Automatic Watch Guide
An Expert Guide to Automatic Watch Movements
To truly appreciate the beauty of a luxury timepiece, you must first understand how it functions. There are several components of a timepiece that are essential to its operation. For example, the internal mechanism, called the caliber, contributes to a watch’s movement by keeping the hands in motion. However, with different types of timepieces, the way the caliber works might change. Our expert guide to automatic watch movements will explore these complicated mechanisms and how they help our watches keep time.
What is an Automatic Watch Movement?
When it comes to watch movements, there are two types—mechanical and quartz. While a quartz movement relies on a battery to operate, a mechanical movement can be further broken down into two more categories—automatic and manual. Mechanical movements consist of many tiny gears and springs which must be wound to work together to keep time. The automatic movement is known as a “self-winding” mechanism because it does not require the crown to be wound daily. While quartz movements offer convenience, automatic and manual movements represent centuries of expertise and craftsmanship, thus making it more appealing to a watch aficionado.
The Difference Between a Quartz Watch and an Automatic Watch
Although a quartz watch is powered by a battery and an automatic watch is powered by an internal gear system using stored energy, they often have minimal contrasts in appearance. Perhaps the simplest way to tell the difference is by closely examining a watch’s delicate second hand. In a quartz movement, this hand will move with a distinct tick-tick movement that propels it forward once per second. The second hand of an automatic watch will move with a sweeping motion that is as fluid as the natural passing of time.
The Inner Workings of an Automatic Watch
Automatic watches rely on the rotor, an internal metal weight, to give them power. This weight is attached to the movement and oscillates freely within the watch. Whenever the watch is in motion from the movement of the wearer’s wrist, the rotor spins, creating stored energy in the mainspring that is transferred through the gear train and the dial train until it is released.
Key Terminology for Automatic Watch Movements
To better understand the inner workings of automatic watch movements, familiarize yourself with the following key terms:
For automatic watch movements, the mainspring is the main power source. It is powered by turning the crown, which creates and transfers kinetic energy to the mainspring. This energy can build up, causing the mainspring to get tighter, which allows the energy to be stored for prolonged use.
The small wheel on the side of the watch, known as the crown, needs to be turned by hand. This is how the watch is wound which allows it to keep running.
As the stored energy is transferred from the mainspring, it passes through a series of small gears, known as the gear train, which are responsible for using that energy to make the hands and various complications of a watch operate.
This is what controls the stored energy within the watch, similar to an internal braking system. As stored energy is transferred from the mainspring to the gear train, the escapement allows it to be dispersed in equal parts.
This weighted wheel works similarly to a pendulum. It beats in a circular motion around five to ten times per second, allowing the gear train to disperse its energy at a steady pace.
Similar to the gear train, this set of internal gears is the specific component that takes the energy from the balance wheel and transfers it in equal parts to the hands of the watch.
These synthetic rubies, placed at the center of a gear, prevent wear-and-tear of the gear from heat and friction, allowing it to stay in continuous motion.
This piece is a half-circle metal weight attached to the movement. As the wearer moves their wrist naturally throughout the course of their day, the rotor swings freely within the timepiece, creating energy that is then stored in the mainspring. When enough energy is stored and the mainspring is fully wound, the rotor’s clutch is engaged, which prevents the rotor from sending an unnecessary overload of energy to the mainspring.