Starting as a jewelry for the wealthy, watches have grown over the years into an important timekeeping device for everyone. With hundreds of years of history, there are many types of watch movements invented along the way.
So how many types of watch movements are there? There are 8 types of watch movements currently:
- Automatic: It’s mechanical in nature (which means not using electric battery) and well regarded as the preferred watch type in some most expensive watches thanks to the unique characteristics found in it.
- Mechanical: Basically same as automatic but without the self-winding function.
- Quartz: The most common watch movement that you can see everywhere. Quartz watch uses an Integrated Chip (IC) & quartz crystal as its timekeeping and uses electricity from battery cells as its power source, making it a very cheap, affordable and accurate watch.
- Solar: It uses quartz watch’s timekeeping but instead of a battery cell, it has solar panel on it to harness the power of sunlight to automatically recharge it and don’t require frequent battery change.
- Automatic Quartz: A type of watch that marries the high accuracy of quartz movement with the self-charging capability a-la automatic watch to recharge its battery.
- Spring Drive: Invented by the Japanese watch company Seiko, spring drive is a hybrid type of watch movement that uses mechanical mainspring energy storage and an innovative quartz timekeeping which is regulated by electromagnetic with quartz vibration feedback. It’s famous for being revolutionary with high technical level (or should I say a very cool watch!) as well as having a true sweeping seconds hand.
- Electric: Electric watch is the first type of electrically powered watches which invented – which was then superseded by the more accurate and cheaper quartz watch. It uses electromagnetically charged device for its timekeeping mechanism.
- Smartwatch: This is the latest and hottest watch currently. It packed a lot of functions (from normal timekeeping to chronographs to phone notification) packed into a small watch-size device thanks to advancement in smartphone technology.
In this article, I’ll be going in detail through each one of these watch movement types as well as what you should expect from each of them. In addition, I’ll give a run through on who are best to get these movements.
1. Automatic Movement
Automatic watch is a type of watch that uses mechanical mechanism for timekeeping and rely on the natural wrist motion (or self-winding) of its wearer to keep recharging its power reserve. The timekeeping uses a balance wheel that will spin fast at a designated frequency to keep the period of 1 second.
The balance wheel will then move the seconds hand needle through a set of gears. These gears will also keep the time of minutes and hour hands (as well as day & date indicators, if any).
The whole movement was kept moving by a mainspring that stores potential energy. As the mainspring tends to unwind, it will move the gears attached to it, which will set the whole motion of the watch. This mainspring is keep winded by using self-winding mechanism through a weighted rotor (that you can see at the back of the watch) which will spins freely following the wrist’s motions.
Yes, there’s a lot of things going on inside it. This makes automatic watch a highly technical and complicated device. Due to this, it is currently the de-facto movement in most of luxury watches. So if you see a Rolex, Omega, Patek, etc on a magazine or billboard, chances are you’re looking at an automatic watch.
It’s actually the younger sibling of the mechanical watch (which will be discussed next) but with the main difference of having the self-winding mechanism. The addition of this mechanism makes automatic watch an easy-to-use watch compared to the mechanical watch that needs continuous manual winding.
I, for one, am a fan of automatic watch due to its unique characteristics. It’s one of the devices that we have around us that does not rely on electric/electronic to do something very useful and hard to do, which is timekeeping.
I love the feel of a moving mechanical part on my hand which is very different from the typical smartphones or laptops that I use every day. It’s a cool little device that has a lot of things going on in it.
In addition, most automatic watches are made with great craftsmanship, more so than normal quartz watches. This makes automatic watches more special to own.
So if you want something out-of-ordinary, cool and looks great, automatic watch is the one for you.
(If you want to learn more, read about from my previous articles on what is automatic watch and how does it work)
2. Mechanical Movement
Mechanical watch is a watch that uses mechanical mechanism to keep time with its power supplied by a mainspring that must be wound periodically. It’s the same as the automatic watch but without the self-winding mechanism. For a mechanical watch, the winding must be done manually by rotating the crown.
For example, the lack of self-winding mechanism makes the mechanical watch a simpler watch with lesser material count, making it lighter and has slimmer profile. It’s also less complicated and will cost less to service.
(Yes, all mechanical watches (automatic included) need to be serviced. Read my previous article on how often should you service yours)
In addition, mechanical watches are also cheaper than its automatic counterparts. While these advantages looks great, do bear in mind that you will have to manual wind the watch once every 1 – 3 days depending on the power reserve, which makes it not a good choice for a watch that you will wear daily.
