Mechanical (Automatic) Watches
Mechanical watches are made up of about 130 parts that work together to tell time. Automatic mechanical movements mark the passage of time by a series of gear mechanisms, and are wound by the movement of your wrist as you wear it. The gear train then transmits the power to the escapement, which distributes the impulses, turning the balance wheel. The balance wheel is the time regulating organ of a mechanical watch, which vibrates on a spiral hairspring. Lengthening or shortening the balance spring makes the balance wheel go faster or slower to advance or retard the watch. The travel of the balance wheel from one extreme to the other and back again is called oscillation. A series of gears, called the motion work, then turns the hands on the watch face, or dial. See illustration below.
Quartz Crystal Watches
Quartz watches work with a series of electronic components, all fitting together in a tiny space. Rather than a wound spring, a quartz watch relies on a battery for its energy. The battery sends electrical energy to a rotor to produce an electrical current. The current passes through a magnetic coil to a quartz crystal, which vibrates at a very high frequency (32,768 times a second), providing highly accurate timekeeping. These impulses are passed through a stepping motor that turns the electrical energy into the mechanical energy needed to turn the gear train. The gear train turns the motion work, which actually moves the hands on the watch dial.
The movement of a watch refers to the mechanics that power the ticking of the timepiece, and there are two main choices when it comes to analog watches (watches with hour hands and are not digital), quartz or automatic. What you choose really comes down to what you’re looking for in a watch. There are many ways to look at what’s attractive about both types of watches, but one way to look at it is the quartz watch as more practical and the automatic watch as more emotional.
The majority of watches made today utilize the vibrations of a tiny quartz crystal to maintain timing, with the power coming from a battery that needs to be replaced every 2 to 3 years. Watches with quartz movements are more accurate, losing about a minute of accuracy over a year, and they can have either analog or digital displays, or both.
Some quartz watches are solar-powered, storing light that enters through the dial face, which eliminates visits to the jeweler to change the battery.
Atomic watches can be calibrated daily (or several times a day) via radio signals from an atomic clock (such as the one located in Fort Collins, Colorado). Atomic time is measured through vibrations of atoms in a metal isotope that resembles mercury. The result is an extremely accurate time that can be measured on instruments. Radio waves transmit this exact time throughout North America, enabling some atomic watches to correct themselves to the exact time.
Automatic watches are made up of about 130 or more parts that work together to tell time. Automatic movements mark the passage of time by a series of gear mechanisms, and are wound by the movement of your wrist as you wear it. The gear train then transmits the power to the escapement, which distributes the impulses, turning the balance wheel. The balance wheel is the time regulating organ of a mechanical watch, which vibrates on a spiral hairspring. Lengthening or shortening the balance spring makes the balance wheel go faster or slower to advance or retard the watch. The travel of the balance wheel from one extreme to the other and back again is called oscillation. Lastly, automatic movements come in different types, including movements that are Swiss-made, Japanese-made, and more.
Also referred to as self-winding, watches with automatic movements utilize kinetic energy, the swinging of your arm, to provide energy to an oscillating rotor to keep the watch ticking. They’re considered more satisfying to watch collectors (horologists) because of the engineering artistry that goes into the hundreds of parts that make up the movement. If you do not wear an automatic watch consistently (for about 8 to 12 hours a day), you can keep the watch powered with a watch winder (a great gift for collectors). You should refer to your owner’s manual for recommended service intervals.
Automatic Watch Maintenance
Although automatic (also called “mechanical”) watches do not have batteries, some easy-to-follow maintenance is necessary for continued and long-lasting good use. Self-winding automatic watches depend on the movement of the arm to operate and do require some winding, even if you wear your watch on a daily basis. If you wear your automatic watch every day, it is best to wind it once every two weeks to keep the wheels in motion and oil fluid. Simply wind the crown (the same knob used to adjust the time and date) until you meet slight resistance If you do not wear your automatic watch every day, you should try to wind it at least twice a week to ensure continuous operation, as well as keeping the inside mechanism in complete running order. If you have a mechanical watch, it is best to wind it at the same time every day. This is extremely beneficial for the mechanism. You may want to make it a routine, winding it every morning when you wake up. If your watch has a day/date function, avoid setting the day and/or date at night. The day-date mechanism is activated during the nighttime hours and could be disrupted if set at this time.
What is the difference between a Mechanical Movement and an Automatic movement?
A mechanical movement is a movement based on a mainspring which when wound slowly unwinds the spring in an even motion to provide accurate timekeeping. As opposed to a manual mechanical watch which needs to be wound on a consistent basis, an automatic mechanical requires no winding because of the rotor, which winds the mainspring every time you move your wrist (see our section on automatic watch maintenance for more details).
Eco-drive was created by Citizen and has earned recognition in the watch industry as a leader in ecologically-friendly timekeeping. Citizen Eco-Drive runs continuously in any kind of light (natural or artificial) for a lifetime of use without a battery. The Eco-Drive movement absorbs light through the crystal and dial. Inside the watch, a solar cell converts the light to the energy required to make the watch run.
Referring to the Seiko line of Kinetic watches, this innovative technology has a quartz movement that doesn’t use a battery. Movement of the wearer’s wrist charges a very efficient capacitor that powers the quartz movement. Once the capacitor is fully charged, men’s models will store energy for 7-14 days without being worn and ladies’ models will store energy for 3-7 days. The watch alerts the wearer to a low capacitor charge when the second hand starts to move in two-second intervals.
Over the past 20 years, Seiko has created a suite of Kinetic movements, each bringing unique features to the consumer. It was at the 1986 Basel Fair that Seiko unveiled its first Kinetic prototype. Introduced under the trial name of AGM, it was the first watch in the world to convert kinetic movement into electrical energy. It was the first step in a development that, 20 years later, has made Kinetic synonymous with environmental friendliness, high performance and long-lasting convenience to a generation of users worldwide. From the launch in 1988 of the first commercially available watch (then under the new name AGS) until today, over 8 million Kinetic watches have been sold (as of 2007).
In 1998, Kinetic Auto Relay was released, extending the ‘at-rest’ operating period of the watch to a remarkable 4 years. 1999 brought the launch of the Ultimate Kinetic Chronograph, a masterpiece which fused the very best of Seiko’s mechanical and electronic watchmaking skills, and in 2003, another Kinetic Chronograph was launched. At Baselworld 2005, the Kinetic Perpetual made its first appearance, combining Kinetic convenience and longevity with a perpetual calendar, correct to the year 2100. Most recently in 2007, Seiko’s emotional technology Kinetic Direct Drive was introduced.
It might be stereotypical, but it’s true. Many of the world’s finest and most accurate timing movements, be they quartz or automatic, are created in Switzerland. Swiss-manufactured movements are found in a wide swath of watches sold worldwide, but a timepiece can only be awarded the coveted Swiss-made label if the movement is made and then subsequently encased in Switzerland.
Most watches are sturdy enough to protect against normal everyday wear and tear, including light bumps. If you’re going to be engaging in intensive athletic activity, you may want a watch that is also shock-proof. For example, G-Shock by Casio is an extensive line of shock-proof watches.
Shock-resistance confirmed by free-fall test simulating actual usage conditions. Vibration Test Vibration resistance confirmed by vibrating for 20 minutes or longer with a testing machine generating a 19.6 m/s sine wave. Hammer Test Shock-resistance further confirmed by striking the watch at rest with a hammer in a 180-degree rotating trajectory. Water-Resistance Test Retention of water-resistance capability confirmed by underwater pressurization at 200 meters for 5 minutes or longer.