When you start familiarizing yourself with watches, one word that’s going to come up a lot is “movement.” Movement encompasses not only the sweep of a watch’s hands around its face, but the way its inner mechanisms produce that effect. A watch’s movement is fundamental in how it works and keeps time — consider it the “heart” of the watch.
Watch movements come in three types: mechanical, automatic, and quartz. Below we explain the differences between them and their pros and cons.
- No battery needed. Because a mechanical watch is powered by a hand-wound mainspring, you’ll never have to go to a jeweler to replace a battery. When the watch stops ticking, just wind it up.
- Smooth hand movement. For some folks, a smooth sweeping movement on the second hand is more aesthetically pleasing than the “tick tick tick” of quartz watches. If that’s important to you, go with a mechanical watch.
- Character. The engineering and work that goes into a mechanical watch is breathtaking. Inside your watchcase are tiny gears and springs that work together to give you the time. Sure, no one usually sees it, but that’s part of the charm; a watchmaker has spent hours and hours perfecting a mechanism that’s hidden from the eye. If you appreciate craftsmanship, then consider adding a mechanical movement watch to your collection.
- Tactile. For some, one of the appeals of a mechanical watch is that the owner must hand-wind it to keep it working. There’s something about the ritual of winding your watch at the end of the day that connects you more with time. There’s also something to be said for having to regularly tend to one of your possessions to keep it “alive” and ticking.
Cons of Mechanical Watches:
- Requires regular winding. While most mechanical watch mainsprings can go two days without winding, it’s recommended that you wind it once a day. As mentioned above, some folks get pleasure from this, but others find it a nuisance.
- Sensitive to the environment. Because a mechanical watch keeps time thanks to a bevy of intricate springs and gears, its movement can be highly susceptible to the environment. Moisture, dust, shocks, and magnets are the Four Horsemen of the Mechanical Watch Apocalypse. Thankfully, most modern varieties have been designed to withstand these elements, but care should still be taken. If you’re in an environment that puts you in frequent contact with moisture, dirt, magnets, and/or big bumps (like hammering or splitting wood), choose a quartz watch for daily wear and save the mechanical watch for dressier occasions.
- Not as accurate. While a well-crafted mechanical watch can keep time to 99.999% accuracy (which is about +/- 1 second a day), with age and use that accuracy starts to taper off. You’ll need to take your mechanical watch into a jeweler every 5 to 10 years for a tune-up to maintain its accuracy. What’s more, not all mechanical watches are created equal; some are more accurate than others. Finally, as mentioned above, environmental factors can deteriorate a mechanical watch’s accuracy. If strictly accurate timekeeping is your top priority, then you’ll want to opt for a quartz watch.
- Expensive. All that craftsmanship and precision engineering that goes into a mechanical watch is going to cost you extra. While there are some good mechanical watches in the sub-$500 range, most are more than that — often quite a lot more.