The Inner Workings of Mechanical Watches - Types of Watch Movements

The Inner Workings of Mechanical Watches - Types of Watch Movements

There are three different kinds of mechanisms that are known as movements. These are used by makers of watches to keep them ticking and to have them be able to tell time properly. The names given to the three types of movements are mechanical movement, automatic movement, and finally, quartz movement. 

Mechanical watch movement is the oldest type of watch movement. It is steeped in a very rich history of a few centuries of watchmaking. These are intricate watches and they are very interesting to look into. It becomes even more fascinating when you think of the time when these inventions in watchmaking were made some centuries ago. 

It is incredible when you think about how these watchmakers were able to put together such tiny components and have them work completely in harmony with one another. 

The three types of watch movements available out there all have their fans and followers in this day and age. However, it is important to note that the mechanical form of movement has become a bit outdated with the introduction of simpler and easier-to-maintain new types of watch movements. 

This is not to say that mechanical watches are no longer popular at all. They are still held very close to the hearts of both collectors and also enthusiasts alike. 

Even though the popularity of mechanical watches has dwindled a bit, the process of how they work has not become any less interesting at all. In the following few paragraphs, we will take a closer look at how mechanical watches work and we will also look at the three types of watch movements in more detail. 

Key Components Of Mechanical Watches

Mechanical watches happen to be made from a very large collection of very small and interconnected parts.

The mainspring is the most crucial part of a mechanical watch. This is what keeps the watch winding. This mainspring is a sort of small, circular and small piece of wounded steel that is interconnected with the wheel train of the mechanical watch. It is also connected to the escapement (a thing that is responsible for regulating the release of the stored energy in the mainspring.)

The wheel train, as it is known, can attach to the mainspring of the watch. The gears which are connected and the different components of the train of the wheel all turn at certain intervals and are regulated by the watch’s escapement. 

When we talk about the escapement, we are talking about parts of the watch that are the most delicate. Inside the assembly of the escapement we have the regulator, the balance wheel, and also the hairspring, this maintains the rate at which energy is released from the watch’s mainspring. This is what keeps the watch moving and ticking accurately. 

3 Types of Watch Movements Explained


This is the oldest type of watch movement. It is a completely manual and a type of hand-wound movement. This type of movement originally came to be around the 16th century. If we look at historical sources, we will see that Peter Henlein has been credited as being the inventor. He started developing these types of watches back in 1510 in Germany. 

When we talk about the mechanics of a watch, we have to start with the crown. With manual movements, they need to be wound about once a day to have them functioning properly. This is accomplished by taking out the crown (also known as the wheel side of the watch) to the first position and then turning it in a clockwise fashion till a small resistance is felt. 

The crown of the watch is responsible for coiling up the mainspring inside of the watch. This will cause it to store all of the energy. Then we have the escapement that moves the energy stored inside of the mainspring and distributes it through the small gears to get to the balance wheel of the watch. 

This balance wheel then oscillates in a sort of circular motion. It does this about five to ten times per second. The dial train then transmits the energy to the hands of the clock and makes them move following the meter of the watch’s balance wheel. 

It is important to note that this sort of regular movement is responsible for creating friction between the different components. Things like Jewel bearing can help with this regard. To set time on a manual watch, make sure the crown is pulled to the second location. The crown needs to be turned clockwise till the hands of the watch reach their correct position. 


This self-winding or a sort of automatic wristwatch came to be in the 1770s. It was made by a Swiss watchmaker who went by the name of Abraham-Louis Perrelet. However, this type of watch did not become popular till the First World War. 

This increase in popularity can be traced back to the fact that these watches were much more convenient and also more reliable than their competitors. The way to wound these watches is to simply wear them. You do not need to wind it up on a day-to-day basis. 

The components of these watches are not that dissimilar to those of manual watches. The main difference is the rotor. This is a series of gears which has a half-moon-shaped weight attached to the watch’s mainspring. The rotor can swing freely in any direction that your wrist moves in. 

This movement makes the gears turn and this in turn winds the watch’s mainspring. Once the wounding is completed, a small sort of clutch will prevent it from winding any further. 

