Watch Movements

As you may know there are many different parts to a watch which include the case, the hands, the face etc but the most important part of any watch is of course the watch movement. In general terms the interior mechanism of the watch is always referred to as the “movement.” It is this interior mechanism that actually drives your watch and keeps accurate time.

This movement inside the watch is comprised of many different parts some of which are fixed and some which are moving parts. When pocket watches were first introduced customers actually would have purchased a movement first and then have had that fitted into a custom designed case.

Three Types of Watch Movement

There are basically three types of watch movement which are:

  • Automatic
  • Quartz
  • Mechanical

For pocket watch lovers like me who like antique watches such as Elgin and Waltham then all of these movements will be mechanical. I have given a brief description of the other two movements here for information purposes but will then concentrate on the mechanical movements found in older watches.

Automatic Movements

There are some watches which have what is termed an automatic movement. Essentially the simple movements of your arm on a regular basis, produces a self winding energy, that in turn tightens the mainspring. The only issue with these types of watches is that they need to be in daily use and if left sitting around will stop. Their main benefit is that if you do wear them every day then they do not require manual winding. To the best of my knowledge no pocket watches have ever been designed with this type of movement.



Quartz Movements

These are battery powered devices. The battery works with a crystal made of quartz. From this electricity is passed through the crystal making it move very quickly. The crystal in turn drives a small motor which then moves the hands of the watch. They do keep good time but the battery will need replaced almost every year. It does not require any manual winding and there are many modern day pocket watches which have these features.

The two I have mentioned above are thanks to more modern technology.

Mechanical Movements

All of the movements in the older pocket watches are mechanical in nature and they will always need maintenance and most importantly they need to be cleaned and oiled to keep them in good working order. They will also need regular winding. Once you understand what is actually in a movement then it becomes easier to understand why this is the case. In simple terms there are actually four key components which I have listed below:

  1. Mainspring
  2. Wheel Train (also known as gear train)
  3. Escapement
  4. Oscillator

These four component parts interlink together and it is this that actually drives the mechanical movement which in turn keeps the time on your pocket watch. I think it is worth explaining how these all work and link together as that is important to understand if you are buying your watch.

The Mainspring

The mainspring is attached to the winder and when we wind the watch up then this spring becomes tensioned and it is this that in essence provides the power source for your watch. Once it is fully wound then it is within this spring that the energy is stored to power your watch.

A common problem with these is that sometimes people do tend to over wind their watch and this can seriously damage or even break this very strong spring. Once the mainspring has been wound then it slowly releases and starts to move the gears which in turn starts to turn the hands. It is better to wind more regularly than to over wind an old watch.

There is also a ratchet close to this spring which then stops the mainspring from unwinding. The barrel of the mainspring has teeth and these teeth are attached to the centre wheel which drives the other parts.




Most modern watches are powered by battery or by solar and they will not have a winder other than for setting the hands or for decoration. Almost all pocket watches and certainly all older watches will have a winder. These types of watches will need to be wound up every 2-3 days to ensure they keep going and keep good time.

The Wheel Train

The wheel train is a set of gears with some large wheels and some smaller gears called pinions.

The Escapement

The escapement allows the wheel train to advance (escape) to a predetermined fixed amount with each movement of the balance wheel. The fixed amount of movement is driven from equally spaced teeth on the balance wheel.

The Oscillator

The oscillator is the part of the movement that does the actual time keeping.

Now clearly there are different sets of sub springs and smaller parts inside your watch. However those listed above are the main parts of your watch movement and clearly the better quality and workmanship that goes into these then the better the movement will be.

There are many different shaped movements that have been designed to fit inside the many types and shapes of cases. They are measured in millimetres and are referred to quite often as calibers. The wheels and all other moving parts are mounted between two plates which are joined together with small pillars. These plates are known as the front plate and the back plate.

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