Watch Movements: Difference Between Quartz + Mechanical Watches

A watch movement is what powers your watch.

There are two main categories of watch movements; mechanical movements (automatic/manual), and quartz movements.

In this article we’ll compare both movement types, and outline the difference between each main type of watch movement.

Watch Movements Explained:

Scroll down to find out the difference between mechanical and quartz movements.

What Is A Watch Movement?

A watch movement is the engine that powers a watch.

A watch movement is also called a caliber.

This movement is found inside of the watch’s case. The case is there to protect the movement. 

Types Of Watch Movements

There are two main categories of watch movements: 

  1. Mechanical movements
    1. Automatic movements
    2. Manual movements
  2. Quartz movements

As highlighted above. Mechanical movements are broken down into two categories; automatic movements, and manual movements.

Comparison: Mechanical Vs Quartz Movements

A simple and easy way to remember the main difference between mechanical and quartz movements is:

  • Mechanical watches have moving parts.
  • Quartz watches have no moving parts.

But check out our table below for the full picture.

This table highlights the main differences between mechanical and quartz movements.

Mechanical MovementsQuartz Movements
Moving parts?YesNo
Powered by…Clockwork mechanism
Energy from a wound mainspring
Either done by hand (manual) or it’s done automatic
Battery + Quartz crystal create vibrations
Hand motion is…SweepingIndividual ticks
Level of maintenance needed…Full service needed once every 2 – 3 yearsReplace battery every 2 – 5 years
AccuracyLower accuracyHigher accuracy
PriceMore expensiveMore affordable

1. Mechanical Movements

How Do Mechanical Watch Movements Work?

Mechanical watch movements have moving parts. They use a clockwork mechanism to measure the passing of time. 

Mechanical watches receive their power from a wound mainspring. The mainspring is wound by tightening the crown. 

This can be done:

  • Through a self-winding mechanism inside the movement (i.e. automatic movement)
  • Regularly winding the crown by hand (i.e. manual/self-winding movement)

The mainspring provides the power for everything. Including all the watches complications, like the date for example.

Why Buy A Mechanical Watch?

Mechanical watches are beautiful machines. You don’t buy a mechanical watch for their accuracy. As they’re not as accurate as quartz watch movements.

Instead you buy a mechanical watch movement for the romance of owning such a feat of human engineering.

How you can spot a mechanical movement is by the sweeping motion of the watches hand.

And remember mechanical watches can vary wildly in price. Some are very expensive from the top luxury Swiss watch brands.

Also these moving parts need to be looked after. Meaning a mechanical watch can be high maintenance. It must be serviced usually once every 2-3 years.

Now we’ll outline the difference between the two types of mechanical watch movements.

a) Automatic Movements

Inside look into Automatic Watch Movements

This mechanical movement is called an automatic movement, or a self-winding movement.

Meaning that the crown is tightened, and the mainspring is then wound, automatically. 

Simply by wearing an automatic watch, the natural motion will wind the watch. This is done through with a rotor, which spins, winding the movement. This motion winds the mainspring.

You can still wind the crown of an automatic watch too. However, it isn’t needed if the watch is worn regularly.

Or you can buy a watch winder box. Where you can store your automatic watch, and the box will keep your timepiece wound.

b) Manual Movement

Inside look into Manual Watch Movements

This mechanical movement is called a manual movement, or a hand-wound movement.

This movement needs to be wound manually. It needs to be wound by hand on a regular basis. Often on a daily basis.

This regular winding of the crown keeps the mainspring wound, and keeps it full of energy. Which then ensures the watch movement stays running.

2. Quartz Movements

Inside look into Quartz Watch Movements

How Do Quartz Watch Movements Work?

Quartz watch movements have no moving parts.

Quartz watches aren’t powered by a wound mainspring. Instead they’re powered by the electrical current a battery sends through a quartz crystal.

The crystal becomes electrified and it then creates vibrations.

These vibrations are what keeps the quartz movement oscillating (vibrating back and forth). Which powers the motor which then moves the hands.

How you can spot a quartz movement is by the individual ticking motion of the watches hands.

Why Buy A Quartz Watch?

The quartz watch movement had a huge effect on the watch industry. Almost causing mechanical watches to go extinct.

That is due to the fact that quartz watches are much more accurate than mechanical watches.

They’re also cheaper to make and easier to maintain.

With a quartz watch you only need to have the battery replaced once every 2 to 5 years.

Learn more about the huge quartz watch shake up of the 70s and 80s. Which is now known as the quartz crisis, in our article about the quartz watch revolution.

To Sum Up

A watch movement is the engine that powers the watch. They’re how the watch can measure time.

The main watch movements come in either mechanical movements or quartz movements.

Learn more about other types of watches in our article outlining just that.