The iconic Zenith El Primero caliber 3019 PHC manually-wound movementHey all, I wanted to start a new series! Obviously, many people here are already extremely knowledgeable about watches, but one of the joys of the hobby is spreading knowledge. Please let me know in comments if there's anything that the community would like to learn about. I definitely don't know everything (or even more than many people), but we have such a breadth of knowledge in the community that it would be a waste to not share! For this first installment, I'd like to talk about the (almost literal) heart and soul of every watch, the movement. WHAT IS A MOVEMENT? The movement of a watch refers to all of the internal workings that keep it running and telling the time. The movement includes, but is not limited to, components that store power to drive the rest of the movement, gears that turn the hands and run the complications, jewels/screws/plates that hold the whole thing together, etc. GLOSSARY OF TERMS Before we get too much into the nitty gritty of things, I'd like to go over some terms that you'll hear a lot when referring to watch movements.
Here you can see the difference between a manual wind movement (left, Lemania CH27) and automatic movement (right, Rolex 4030). The semicircle at the top of the automatic movement is the weighted rotor, which is absent on the manual wind.
Some automatic movements, such as this Laurent Ferrier Galet Micro-Rotor, have a smaller weighted rotor (as shown at 3 o'clock of this photo) instead of the full semicircle. These rotors are a little less efficient at winding the mainspring, but look darned cool.Here's a nifty little video that does a great job detailing how a mechanical movement works: Quartz movements, on the other hand, typically use a small battery to supply power and run an electrical current through a precisely cut quartz crystal to regulate the movement of the hands. Quartz was chosen because of its extremely precise oscillating frequency; when subjected to electrical charge, it will bend and flex. If cut to the right size and shape, it will resonate at 32768 Hz (235,929,600 vph). This number is significant for two reasons. First, it is too high of a frequency to be distinguishable to the human ear (imagine if your quartz watch whined while you wore it, that would get tiring extremely quickly), and it is a power of two. As a result, a small digital counter can easily subdivide the frequency to isolate one second digital pulses.
The ubiquitous Ronda 715 quartz movement
Rolex 5035 Oysterquartz movement
F.P. Journe Caliber 1210 quartz movement. Journe's decision to make a quartz movement is seen as controversial by some, as this watch is over $10,000. That being said, the technical considerations that went into this watch are astounding; the bridges and plates are made of rose gold, and the hands stop after thirty minutes of stillness to save battery. The microprocessor will continue to run and the hands will sync up as soon as the watch is moved.You can typically tell the difference between a mechanical and quartz movement by how the seconds hand moves. A seconds hand on a quartz watch will tick discrete seconds, jumping from one second to the next. Meanwhile, the seconds hand on a mechanical watch will “sweep” along. It is still ticking, just in smaller and quicker increments which contribute to a smooth glide around the dial. This is muddied a bit when you get into complications and haute-horology, some manufacturers (such as Jaeger-LeCoultre) make what is called a deadbeat or “true” second hand. These are purely mechanical watches, but the escapement and balance wheel is made in such a way that will cause the second hand to tick once a second. Whether this complication is enjoyed for precision or for whimsy is up to the owner of the watch. The hybrid movements are a very interesting section of watchmaking. These are movements that will combine aspects of both mechanical and quartz watches. Seiko, for instance, makes many “mecha-quartz” and kinetic movements. Mecha-quartz simply refers to a watch that uses a quartz movement for time-telling but a mechanical chronograph. Kinetic movements have a weighted rotor that winds power into the watch but uses a quartz timekeeping package to drive the hands. Another interesting movement is Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive. The Spring Drive uses a weighted rotor to wind power into a mainspring, just like a mechanical watch. It also generates an electrical current to regulate timekeeping, just like a quartz watch. However, the Spring Drive movement uses this electrical current to exert a magnetic braking force on a constantly spinning “drive wheel” (in place of the traditional escapement). As a result, the seconds hand of a Spring Drive will truly sweep, instead of the tiny ticks of a mechanical watch. It’s not quite mechanical and not quite quartz, it occupies a space all on its own.
Grand Seiko Spring Drive Caliber 9R65. The weighted rotor is up top, and you can see the glide wheel escapement in gold at around 7 o'clock in this photo.TECHNOLOGY AND ADVANCEMENTS Even though watchmaking is by now an ancient and storied industry, new innovations are constantly being developed and implemented. Quartz movements, in fact, were a result of technological advancements in the early 20th century and started becoming popular in the 1970's and 1980's during a period referred to as the “quartz crisis”. Many manufacturers saw quartz movements as the way of the future and started pouring all of their resources and time to develop the technology. As a result, many long-standing manufacturers went out of business as the demand for mechanical watches dwindled. Recently, we’ve started to see a renaissance of sorts as people begin to appreciate the tradition and artisanal workmanship of mechanical movements. New materials and manufacturing techniques are also starting to be incorporated heavily into movement manufacturing. Silicon in particular has seen an uptick in its use in escapements, springs, and levers; it is durable, lightweight, anti-magnetic, and resistant to permanent deformation, which makes it a logical material for use in parts that must move around a lot. Some notable watches that show the potential of silicon include the Ulysse Nardin Freak and the Parmigiani Fleurier Senfine Concept (boasting a SEVENTY DAY power reserve). Other industry leaders such as Rolex and Patek Philippe are also gradually incorporating more and more silicon into their movements. With all these giants pushing the envelope where they can, I’m personally interested to see where the industry moves next! WHICH IS BETTER? And here, we come to a debate that will likely get you heated replies from enthusiasts, casual watch wearers, and snobs alike. Objectively, a quartz watch will probably be more accurate and convenient than a mechanical watch. Batteries these days have come a long way; they generally have lifetimes of a couple of years. If you want to preserve a quartz battery, you can even pull the crown out when you store the watch for an extended period of time. This will stop the movement and extend the battery's life, but has a drawback of exposing the movement to more atmospheric stress. So, why do many enthusiasts love mechanical watches? That's a question to be answered by each individual, everyone gets into it for a different reason. For me personally, it's the workmanship that goes into putting hundreds of tiny moving pieces into something so precisely engineered and accurate to track the passage of time. There's something about mechanical movements that transcends the purely functional and becomes artistic in a way. I'm sure everybody who has fallen into this lifestyle has a million different reasons why it attracts them so strongly. Of course, there are those who are perfectly happy wearing a quartz watch and thinking nothing of it (or even wearing no watch at all); at the end of the day, this is a hobby and meant to bring you enjoyment. REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING