3 Types of Watch Movements: Quartz, Automatic and Manual Movements
A good watch is like an iceberg. You see enough on the wearer’s wrist to know what’s happening, but the real deal is under the surface. This ‘real deal’ is the wristwatch movement.
In simpler words, this movement is the gear train that drives all the activities – from the watch hands to chronograph functionality – on the timepiece.
What is a wristwatch movement?
The movement refers to the style and construction of the mechanism on which your watch works. It is the principle that drives the watch to perform its timekeeping and other functions.
How many watch movement types are there?
Depending on who you ask, there are from a few to a lot of these movements.
Breaking it all down, though, there are only three basic kinds worth looking at. They are:
Quartz watch movements
These quartz watch movements are the most common today and for the reason that they are easy to maintain and use.
The basic tell-tale of quartz movements is the presence of a small battery that powers the watch. If you have more than one watch right now, there is a very high chance that most of them are on the quartz movement.
Quartz crystal watches do not need a mainspring since they store their power in the batteries instead.
The manual watch requires a manual winding of the watch crown to work.
Before use, the watch is wound and the kinetic energy from this movement is stored in a mainspring. The power is slowly dissipated into the watch mechanism itself till it needs to be wound again.
Automatic watch movement
The automatic movement is almost like the one in the manual watch too, save for the fact that it is self-winding. The watch gets its power from the movement of the wearer’s wrists, stores that power in a mainspring, and gently dissipates the power to the watch.
That said, you could also come across other movements like:
- Swiss quartz movement – a basic quartz wristwatch with the movement made in Switzerland/ Swiss regions, and most parts are sourced from Swiss regions too. Still a battery-powered watch.
- Japanese quartz movement – developed on the Japanese philosophy of minimalism and functionality, but still a battery-powered movement
- Swiss automatic movement
- Japanese automatic movement
- And more.
Most new movements in the market are only a variation of the first three above. So, to answer the question, there are three wristwatch movements out there.
What is the most accurate automatic watch movement?
Accuracy is not the same thing as precision.
Depending on how you keep and store your automatic watches, they might not be the most precise timepiece that you own. But then, they can be pretty accurate.
Now, there are a series of factors that could make a mechanical movement the most accurate. Here, we would have to look at all of them:
- Watchmakers' specs – even though they are sometimes exaggerated, they offer a closer look at what’s going on under the hood.
- Usage – automatic watches can be influenced by how they are used, and not used too. So, the wearing and storage habits of the user will have an impact on the outcome over a while.
- Balance wheel – or known as the balance spring, this mechanism regulates the per-second operation of the watch and can be tuned to varying levels of precision and accuracy
With that, some automatic movements that have come close to earning this title are the:
- Zenith Defy Lab movement
- The Calibre 360 Concept Chronograph; and
- TAG-Heuer Mikrogirder
Which type of watch movement is best?
There has been a series of arguments about which movement is the best – and there are a lot of sentiments in those arguments also.
Today, we are going to take a unique approach to all of these movements.
Now that we know what the quartz and mechanical movement (automatic and manual) are, how about a deep dive into them under different headings to see how they compare?
The quartz movement is, by far, the easiest to maintain between all of the choices here.
The movement is made such that the only thing you would ever need is to change the battery once every few years.
With mechanical movement (automatic or manual), the case is not the same.
When the watch hasn’t been worn for a time, for example, the oils in the gear train could get so hard that you need to see a service shop to get them working again.
Set a quartz watch once and it keeps time for life.
Well, till the battery runs out.
The same is not true for manual and automatic movement which can sometimes need daily winding. Even though you don't need to wind them per second, you have to remember the motion that gives them the power stored in their mainsprings.
Interestingly, many people favor the automatic watch because it is almost self-winding. Well, that is only when you are wearing the watch around your wrist or using the automatic watch winder when it is not in use.
That said, it is little wonder that the gear train of a mechanical movement is more complex than that of a quartz movements watch . From the inclusion of a balance wheel to a host of other components, the extras can get plentiful.
We have to hand the win to quartz watches here.
Due to all of the complexities of a mechanical movement watch, they are surely costlier than their quartz crystal counterparts.
Likewise, there are a lot of moving parts in the average mechanical watch. Thus, it has a higher metal weight, comes with more parts, and will command a higher premium.
Source of Power
If this is not already evident, a mechanical watch takes motion into account, getting its power from kinetic energy sources. The quartz movement relies solely on chemical energy – and sometimes renewable energy (such timepieces that get their power from solar energy, for instance) -stored in the battery.
Mechanical watches are designed to have better accuracy than quartz watches.
The former movement uses a lot of parts, a complex system of balance wheel and oscillations to keep close to the true time at every point. Little wonder these timepieces have been passed down as heirlooms for many generations.
However, they are prone to losing time. Since the time stops when you don't wear them for a while, quartz watches are hands-down winners in being correct almost all the time.
Which movement should you go for in 2021?
From the different types above, you can see that a functional watch would most likely be one with a quartz movement. You can invest in quality mechanical watch movements if you want something special.