How do watches work? Mechanical vs. Quartz Watches
If you are looking to find out how a watch works, you first need to determine whether it is a mechanical or quartz watch. Although they operate under similar principles, there are some key differences, primarily in the way they are powered.
Mechanical watches don’t have a battery, circuitry, and they aren’t solar powered. The power behind the movements in your mechanical watch comes from a mainspring that must be wound either by hand or with a self-winding mechanism. A force is transmitted through a number of gears, in order to power the balance wheel. The balance wheel is a weighted wheel which goes back and forth at a constant rate. This is the ticking sound you hear. An escapement releases the watch’s wheels, moving forward with each swing and gradually moving the watch’s hand forward. This science is ultimately what allows a watch to tell time.
An automatic watch is a mechanical watch with a self-winding feature. Rather than having to manually wind the mainspring, an automatic watch uses the natural movement of the wearer to provide energy to wind the mainspring.
In contrast, a traditional mechanical watch is referenced to as a ‘manual watch’. There are 130 components that make up a mechanical watch and each one of these microscopic pieces must be precise in size. Although they are not always as accurate as quartz watches, you don’t have to worry about your battery dying. Mechanical watches should be maintained and need to be cleaned by a watchmaker.
A quartz watch is powered by a battery. It uses a small piece of quartz crystal to serve as the oscillator. The quartz may be placed like an integrated circuit or as a tuning fork. Through an electronic circuit, the battery sends electricity to the quartz crystal. The quartz oscillator then vibrates quickly while the circuit counts the vibrations and generates regular pulses. Theses pulses are what drives the watch’s hand, displaying the time which can be done numerically through an LCD display or by powering the second, minute and hour hands of the watch. The quartz watch doesn’t have the same long history as a mechanical watch as it was first produced in the late 60s, yet it has become a very popular choice over the years resulting in many fine watchmakers crafting quartz watches. A watch battery can last several years before you need to replace it and provides the most accurate time.
A watch is a small piece with a lot going on. Knowing how a watch works gives you a new perspective on your time piece and can help you make the right choice for your future purchase. When you understand the innerworkings of a watch you can appreciate the complexity and understand why a quality watch will come come with a higher price tag.
What do you prefer, a mechanical or quartz watch? Let us know in the comments below!