Watch Movements 101: What Are The Differences?

Chronoswiss Regulator

There was a time when the sole function of a watch was to tell the time. It sounds like a simplistic assertion, but these days a modern ’smart watch’ or wrist computer as we like to call them, can tell you what you had for breakfast, how fast your heart is beating, and remind you to take the dog for a walk.

Centuries ago, creating an autonomous clock or indeed chronometer into something useable, required a complex feat of micro-engineering. Having a wrist or pocket watch by which one could measure time on-the-fly was a lifesaver, available only - at least initially - to the rarefied few.

Technological developments and efficiencies have, of course, meant that the wristwatch has these days become a pervasive commodity. Telling the time is easy. A wristwatch is ubiquitous and can be afforded by many. So why do we still have so much choice?

To help answer this question, we wanted to outline three of the most common types of watch movements; three uniquely different ways that a fine watch can tell you the time. We hope that in the process you will be able to decide which might be best for you.

To begin with, let’s talk mechanical. The most traditional and historically prevalent way of telling the time. In truth, there are hundreds of variations of mechanical movements, but for the purposes of this article, we shall be talking about the two families - Manually-Wound movements, and Automatic movements.

Manually-wound movements require regular winding to generate the inertia to power the mainspring of the movement. All mechanical movements feature this spring, which becomes tensioned as you wind the watch, and in slowly releasing the stored energy, this spring powers a series of gears and an escapement, which oscillates sometimes several times per second to power the hands.

With the benefit of hindsight, manually-wound movements have become a charming reminder of how the very first mechanical watches functioned. To purists, having to wind your watch every day provides a level of ritualistic pleasure hard to replicate with other timepieces, and watches like the Chronoswiss Flying Grand Regulator typify the beauty and craftsmanship of such a timepiece.

Chronoswiss Regulator

A natural evolution from the hand-wound calibres found in early wristwatches, the Automatic movement works in a very similar way but instead utilises a rotor which naturally spins whilst the watch is being worn on your wrist. This is perhaps the most efficient and user-friendly way of mechanical timekeeping and is the most common mechanism for powering contemporary fine wristwatches.

There are a plethora of great automatic movements to choose from, and many of these self-winding mechanisms have been developed to power additional timekeeping complications such as chronographs. We love the Dubois et Fils DBF003 model for refined and superlative timekeeping.

DuBois caseback

Finally, there is the Quartz movement, which utilises a battery powered mechanism to tell the time. Inside a quartz watch, the battery sends an electrical current through a quartz crystal, which creates vibrations in the crystal. The frequency of these oscillations regulates the timekeeping functions of the watch which in turn moves the hands of the watch to tell you the time.

When first introduced in the late 1970s, this technology plunged the traditional mechanical watch industry into crisis; Quartz movements were easier to make, less expensive to produce, and afforded the wearer incredible timekeeping accuracy. Perhaps most importantly, the Quartz movement could be mass-produced to high standards and therefore mass-marketed to audiences who had never before owned a wristwatch.

But do not think less of the humble quartz watch, a previous blog of ours will show you how buying Quartz does not necessarily mean a compromise in quality or exclusivity, and we have many Swiss made precision Quartz timepieces in our range to choose from, including the fantastic Marathon Diver’s Quartz TSAR, which features a hand-assembled Swiss ETA F.06 Quartz movement.

Marathon Quartz TSAR

So there you have it. Whilst today’s smartwatches value functions and ‘apps’, we still believe it is not how many things a watch can do for you, it is simply how a watch tells you the time that really matters. Please contact us today if you want to learn more about how a Page & Cooper watch can tell you the time.