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The Dezeen Watch Store guide to: watch movements

What’s the difference between quartz, mechanical and automatic? Our guide to watch movements tells you all you need to know.

The watch world is full to the brim with industry terms and jargon, but there is one phrase in particular we think you shouldn’t overlook: movement.

While many people buy watches solely for their exterior, anyone with a real eye for design will know it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Watchmakers spend a vast amount of their time on this stage of the design process, and many aficionados insist that the inner workings are what separates a masterpiece from mediocrity.

So, what is the movement and why is it so important?

What makes you tick: the movement is one of the most important parts of a watch

What makes you tick — the movement is one of the most important parts of a watch (photograph of watch details courtesy of Shutterstock).         Top image: Uniform Wares 351 Series day/date movement

A WATCH’S HEART

Movement — also known as ‘calibre’ — is the engine that drives the hands around a watch face and powers additional features, including calendars, chronographs, and more.

Back of a Uniform Wares 302 Series chronograph movement showing jewels which act as bearings for the movement.

Back of a Uniform Wares 302 Series chronograph movement showing jewels which act as bearings for the movement.

There are a broad variety of movements available, ranging from automatic watches that wind themselves through kinetic energy, to the flamboyant and wildly pricy Tourbillon, which derives its energy from rotational motion.

However, the two you’re most likely to encounter when looking for a beautifully-designed watch are mechanical and quartz.

Luckily, it’s easy to distinguish between these two types; the former movement will cause the second hand to move in a smooth sweeping motion, while the latter causes it to move in individual ticks.

Crystal clear: Quartz in its raw form

Crystal clear: quartz in its raw form (photograph courtesy of Shutterstock)

QUARTZ

Although mechanical movements tend to attract the attention of luxury watch collectors, quartz timepieces are favoured for everyday use given their superior accuracy and reliability.

A battery contained in the watch sends an electrical pulse through a piece of quartz, which acts as an oscillator, causing it to vibrate exactly 32768 times per second.

These vibrations are counted by the circuit and converted into a single pulse every second — this pulse results in the consistent movement of the watch hands.

Quartz watches are lower maintenance because they contain less moving parts and use a battery as their main power source.

“They’re usually much cheaper, and of course you don’t have to worry about winding them up,” says Dezeen Watch Store’s Joe Cooper.

“Plus they’re more durable than mechanical watches, ideal for anyone with an active lifestyle as there’s fewer moving parts inside that need may need repairing,” he adds.

Two popular brands of quartz watches are London-based Uniform Wares, who use movements made by Swiss-based ETA, and Daniel Wellington.

“Both brands are understated, affordable and designed to last,” Cooper says.

MECHANICAL WATCHES

Instead of relying on battery power, mechanical watches rely on winding a spring, called a ‘mainspring’. This spring then transfers energy through a number of other springs and gears, which, in turn, powers the watch.

“A well designed and built mechanical watch should last you a lifetime as long as you take care of it,” suggests Cooper.

“Plus you don’t need to worry about any battery replacements, which are always an inconvenience.”

A great example of this in practice is VOID’s V03M — the first foray into the mechanical watch market by Hong Kong-based designer David Ericsson.

MOVING ABROAD

There are two countries whose expertise and skill in designing both quartz and mechanical movements attract the most plaudits: Japan and Switzerland.

The benchmark for quality has been set by the Swiss, but during the last 30 years or so Japanese-produced movements have more or less caught up.

Swatch of Switzerland and Seiko of Japan dominate the global production of quartz movements, and both craft movements for other brands.

Braun BN0032 in Black and White

Braun’s BN0032 is a prime example of Japanese movement in action, while its exterior is a fusion of German and British design. Available in Black and White

According to The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, counterfeit Swiss watches cost the market approximately £540m per year.

Uniform Wares 203 Series, Swiss-made movement by ETA

Uniform Wares 203 Series, featuring a Swiss movement by ETA

In order to protect the hard-earned reputation of Swiss watchmakers, strict measures have been employed to reduce the impact of copycats and cheap imitations.

For a wristwatch to earn a ‘Swiss-made movement’ label, it must contain 100% Swiss parts and ought to be assembled in Switzerland.

The Mondaine Evo Quartz is a twist on a traditional quartz, drawing inspiration from the clocks at those enviably efficient Swiss train stations.

BulBul Pebble white/brown — Ronda Swiss-made movement.

A contemporary take on a Swiss-made movement:the BulBul Pebble white/brown features a Ronda movement.

Armed with the above guide we’re hoping you’ll now be able to understand more about the heart of the watch you’re thinking of buying before you take it home.