Watch Movement Buying Guide

a watch with a blue bezel and red and blue fabric band
Watches come in a vast array of shapes and sizes, and their internal mechanisms also vary. Some watches contain intricate manual movements, while others use tiny vibrating crystals to stay on time. If you don't mind winding your timepiece every day, you might enjoy a mechanical watch. Frequently, watchmakers design manual timepieces with clear glass or crystal casebacks so that you can see the movements working inside. If you prefer to change the battery every two or three years, you might prefer a quartz model. Read on to explore the fascinating world of horology and learn more about various available watch movements.
a watch with a blue bezel and red and blue fabric band

Mechanical Movements: An Overview

Many high-end watches for men and women are built around mechanical movements, some of which are so intricate that they’re hard to decipher with the naked eye. Tiny gears and miniature cogs work in tandem with a wound mainspring to keep the timepiece ticking along accurately. A central balance wheel beats steadily, pushing the movement forward. Watchmakers carefully position small jewels, frequently synthetic rubies, to prevent metal-on-metal friction inside the movement. Mechanical movements fall under two distinct categories: manual movements and automatic movements.


Manual Mechanical Movements

Manual mechanical movements are the oldest type of watch movement available. First invented in the 16th century, manual movements must be wound periodically to keep time. A manual watch gets its drive from the mainspring, which looks like a coil of stiff wire inside the movement. When you wind the watch, you make the mainspring tighter. As the mainspring unwinds, it pushes the movement’s balance wheel, which transmits energy to the gear train, causing the watch’s hour, minute, and second hands to move around the timepiece face.


Automatic Mechanical Movements

Automatic watches wind themselves by cleverly leveraging your physical motions throughout the day. A weighted rotor attached to the watch’s movement spins when you move your wrist, tightening the mainspring. Consequently, if you wear your watch every day, you won’t need to wind it at all. If you don’t wear your timepiece for a while, however, it will stop, and you will need to wind it by hand before putting it on again. If you need to adjust the time, you can pull the watch’s lug out a little to reposition its hands appropriately.


Mechanical Watch Care

Mechanical watches need a little TLC every once in a while. Some watches require daily winding, while others need to be wound every few days. You can wind your watch by hand, or you can use a watch winder. Either way, you should wind your watch until you feel a slight tension in the crown. Avoid over-tightening the mechanism, or you risk damaging the watch’s movement. To keep your watch mechanism in good working order, store your timepiece in a lined box. If the movement itself needs servicing, you can take your watch to a watchmaker or jeweler.


Quartz Movements: An Overview

A watch with a quartz movement draws its potential energy from a battery source rather than a mainspring. The battery sends a current through an integrated circuit, which applies electricity to a quartz crystal, which vibrates. After that, a stepping motor carries current to the movement’s dial train, causing the watch’s hour, minute, and second hands to move around the face. Unlike the second hand attached to a mechanical movement, which sweeps around the watch face, the second hand on a quartz watch ticks regularly and predictably.


Quartz Watch Care

You won’t find an intricate watch movement inside a quartz timepiece, but you will need to replace its battery every one or two years. It’s important to change the battery for a new one as soon as you notice your watch has stopped, because dead batteries can leak acid after a while, damaging your watch’s movement. Some quartz watches employ solar power cells, which eliminate the need for battery changes entirely.