What Are Watch Movements and How to Choose the Best One

The products on this page is chosen by the editors. If you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. This has not affected our opinion on the products. Our opinion is our own.

Written by Ryan Miller

You might see a watch say that it runs on “quartz” or “caliber” (or “calibre,” if the watch is made in Europe).

What do these mean? Does it affect your watch’s quality? Which movements are better? Find out in this article!

watch movements

What Is A Watch Movement?

A watch movement is the heart of your watch. It’s what makes your watch work.

Just like other machines, timepieces need an engine to make it work. A watch’s engine is its movement.

The movement is the mechanism that powers the watch hands, allowing your wristwatch to tell time. Without this mechanism, your watches are just as good as fashion items like bracelets.

How Does A Watch Movement Work?

To understand how a watch’s movement works, we’ll introduce you first to the basic parts of a watch. Hopefully, you can get a better idea of how a watch works by studying all its components below.

Parts of a Mechanical Watch

Mainspring

The mainspring is where a watch’s energy comes from. It’s the coil inside a movement that stores kinetic energy.

Gear Train/Dial Train

The gear train, or the dial train, is a series of gears that spin and power the escapement. It gets power from the mainspring, and spins into motion, transferring energy to the escapement.

Escapement

The escapement stores power from the train. It regulates your watch’s movement so the gears don’t unwind the mainspring.

Balance Wheel

The balance wheel is a weighted wheel that oscillates constantly. The balance wheel is where your watches finally start moving at one oscillation per second.

This mechanism works together with the watch’s parts to power the watch hands and allow the hands to move.

What About Jewels?

If you’ve ever looked at watch specs before, you might have seen the number of jewels as a selling feature for luxury brands (usually Swiss). A watch face usually has rubies set against the gears.

A watchmaker uses jewels to regulate the friction between the gears of your watch so the parts can move smoothly.

Types of Watch Movements (And How They Work)

Quartz Movement

replacing-battery-in-quartz-wristwatch-close-up-PU3HHEC

You might be more familiar with this type of movement. Quartz watches are the most common ones around. If you see a wristwatch that says “battery-operated,” chances are, it’s a quartz watch.

In auto quartz movements, the quartz crystal receives an electrical current, or energy, from the batteries. The quartz crystal drives the motor.

The quartz crystal powers the wristwatch through vibrations of 32,768 pulses per second.

With quartz movements, watch companies can make accurate timepieces without worrying about making the different, tiny parts of a watch work together in harmony.

Mechanical

quartz watch

Mechanical watch movements use mechanisms made of mechanical parts, like gears and springs, to run. A watch is a tiny machine, and a movement would need at least 130 components to work.

As its name suggests, mechanical movement uses kinetic energy from winding to turn the gears, which powers the entire wristwatch.

Unlike quartz watches, mechanical watches work without batteries. That’s because your body does all the work of supplying energy into these wristwatches.

A hallmark of a mechanical watch is the sweeping movement of the second hand, which you can’t find in quartz timepieces. In comparison, the second hand of a quartz timepiece ticks.

The two types of mechanical movements are manual and automatic watches.

Manual Watch

The manual watch is the oldest type of movement in the world, and it’s been around since the 16th century.

Manual winding timepieces are hand-wound by the owner. This winding motion supplies kinetic energy to the mainspring which powers the gear train, which then powers the escapement.

Automatic Movements

What is an automatic watch? You might think an automatic movement needs batteries to work. The name says “automatic,” after all, so you wouldn’t need to wind it manually by hand.

But an automatic movement, also called a “self-winding” movement, is actually a type of mechanical movement.

An automatic movement gets its energy when the wearer moves his wrist. The wearer’s wrist generates energy to power the watch’s mainspring.

This is all possible because of an additional metal weight called the rotor. The rotor, exclusive to an automatic watch, rotates freely with each movement of the wearer’s wrist.

With the rotor, you no longer need to hand-wind manually using your bare hands. Wearing your wristwatch will do the trick with just the flick of a wrist!

Looking for an automatic watch? Find our selection on the best one here.

A Simple Analogy

To understand exactly how the different types of movements work, we’ll use an analogy.

A mechanical watch is like a regular, gas-powered car. Regular cars work by supplying gas to the engine.

Think of the gas as the kinetic energy you supply to a movement (the engine) by winding it, either manually or by wearing it (automatic).

A quartz watch is like an electric car. Electric cars run on batteries and don’t need gas to run properly.

Maintaining Your Watch

If you invested in a timepiece, you want to make sure it will work for years to come. But how do you maintain the movement? Each wristwatch has different requirements.

Quartz Movement Maintenance

Because a quartz movement works via electrical current supplied by batteries, you don’t need to wind it.

To maintain the movement, quartz wristwatch battery replacement is necessary. You can change it every three years.

Quartz movement watches from some companies can work for longer periods of time with one battery, so we recommend checking the label.

Mechanical Movement Maintenance

Whether you have a manual or automatic watch, you must maintain your watches by daily winding either by hand or by wearing your watches.

The power reserve indicator on your watches may tell you just how much time you have before the next time you will need to wind your watches.

Besides winding your watches, we suggest heading to a reputable watch repair shop every few years to make sure all the components of your watch work.

Which Kind of Movement Should I Buy?

When A Mechanical Movement Is For You

Although there are some expensive battery-powered watches in the market, luxury watches would boast mechanical movement, whether manual or self-winding.

If you want your timepieces to outlast a generation, we recommend buying mechanical timepieces. Watch collectors and watch enthusiasts collect manual and automatic watches for their craftsmanship.

The quality standards of mechanical wristwatches are definitely higher than quartz ones. Watchmakers ensure each and every piece in a mechanical movement fits perfectly.

The only downside of mechanical watches? The maintenance. Because the parts only move through winding or movement from the wearer’ s wrist, the upkeep is more exhausting.

When Quartz Movement Is For You

If you just need a watch to tell time, then quartz might be a better option.

Quartz watch movements are actually more accurate than mechanical watches. There’s also the bonus of never having to maintain the watch by winding it daily because they’re battery-powered.

Quartz movements are cheaper and more accurate, but they don’t have the history, prestige, and craftsmanship as mechanical movements from expert watchmakers.

Conclusion

We hope you now have some idea about the different types of movement. Just remember that the type of movement you choose depends on your lifestyle and preference.