Quartz Watch 

The quartz movement is by far the most accurate and also the most value-for-money movement that is in production today. You do not need to wind these watches like you would have to with mechanical watches. This is because a battery is used to operate these movements. 

Quartz watch movements are centered around its battery instead of its mainspring. Constant electrical charge is carried between the battery and the quartz crystal. The quartz then vibrates because of the electricity and this allows it to generate a voltage. The quartz crystal can vibrate at an incredible rate of almost 33,000 vibrations each second. 

Watches using the quartz movement are a lot more reliable than their counterparts. They are also better and much more accurate timekeepers. One thing to note about these watches is that their batteries do not last forever. When these watches go through regular usage, their batteries will last anywhere from about 12 months to 24 months at one go. 

After this period is over, they will need to be replaced. You must replace batteries as soon as they are out of order. Otherwise, there is a strong chance that they will leak acid and this can seriously damage the parts of the movement. 

Why Do Mechanical Watches Tick? 

These watches make the characteristic clicking sound inside the escapement of the watch every single time the pin holding the escape wheel latches on the teeth of the watch’s wheel. The balance wheel then allows the escape wheel to do a sort of spin and the pin that is responsible for holding the escape wheel in place lifts, it catches the escape wheel and it then makes the ticking noise we are all so familiar with.

Mechanical Watch: What Holds It Together? 

The intricate and delicate things that are inside a mechanical watch and things that keep it ticking are all helped by a very strong support system. The bottom side of the mechanical watch is known as the main plate of the watch. This is what holds all the inner parts of the watch together. It helps to support them and prevents them from moving around and shifting out of their places. 

On top of the main plate, a mechanical watch has a long list of gears, bridges, and cogs. Directly on top of the main plate is the balance bridge. This is responsible for holding the balance wheel. The balance wheel is easily the most delicate thing inside a mechanical watch. 

The oscillation of the balance wheel is what makes the escape wheel release. This allows the stored energy to be released as the mainspring starts the process of unwinding. 

On top of the balance bridge, we have what is known as the pallet bridge. The pallet bridge houses the pallet fork of mechanical watches. Attached pretty strongly to the balance wheel we have the pallet fork housing the escape wheel. 

This is released periodically as the balance wheel goes on about oscillating. This process of oscillation and also release is what allows the escapement to be able to regulate the energy released from the mainspring of the watch. 

If we go even above the pallet plate, we will find the wheel train bridge. This is a series of gears that are interconnected and those that connect the mainspring to the escapement. Without this wheel train, the energy released from the mainspring would not be properly regulated. 

Finally, on top of the bridge layer of all mechanical watches, we have something known as the barrel bridge. This layer is where the mainspring is located and it connects to the wheel train and also the escapement. 

All Parts Matter 

All of the parts in a mechanical watch play a very important role in its proper functioning. They all play a major role in making sure the release of energy from the watch’s mainspring is regulated properly. Without this intricate balance of the different components working together, mechanical watches would not function properly. 

The watch would become inaccurate or it would stop functioning altogether. One thing that is important to point out is that due to the sheer number of intricate parts that are in a mechanical watch, any potential problems arising will need to be handled by expert professionals in the field. 

With that being said, it still has to be pressed on to the reader that mechanical watches are still very intriguing. They work via a combination of pure ingenuity by humans and also an expert level of craftsmanship. 

Because these watches are made so intricately, they make these particular timepieces both artworks and also collectible items. Often, when mechanical watches are appraised, their value comes to thousands of dollars. This is due to the insane level of craftsmanship and the artistry that was used to make these watches.

The Mechanics 

These watches rely heavily on mechanical parts moving properly. This includes the gears and the springs that need to move correctly to move the different visible parts of the watch move correctly. This process has been refined by expert craftsmen over the last 600 years. 

Watches that use Quartz movement make use of electrical circuits and also a battery. These are far more accurate than their manual counterparts. However, watch collectors are more in favor of mechanical watches owing simply to the level of craftsmanship on display.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Types Of Watch Movements Are There?

There are three primary types of watch movements. They are:

  • Manual/Mechanical movements
  • Automatic movements
  • Quartz movements

Is Rolex Quartz Or Automatic?

All of the Rolex watches are mechanical. They use the automatic movements.
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