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Watch Movements Explained (Quartz, Mechanical, & Automatic)

4 min

Here is a straightforward explanation of the three major watch movements you should consider before investing in any watch collection.

Orient Bambino V2

Horology and the interest of timepieces are a vast world unto themselves. I wouldn't consider myself to be a watch enthusiast per se. However, I am certainly someone who has developed an appreciation and general interest in the study of measuring time and watch craftsmanship.

As you can imagine, there is a lot that goes into watch-making. The individual gears and gizmos working together to keep the timepiece ticking is, to this day, quite the marvel.

Suppose you are one such person who is a bit lost about the different movement types for modern-day watches. In that case, this post is meant for you, as it will introduce the three types of watch movements you ought to know before getting into the hobby of starting (or even continuing) amassing a personal collection of timepieces.


Movement refers to the network of components that reside in a watch that enables it to tell time. Movement is often thought of as the engine which powers a timepiece.


Timex Weekender

This probably sounds the most familiar. Quartz movement relies on a small battery within the watch that transmits an electrical current to an installed quartz crystal that vibrates and causes the gears to turn consistently so the wearer can accurately tell the time.

This construction method was first pioneered by Seiko back in 1959 and has since prevailed in being the most appealing option for mass-market consumption due to its affordable implementation.

You will find many "fast-fashion" watch brands utilizing some variation of quartz movement for their watches.

Since quartz watches are battery-powered, they must eventually be replaced over time. Luckily, this is relatively easy to accommodate (in most cases); however, your mileage may vary depending on which quartz watch you opt for.

Purchase one or multiple quartz watches if you only care about a timepiece's appealing aesthetic. Suppose you're not enthused by the daily ritual of winding a watch or the general craftsmanship that goes into a mechanical timepiece's construction (as described in the following sections). In that case, quartz watches are the most affordable and straightforward choice.


Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical

Mechanical watches must be physically wound each day. However, some higher-end brands of automatic watches are crafted with enough storage efficiency, enabling them to last up to multiple days without needing to be wound.

Powering a mechanical watch happens by turning the crown (depicted below), which tensions the inner mainspring within the case. This mainspring slowly releases tension and provides power to the numerous networks of gears that enable the watch to tell time.

Watch Crown
Many watch enthusiasts admire the craftsmanship of mechanical timepieces and the practice of manually winding the watches each day. Just know that you must do the same if you invest in these. If this is something that you want to commit to doing and learning more about, then purchasing a mechanical timepiece can be a rewarding experience for you.


Automatic watches are categorized as mechanical because they fundamentally operate the same. What makes automatic watches different is that they don't require manual crown winding to tension the mainspring. Instead, automatic watches contain a weighted watch rotor (depicted below) that employs the kinetic energy stored by the natural movement of the wearer's wrist to tension the mainspring. This rotor will swing freely within the casing and simultaneously wind the watch "automatically" simply by moving and swinging the wrist.

Seiko SNK809

As you can guess, the accuracy of an automatic watch and its ability to continue ticking requires it to be worn on the wrist or rotated by a separate device to prevent it from dying. If left dormant for a prolonged period, the watch will continue operating again shortly after the rotor begins moving (but you will most likely need to recalibrate it to the correct time of day).

This movement type is relatively new and has only existed since the early 20th century. Most higher-end watch brands will have mechanical and automatic movement functionalities; therefore, they will typically be much more expensive than quartz watches.

I recommend purchasing one or multiple automatic watches if you are serious about horology or watch collecting. If money is no issue for you, then great, but if you are tight on cash, carefully consider an automatic timepiece purchase.


I get it; not everyone wears a watch, which is always apparent when people ask others "what the time is." But possessing a versatile timepiece isn't just crucial for knowing the time of day; it also completes your outfit.

Believe it or not, some accessories can afford you that extra flair to augment your outfit further. Just like how you choose to dress, possessing a timepiece generally says something about you, i.e., a man who values time and keeps it in mind, etc.

The watch doesn't need to be expensive; however, it must be well made to last and remain interchangeable. Take what you have learned from this short post and choose wisely how to spend your hard-earned dollars.



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