Watch Movement Buying Guide

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Movement refers to the interior mechanism of a watch that drives the timekeeping functions; in other words, the movement is the watch's engine. Watches have mechanical, automatic, or quartz movements. Many brands offer each type in both men's and women's watches. Knowing how each movement works can help you decide which movement you would like in your next timepiece.

Mechanical Movement:

  1. How it works: The most important feature of a mechanical movement is the mainspring that must be manually wound to store potential energy. This spring unwinds slowly, releasing energy to move the gears that power the watch's timekeeping functions. Reflecting the skill of talented watchmakers, mechanical watches have an intricate composite of gears and springs and are crafted just as their predecessors were before the age of battery power.

  2. Power reserve: Once wound, the average mechanical watch has a power reserve of 36 to 40 hours. You must rewind the crown on the watch case every time the energy is depleted. Many users get into the habit of winding their mechanical watch every day to ensure it is working when they need it.

  3. Efficiency: Because mechanical movements can gain or lose a few minutes over a month's time, you must set the time regularly to ensure accuracy.

  4. Advantages: If you appreciate the European tradition of constructing exquisite timekeeping instruments, you may prefer watches with mechanical movements. Well-built mechanical watches often last for generations.

Automatic Movement:

  1. How it works: Automatic movement is a mechanical movement with a self-winding design. An automatic watch harnesses the energy produced by motion to wind the spring. This movement features a rotor that spins when the watch is in motion, as when the wearer moves his arm. The mechanism transfers the energy from the spinning rotor to the main spring of the winding system.

  2. Power reserve: The watch will maintain its power reserve if you wear it every day. If you won't be wearing your watch for several days at a time, store it on a watch winder to keep it at full power.

  3. Efficiency: Like mechanical movements, automatics can gain or lose a few minutes per month, so check your watch regularly and adjust the time.

  4. Advantages: Automatic watches have all of the advantages of mechanical watches -- detailed construction, durability -- and you don't need to manually wind the timepiece frequently.

Quartz Movement:

  1. How it works: Quartz movements are powered by a battery. It is called a quartz movement because the battery works in combination with a quartz crystal. The battery passes an electric current through the crystal to keep it oscillating at over 32,000 vibrations per second. This vibrating crystal drives a motor that moves the watch hands at a constant rate to keep time accurately. You can see this movement on the dial: The second hand of a quartz watch has the tell-tale tick, tick, tick movement that marks the seconds, but the second hand of a mechanical watch moves with a smooth sweep around the dial.

  2. Power reserve: On average, the battery needs to be changed every one and a half years. A few quartz watches have solar-powered rechargeable batteries. Some quartz movements feature a kinetic system, also known as kinetic movement, similar to those in automatic watches, in which a rotor produces the electrical current that powers the watch.

  3. Efficiency: A quartz movement is an extremely reliable timekeeper that only loses a few seconds per month, about one minute per year.

  4. Advantages: The greatest advantage of the quartz watch, other than its relative affordability, is the fact that the movement needs no winding to keep it working. Quartz watches require fewer time adjustments and less maintenance than mechanical watches. The most affordable watches have quartz movement, yet many high-end timepieces also use this efficient design.

Countries of Origin:

  1. Several countries specialize in watch movements. Most watch movements are designed and manufactured in Switzerland or Japan. Traditionally, Swiss watchmakers set the standard for quality, especially for mechanical movements; however, since the 1980s, Japanese-made movements have caught up to the Swiss in quality. Chinese-made movements also have increased in quality in recent years.

  2. You'll find the country of origin on the watch. Manufacturers label the origin of the movement with a stamp on the watch case or the dial. "Swiss movement" means that over 50 percent of the movement was assembled in a Swiss factory from Swiss-manufactured parts. This is true of mechanical, automatic, and quartz movements. The case stamps that identify the Swiss movement use various terms, including Swiss quartz, Swiss automatic or Swiss auto, and, simply, Swiss or Switzerland. This format also applies to movements originating in countries other than Switzerland.

  3. "Swiss-made" is a special designation. A Swiss-made movement must have Swiss parts, be fully assembled in Switzerland and then be placed in the case at a Swiss factory. The case itself does not need to be manufactured in Switzerland, although most high-end Swiss watches feature Swiss-made cases.

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Updated November 25, 2014