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Feeling Curious? Here’s How Wristwatches Work

how watches work

You might not realize this, but there are multiple types of watches out there.

A short list would include things like mechanical watches, digital watches, automatic watches, and quartz watches.

Digital watches get their power from a battery. In some cases, you have to change the battery when it dies, but you can also charge battery-powered watches, such as a smartwatch.

Mechanical watches, automatic watches, and quartz watches, on the other hand, don’t use any kind of battery at all.

So what makes these watches tick? Well, it’s different for each one.

Take a look at this guide to learn how watches work and where they get their power.

How Do Mechanical Wristwatches Work?

Mechanical watches are the oldest type of wristwatch there is. This type of watch powers itself by using the energy it stores in a wound up spring. While similar to an automatic watch, the two do have an important difference.

Here’s a quick list of the steps that make a mechanical watch spin.


Wristwatches need a power source to keep ticking, and unless you have a digital watch, that power source is made up of gears, springs, and barrels. It all starts with the stem. This is the part you wind up when you put the watch on for the first time.

Before we look at how this energy source works, there are a few basic parts you need to be familiar with. Each watch has a mainspring that fits inside a flat but circular barrel wheel. There are smaller springs inside the barrel wheel that are connected to the gear train, or the wheels, in the watch.

So, when you wind the watch’s stem, the mainspring winds up with it. As it starts to unwind again, it creates energy for the rest of the watch. This causes the barrel wheel to turn, giving the energy to the other barrel springs. The barrel springs then pass the energy on to the rest of the gear train.

Gear Train

The gear train is the rest of the wheels inside the watch. And these wheels do a few things.

First of all, they pass the energy from the mainspring to the rest of the watch. If the watch has a slow-turning mainspring, the wheels can make the energy from a single wind up last for several days.

The middle wheel is also the part of the watch that turns the second, minute, and hour hands on your watch. It does this by transferring the energy to the watch’s escapement mechanism.


The escapement mechanism is also a type of wheel. But this wheel never makes a full rotation. Instead, it has an oscillator attached to a pallet, and this creates a type of break.

The escapement wheel gives the oscillator power, but the oscillator uses that power to regulate the wheel’s speed. This keeps the middle wheel turning at a steady and balanced pace.

Time Indicator

There is a smaller wheel, the cannon pinion, attached to the middle wheel. The cannon pinion is the wheel that holds the watch’s hands.

So, because the escapement and oscillator regulate the middle wheel’s speed, the cannon pinion can keep the second, minute, and hour hands moving at the right pace.

You can learn more about these watches at this website.

How Does an Automatic Watch Work?

An automatic watch does everything a mechanical watch does. But here’s where they’re different.

Instead of winding up the mainspring yourself, the watch winds itself up as you move. These watches don’t have a stem. They have a flat blade that winds up the spring every time the wearer moves their wrist around.

This doesn’t require any specific motion. Rather, the watch winds up with your natural movement. In other words, you don’t have to spend any time thinking about your automatic watch at all.

How Does a Quartz Watch Work?

Quartz watches aren’t mechanical, but they don’t have a battery either. So what keeps these watches going?

The quartz watch relies on a natural occurrence called the piezoelectric effect. When a force applies enough pressure on a piece of quartz, an electric current will form on the quartz’s surface. While this current is low, it is strong enough to power a watch for several years.

But this process works backward too. Here’s what we mean.

Understanding Quartz “Batteries”

Quartz watches pair their natural quartz crystal with a tiny battery. This batter sends an electric current through the quartz, which makes the quartz vibrate at a steady pace.

The quartz in these watches looks like a fork with only two prongs. This shape lets the rest of the watch measure the number of vibrations the quartz makes per second.

This number tends to be at about 32,768 vibrations every second. The watch’s circuits then lower that large amount of vibrations to a single vibration per second. The watch converts that vibration into a tick, or a unit of time: one second.

The Benefit of Quartz watches

These watches are a lot more reliable than mechanical or automatic watches. They’re also resistant to shock, which makes them an ideal watch for harsh conditions. Unlike other watches, quartz doesn’t malfunction due to fluctuations in temperature either.

Learning How Watches Work

Though they might seem complicated, watches run on energy stored in batteries or springs. Mechanical watches use the energy from the mainspring to turn the rest of the gears and make the minute and hour hands tick. Automatic watches do the same thing, but they don’t require any manual winding. Quartz watches create a power source with a small battery and a small piece of quartz. Every watch does the same thing, they just do them a little bit different.

Are you looking for a new, high-quality watch? Make sure you check out this list of the most expensive watches for women.

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