How Do Mechanical Watches Work?

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By the Best Watch Advice Team, 1st of September 2022

The rap game has many OGs. Dr Dre, Ice Cube, Ice T. However, the watch game only has one OG and that is the mechanical watch. The mechanism used in mechanical watches is one of the first-ever mechanisms invented to keep time. Answering the question of how do mechanical watches work is a simple enough answer.

They work beautifully. Many watch enthusiasts love them for that very reason. The engineering involved in creating these timepieces is truly spectacular. So today let us delve into how does a mechanical watch work?

What is a Mechanical Watch?

Owning a mechanical watch is like owning a piece of watch history. They take things back a step or two from the modern phenomenon of quartz battery-powered watches.

The mechanical watch’s complex inner workings are the result of over 600 years of expert craftsmanship. This watch design has stood the test of time and is just as loved as they were all those years ago.

Perhaps another reason these watches are still around is that mechanical watches are also extremely durable. A good mechanical watch can last a lifetime if they are looked after correctly. They are often kept as family heirlooms and are passed down from generation to generation.

Mechanical watches do require a considerable amount of upkeep, however, this upkeep and if necessary repair extends their longevity.

SO with that said, let’s answer the main question, how do mechanical watches work?…
 

How do Mechanical Watches work?

I think it’s fair to call the mechanical watch the forefather of automatic and quartz movements. It is also fair to call the mechanical watch movement the oldest, most elaborate and intricate of all watch movements.

So, how do mechanical watches work? Well, unlike the automatic watch’s self-winding mechanism, the mechanical watch requires it to be self-wound regularly. 

Once the watch has been wound using the crown it loads up the mainspring. This mainspring slowly unwinds to move the tiny gears. These gears then in turn power the balance wheel which oscillates back and forth at a constant rate to keep the watch turning for anywhere between 40-50 hours.

The second hand on a mechanical watch sweeps across the watch face just like the automatic watch. However, some people mistakenly say manual watches tick. Mechanical watches tick due to a click inside the escapement every time the pin that the escape wheel catches the teeth of the wheel.

Key components of a Mechanical Watch

Many of the key components that make up the mechanical watch movement are very similar and sometimes also feature in the automatic watch design. If you’ve read checked out our website before you will no doubt have a good idea of some of the components key to making a mechanical watch work. 

 

Mainspring – This is a small strip that is made of metal. The mainspring can be wound to slowly release energy that powers the wheel train and escapement. Arguably the mainspring is one of the most important components of a mechanical watch.

 

Wheel train – This is a set of interconnected gears. The wheel train turns in regular increments. The timing of these precise increments is regulated by the escapement.

 

Escapement – The escapement is a combination of some of the most delicate parts of the watch. The balance wheel, regulator, and hairspring are just some of the parts that make up the escapement. These work together to maintain the watch’s rate of released energy from the mainspring. The escapement is essential to keep the watch moving accurately. 

 

Balance wheel – Also known as the balance spring or hairspring. The balance wheel is a weighted wheel that rotates back and forth.

 

Crown – Another very important factor with mechanical watches is the crown. This is a little button just outside of the watch’s face. The crown on a mechanical watch is not just for setting the hands but winding the watch also.

 

Jewels – A mechanically unique feature is jewels. A manual watch will almost always feature red jewels such as ruby, sapphire, or garnet. They help reduce friction in the movement and help to tell time more accurately. 

 

How to tell if a Mechanical Watch is quality made?

Now that we’ve answered the question, ‘how do mechanical watches work?’, the next obvious question is, ‘how do you tell if a mechanical watch is quality made?’

When checking to see if a mechanical watch is a quality made, there are a couple of important factors worth considering before buying. Some important factors when it comes to how good a mechanical watch is made are on the list below.

 

Accuracy – While we may love our watches for how good they look, at the end of the day a watch has one job. To keep track of time. An accurate mechanical watch should be within +6/-4 seconds per day regardless of the mechanism.

 

Certification – Almost in conjunction with the above point does the watch have a COSC certification? This cert is given to any watch that has gone through the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres testing programme and passed. If a watch is accompanied by this cert, the timekeeping ability of the watch cannot be questioned. 

 

Weight – The weight of a mechanical watch can be important to its quality. As we have seen, the mechanical watch has a ton of parts. This means it tends to be a little heavier. However, if you pick up a mechanical watch and it feels a little too light, it could mean the watch manufacturer could have skipped on using quality parts. 

 

Pros and Cons of Mechanical Watches

As with any watch design, Mechanical watches come with a long list of pros and cons. These are just a few that may even help you if you are in the market for a mechanical watch. 

Pro: All of that Detail – Mechanical watches truly are a piece of engineering that has left many people speechless over the years. Every detail, gear, spring and screw must fit together perfectly so they can all be used in sync to tell the time. Some watch companies even make their very own in-house materials, which means the parts are unique to that watch type adding another layer of detail. 

Con: Cost – Due to all the effort required to make a mechanical watch it is no wonder they will leave your wrist a little heavier but your wallet a little lighter. However, with this said you get what you pay for and if you have the extra cash to splash, you are often guaranteed a high-quality watch that will last a lifetime. 

Pro: No Battery No Problem – The lack of battery means it doesn’t have to be replaced every couple of years. So long as you take good care, all you have got to do is wind it up and watch it sweep away. 

Con: Maintenance – Mechanical watches with their amazing detail can come at a cost as they are sensitive to the elements and not as hard wearing as other watch types. They also require servicing every 3-5 years to ensure they are running smoothly. On the topic of in-house movements, this can make them difficult to service as you could be left waiting for specific parts. These in-house parts tend to be much more expensive too. 

 

Summing up How do Mechanical Watches Work

So I hope that clears up the question how do mechanical watches work. Mechanical watch lovers truly love their watches.

People who own these styles of watches have to take an extra little bit of time to love and care for their watches. The movements are complicated as they are 100% driven by engineering and mechanics.

But this is the mechanical watch’s USP, all that history, culture and heritage wrapped around the wearer’s wrist. 

 

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