Watch Movement

Mechanical watch movements get their power from a wound spring, so there's no need for a battery. The spring effectively stores energy that moves and powers the watch via other springs and gears. A mechanical movement is often favored for luxury style watches due to their excellent craftsmanship and high quality. Mechanical watch mechanisms must be skillfully created by expert watchmakers using a highly intricate system of extremely small components that all work together perfectly and precisely. Mechanical watch designs haven't changed very much over the centuries, although today's technology allows for even better engineering and detail.


Manual Movement vs. Automatic

Today's mechanical movements in watches can be manual or automatic.

Manual movement.

This style is more traditional, as it is the oldest watch movement type. This kind of watch must be wound manually to ensure the main spring has enough energy to power the timepiece. The watch crown is turned numerous times and then unwinds, gradually releasing energy to power the watch. Some watches require daily winding, while others can last a week or more from one winding.

Automatic movement.

Automatic watch movement can also be referred to as “self-winding." It works much the same way as manual movements, but a rotor, or metal weight, helps the process. The rotor spins from the movement of the wearer's wrist, and this transfers energy to the main spring, automatically winding it. Whenever the watch is worn, it in effect gets wound from the wearer's natural movements.

Quartz Watch Movement

A modern alternative to the mechanical style of watch movement is quartz movement. Quartz movement is extremely accurate, but requires a watch battery to function. The battery provides a low electrical current to a quartz crystal which causes tiny vibrations within the watch. The crystal vibrations result in oscillation which powers the watch motor, moves the hands, and also powers any other features the watch might have. Watches with quartz movement tend to be inexpensive and have very few moving parts. While quartz watches often lack the engineering and technical craftsmanship of mechanical watches, they are also available in higher end brands including Swiss timepieces.
If we had to summarize or characterize each of these movement types, we could stay that a mechanical style of watch movement uses a spring that must be wound, resulting in a smooth, sweeping motion of the second hand to keep time. By contrast, quartz movement uses individual ticks for each second and requires a battery and a quartz crystal for its power. Within mechanical watches, there can also be manual or automatic winding styles