But once you already have some experiences with automatics, then you can get a mechanical watch just to try it out and expand your watch collection.
3. Quartz Movement
The next type of watch movement is quartz watch which I’m pretty sure you’ve heard or read about it in the clocks around you. Quartz watch is a type of watch that uses integrated circuit regulated by quartz crystal’s vibration to keep time.
The integrated circuit keeps time using the feedback from the quartz crystal’s vibration (quartz is a piezoelectric material and will vibrate at a consistent frequency when being supplied electricity). The IC then moves an electric motor to move the watch hands and keep time (this part is typical for almost all watches with analog display).
It’s currently the most common watch all over the world. In fact, I’m pretty sure your first watch might even be a quartz watch!
The reason for its ubiquity is due to its affordability and accuracy. As we all know, the price of an IC and plastics have really gone down in the past decades. This makes quartz watches price (which uses both) to really drop down so much so it’s very affordable. In addition, the fact that it can be mass-produced makes it much cheaper to produce.
Another great advantage of quartz watches is its accuracy. Who could have imagined a humble quartz crystal can be the heart of a very accurate watch.
In addition to these, quartz watch is also robust and lightweight as it does not have many moving parts inside it. The only disadvantage is the need to replace its battery cell once every few years, which actually don’t really cost much and can be done very fast.
Due to these traits, quartz watch is the best for the first watch of your young children. It’s cheap, lightweight and robust form make it a good watch for those beginning to learn how to wear a watch. It’s also is the best watch for those that values accuracy and ease of use.
(To learn more about quartz watch and how it works, read my previous article here).
4. Solar Movement
Solar watch is basically a quartz watch with the function of recharging its battery by solar power. It was invented to solve the only disadvantage of quartz watch – the need to change its battery every 1-2 years.
On a solar watch’s dial, there is a solar photovoltaic panel that changes light into electric, provided that the light source is bright enough. The electricity will then be stored in either a battery cell or a capacitor. Some of the most popular solar watch brands are Citizen’s Eco Drive, Seiko Solar and Casio’s G-Shock lines.
As our daily lives are always full of light, we can easily charge the watch by simply wearing it through the day or putting it by a light source (sunlight, lamp, etc.).
This makes solar watch a very easy to use watch that you can just buy and use it until it breaks down on its own (which can be many years after) without needing to change its battery.
In addition, I find that solar watch works well to be coupled with chronographs or other functions that uses a lot of electricity. As the watch can easily recharge itself, these functions won’t be a big problem for the watch. On a normal battery-powered watch, you need to be aware that using these functions will cut down the battery life sooner.
5. Automatic Quartz Movement
Automatic quartz watch is a hybrid of quartz and automatic watches whereby the watch uses self-winding mechanism (taken from automatic watch), store it in a battery cell or capacitor and then uses quartz watch’s timekeeping device.
The self-winding mechanism is similar to automatic watch but it has a faster and less resistance spin. This is needed so that the rotor can spin a mini-dynamo inside the watch to generate electricity as your wrist moves with the watch.
The electricity is then stored inside the battery or capacitor to be used for running the watch’s quartz movement. Currently, only the Seiko’s Kinetic brand is the most popular automatic quartz watch out there.
Automatic quartz one of the innovation that seeks to improve upon the quartz need for battery change (apart from solar watch above) as the self-winding mechanism will ensure the watch to run for up to 10 years before it will need any battery change.
One disadvantage with automatic quartz is its bigger and heavier than a normal quartz watch due to the self-winding rotor and mechanism. It’s also quite hard to charge it to full since you will need to wear it for some time. This is one of the reason why I personally prefer the solar watch over it.
With solar watch, the watch is much smaller, lighter and can be easily charged by just letting it sit under a light source (sunlight, fluorescence light, etc.) as long as it’s bright enough. This is much easier to do than having to wear the automatic quartz watch to charge it (which can be a challenge if you have many watches in your collection).
With that being said, automatic quartz watch is still a good option if you want a maintenance-free quartz watch with some mechanical moving parts inside it.
6. Spring Drive Movement
The next watch movement type is Spring drive which is a movement exclusive to Seiko that uses tri-synchro regulator controls inside it for timekeeping with the usual self-winding mechanism in an automatic watch.
It was invented it in 2005 and is famous for being revolutionary as it marries automatic movement and taking some elements of quartz watch to make it more accurate.
Due to its high complexity, spring drive movement is expensive and typically reserved for higher end Seiko watches such as Grand Seiko and Credor models.
