MECHANICAL VS. QUARTZ WATCH MOVEMENT: HOW DO THEY WORK

MECHANICAL VS. QUARTZ WATCH MOVEMENT: HOW DO THEY WORK

As mentioned on our previous post, mechanical movement preceded quartz technology by almost a thousand years. Unlike quartz or digital watches, which require a battery to run, mechanical movement harnesses the energy stored in a repeatedly-wound spring. There are two types of mechanical watches, manual and automatic. In this post we’ll explain in plain words and with plenty of illustrations how each of them works, and what “magic” allows quartz crystals to regulate a watch.

HOW A MECHANICAL WATCH WORKS:

Inside of a mechanical watch we will normally find the following units:

  1. Energy
  2. Wheels
  3. Escapement
  4. Controller
  5. Time Indicator.

It will be easier to understand how each unit works if we were to align the components in a row:

 

 

Energy
Every replica swiss watches needs a power-source. The unit includes a stem, which when rotated by the wearer, forward the motion to a “wounding gear”. This gear wounds the “main spring”. The latter is is a long, rolled up spring that sits inside of a round, flat “barrel”. The back of the barrel actually serves as yet another wheel, AKA the “barrel wheel”. When the main spring slowly unwinds, it rotates the barrel wheel it sits on. The barrel spring transfers the power onward, to the “gear train”(which is often referred to simply as “the wheels”).

 

The Wheels
The wheels serve two functions. First, they scales up the speed of the rotation driven by the mainspring. With their help, a sturdy, slow-turning spring such as the mainspring, can power a complex watch for days before completely unwinding.

Other than that, the middle wheel of the train is the element in the watch which is responsible for setting the rotation rate of the hours and minutes hands. How it does that? The whole gear train forwards the “raw” energy that comes from the barrel-wheel to the escapement mechanism. The escapement mechanism returns that energy at a regulated rhythm.

 

The Escapement and Oscillator (Controller)
Unlike others, the escapement wheel only spins in steps. This is achieved by having a pallet connected to the oscillator which serves as “breaks”. In other words, the escapement wheel provides power to the oscillator (pushes it), but “in return” its speed gets regulated.

The regulated pace of the escapement wheel dictates the movement speed of the gear train behind it. In the illustration you can see exactly how it does that. By the way, the edges of the pallet are usually set with gems, so they won’t wear out.

 

Time indicator
As said, thanks to the escapement and oscillator, the middle wheel of the train gear rotates at a steady rate. Attached to it the “cannon pinion” (another tiny-tiny wheel) that holds and turns the minute hand. It also spins a designated “hour wheel”, that moves the hour hand.

And that’s pretty much it