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An Expert Guide to Mechanical Watch Movements

Watches rely upon movements for the power that makes them tick. There are two primary varieties of movements: quartz and mechanical. The latter offers a balance of artistry and innovation, while the former uses modern technology for precision and affordability. In this guide by our Hing Wa Lee team, you will learn all about mechanical movements.

What is a Mechanical Watch Movement?

Mechanical movements use a complex series of gears, springs, and other small parts to move the hands precisely and accurately. These movements require mastery to create and are only used by the finest watch brands. While some assert that mechanical movement is obsolete, it offers artistry, uniqueness, and beauty. Mechanical watch movements have a distinctive tick, wherein the hands move gradually rather than all at once.

A slightly blurred vision of a watch with black gemstone details and a beam of light falling on its fac

The Difference Between an Automatic Watch and a Manual Movement Watch

There are two types of mechanical movements: manual and automatic. The difference between them is simple. Manual movements must be wound by hand often. This is done by pulling out the crown and twisting it until there’s resistance. Automatic has a crown dial and a rotor at the case’s bottom. It turns automatically as the wearer moves their wrist. This winds the mainspring that charges the rest of the watch. Overall, automatic movement is more convenient but tends to be more pricey.

The Inner Workings of a Mechanical Watch

The mainspring starts the process whether charged by a crown or a rotor. When wound, the spring’s tension stores a fair amount of energy. This energy travels through a series of gears to the balance wheel. Attached is the escapement, which acts as a break that regulates this energy, separating it into beats. These turn another series of gears that turn the hands.

A silver watch lying on a bed of brightly colored, beaded jewelry against a blue background

Key Terminology for Mechanical Watch Movements

With luxury watches, these machines have their own terminology that better explains the complex devices and features that make these machines work. These key terms for mechanical watch movements are:

  • Crown: Dial on the right side of the case. When turned, it winds the mainspring.
  • Mainspring: When tightened by the rotor or crown, it stores kinetic energy.
  • Rotor: Small half-crescent-shaped mechanism on the case that winds the mainspring when turned by the wrist.
  • Gear train: Series of gears that transfers energy to the balance wheel.
  • Dial train: Series of gears that transfers energy from the balance wheel to the hands.
  • Escapement: Mechanism that pushes the balance wheel to regulate energy to ensure precise timekeeping.
  • Balance wheel: Located at the center of the timepiece, this wheel beats in a circular motion five to ten times per second.

Hands working on a timepiece, its gears exposed from the back of the watch

Discover Mechanical Watches at Hing Wa Lee Jewelers

Find the perfect timepiece at Hing Wa Lee Jewelers. Whether you desire a luxurious manual watch or a marvelous automatic piece, we have the best at both our Walnut and San Gabriel jewelry stores. Discover all of the top designer brands, ranging from household names to small artisan microbrands. To be guided through our boundless inventory, reserve an appointment with us today. You’re guaranteed to experience the unforgettable. Email us at to learn more.