The spring drive has a self-winding and mainspring to store its power reserve, just like how automatic watches have. What sets it apart is the timekeeping mechanism.
If the typical automatic/mechanical watch has wheel balance assembly, spring drive uses it tri-synchro device that is revolutionary in watchmaking. It has a glide wheel that continuously spinning connected to the time display gears (and seconds hand).
How it keeps time is by using an electromagnet that slows down this glide wheel. The electromagnet takes the input from an integrated circuit that has the vibration feedback from a quartz crystal (much like how quartz watch operates).
In short, there’s a whole lot of things going on inside a spring drive movement. It has various types of energy inside it (potential, mechanical, electrical, electromagnetic), more than what a typical automatic or quartz watch have.
(If you want to learn more about how spring drive watch works, you can read my previous article here)
Although one can argue that a high-accuracy quartz watch can be more accurate than spring drive, the charm of it is in its various parts of mechanism that for once is truly a hybrid of the elements from automatic and quartz movements.
In addition, spring drive also has the glide motion that is a true sweeping seconds hand on the dial, unlike the seconds hand on an automatic watch which is actually the hand jumping 6/8 times in a second. This glide motion is made possible thanks to the tri-synchro movement.
If you’re in for a luxury watch with unique movement, then the spring drive watch from Seiko is a great option.
7. Electric Movement
Electric movement is usually referring to the initial types of watches that was powered by electric from battery cells. It was not produced nowadays as it was superseded by the more accurate and reliable quartz watch.
The timekeeping element in an electric watch can either be a traditional balance wheel (as in an automatic/mechanical watch) or a tuning fork. In both designs, there will always be an electromagnet that help to keep the time. The first electric watch that was available to masses was the Hamilton 500 in 1957.
Although you might run into one of these once in a while on eBay, do note that it can be very difficult to find parts to repair the watch. This means that you should only buy these electric watches if you’re a collector and likes these devices. Otherwise, it will take some expertise and money to maintain which can be out of the capability of an average watch user.
Last but not least is smartwatch. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard, seen or even have one of these watches. It’s actually a big collective term for a watch that can do a lot more than a normal quartz watch.
Although smartwatch is currently popular thanks to the likes of Apple Watch and Samsung Gear, it was already around decades ago.
The first digital watch was invented by Pulsar in 1972. It was then one of the hottest gadget as for once, watches have a digital display instead of the usual analog display (though I can say that the trend have somewhat reversed nowadays as most people prefer analog display).
From then on, watch technology continued to advance. Who can forget those mini-calculator watches that can also store some memory from the likes of Seiko and Casio? There was also a watch that can display TV programs and play games.
Currently, there are a lot of smartwatches in the market with much better hardware and software. From being an extension of smartphones, current trend seems to combine smartwatches with fitness related functions (fitness tracking, heart-beat sensor, sleep tracking, GPS, etc.).
With such advancements, smartwatches have been making watches more useful than it ever was. If you’re looking for a device that can do a lot of things in a small footprint, smartwatches is your best option.
Which Type Of Watch Movement Is The Best?
The choice of which watch movement type is the best will depend on various factors such as what you want to do with your watch, what is your budget and what is your preference will be.
Currently, smartwatch is the hottest gadgets right now due to its huge cool factor as well as being able to do a lot of things such as sync to your phone for notifications/calls etc., track fitness/steps, GPS and so on. If you’re inclined to follow the latest tech, then smartwatch might be your preferred watch type.
But if you don’t prefer these types of wearable tech and prefers old-fashion watches, then there are a plethora of watch movements that you can choose.
From here, the selection will depend on what is your highest priority in a watch. If you want a dead accurate watch, then quartz based watch movements will do the trick. Personally, I’d say the solar watch is a good option for quartz watch as it’s automatically recharged as you use it throughout the day. It’s definitely is a service-free type of watch that you can just wear and forget about maintaining it.
But if you don’t really care about accuracy, then the automatic and mechanical movements can be good options. Although most people say that these watches are expensive, there are more affordable options out there which is even cheaper than an Apple Watch (check out my selection of the most affordable automatic watches).
These watches will need some time adjustment every 1-2 weeks or so as it has some daily deviations. Although that is the case, nothing can beat automatic/mechanical watch in terms of uniqueness as it’s run entirely based on mechanical energy.
What is watch movement? Watch movement is the mechanism that runs the watch which can also be known as caliber.
I hope this article about types of watch movement will be useful to you. Do let me know if you have further questions by commenting below.