How Mechanical Watch Works: A Comprehensive Guide (2024)

Mechanical watches have been revered for their intricate craftsmanship and timeless appeal for centuries. Unlike their quartz counterparts, which rely on a battery for power, these timepieces harness energy from a wound spring to create precise, rhythmic movement. 

The craft of mechanical watches combines engineering marvels with artistry, resulting in functional timekeeping instruments that serve as cherished heirlooms and symbols of luxury.

With an appreciation for fine craft and precision, mechanical watch enthusiasts invest in these timepieces for their unparalleled character and legacy. Mechanical watches are a testament to the wearer’s appreciation for the art and science behind horology.

What Is a Mechanical Watch?

A mechanical watch is an excellent timekeeping device that operates using a clockwork mechanism rather than relying on quartz, battery, or radio-based watch movements. These watches are often associated with old-school values and craftsmanship, standing as symbols of tradition in the world of horology.

The heart of a mechanical watch lies in its movement. This consists of the following important materials:

  • Springs: In mechanical watches, the mainspring stores energy when wound, providing power for the timekeeping mechanism. The balance spring, also known as the hairspring, regulates the oscillations of the balance wheel, ensuring accurate timekeeping.
  • Intricate gears: They ensure the smooth and synchronized movement of the hands, enabling accurate timekeeping and the functioning of other complications.
  • Other important components: Other components in a mechanical watch serve various functions, such as enabling timekeeping precision and providing additional features like calendars, chronographs, or moon phases. 

All these work together to measure the passage of time. One key aspect of mechanical watches is the mainspring, a coiled piece of metal that stores energy and powers the watch as it unwinds. 

This sets mechanical watches apart from their quartz counterparts, which are powered by the vibrations of a piezoelectric quartz tuning fork.

Mechanical watches can be further divided into two categories: 

  • Manual-winding: Manual-winding watches require the wearer to periodically wind the mainspring by turning the watch’s crown, ensuring that the watch continues to function.
  • Automatic-winding: Automatic watches utilize a clever solution to keep the mainspring wound. A weighted rotor inside the watch is designed to swing back and forth with the wearer’s movements, automatically winding the mainspring.

In addition to their inner workings, mechanical watches often boast expert craftsmanship and attention to detail, with luxury brands taking pride in their elegant designs and intricate complications. 

While these timepieces may not match the accuracy of quartz watches, their charm lies in the expertise and effort involved in their creation, offering watch enthusiasts a mechanical marvel to appreciate and admire.

Is a Mechanical Watch Better than an Automatic?

When comparing mechanical and automatic watches, one must realize the differences in advantages and disadvantages. 

Below is a comparison table elaborating on the key points to consider when choosing between mechanical and automatic watches.

Features 

Mechanical

Automatic

Power source 

Mainspring 

Mainspring 

Accuracy

Between +/-1 seconds per day and +6/-4 seconds per day or depending on certain conditions

Between +6/-4 seconds per day and +/-0.02 seconds per day

Maintenance

Requires to be serviced every 3 to 5 years

The battery needs replacement every 2 to 3 years

Convenience

Does not rely on wrist movement.

Self-winds through wrist movement.

Heritage and Craftsmanship 

  • Heritage: Mechanical watches can be traced back to the 16th century when the first portable timepieces were created. 
  • Craftsmanship: Creating a mechanical watch involves intricate engineering and meticulous assembly of numerous tiny components. 
  • Heritage: Automatic watches, also known as self-winding watches, were introduced in the early 20th century as a more convenient alternative to manual mechanical watches. 
  • Craftsmanship: Affordable automatic watches share the intricate engineering and assembly processes of mechanical watches, with the added complexity of the self-winding mechanism.

Price

In the global market, Chrono24, the price of a mechanical watch ranges between S$22 and S$201,361

Chrono24 also shows that the price range of an automatic watch ranges between S$23 and S$3,046,097

*The price range of both the mechanical and automatic watch in Chrono24 may change without notice

For some wearers, mechanical watches are better than automatic watches due to their connection to the traditional art of watchmaking. This connection directly links to the centuries-old heritage of horology, which many appreciate. 

The manual winding process can also be an enjoyable and engaging ritual for some, as it establishes a personal bond with the timepiece. Mechanical watches are also less complicated than automatic ones, which can result in easier maintenance and repairs. 

Lastly, for those who do not wear their watch daily or have a more sedentary lifestyle, mechanical watches do not rely on wrist movement to maintain their power reserve or a battery, making them a more suitable choice.

Components of a Mechanical Watch

Unlike quartz or radio watches that rely on electrical vibrations or synchronization with an atomic clock, a mechanical watch utilizes a clockwork mechanism to measure time. The inner workings of a mechanical watch consist of several key components.

  • The mainspring: The mainspring is a mechanical watch’s primary power source. This small, circular piece of wound steel stores energy which is then gradually released through the watch’s wheel train and escapement, regulating the watch’s timing.
  • The escapement assembly: The escapement assembly is responsible for distributing impulses from the oscillator, transferring energy from the mainspring to the timekeeping element in a mechanical watch. It also produces the characteristic ticking sound often heard when placing a mechanical watch close to the ear. 
  • The balance wheel and hairspring. These perform an oscillation function, dividing time into precise intervals. The balance wheel and hairspring interaction determine the watch’s accuracy and help maintain a consistent rate.
  • The gear train: This is responsible for transmitting power from the mainspring to the timekeeping components, such as the escapement and the balance wheel. Additionally, the gear train plays a role in driving the watch’s hands on the dial, indicating hours, minutes, and sometimes seconds.

The main components of a mechanical watch include the mainspring, escapement, balance wheel and hairspring, and gear train. Together, these parts work harmoniously to ensure accurate timekeeping and the overall functionality of the watch.

How a Mechanical Watch Works

A mechanical watch is a timepiece that utilizes a clockwork mechanism to measure and display time. Unlike quartz watches, which rely on batteries for power, mechanical watches harness energy through springs, gears, and balance wheels.

The following sections will further explain the purpose of each essential part of the Mechanical watch:

The Mainspring

The mainspring is the heart of a mechanical watch. It stores energy when it’s wound, either manually or through the wearer’s wrist movement in automatic watches. This energy is then gradually released, driving the gears and mechanisms within the watch. 

The Gear Train

The gear train transmits the force from the mainspring to the balance wheel, regulating the release of the stored energy and ensuring the watch keeps accurate time.

The Balance Wheel 

The balance wheel oscillates at a precise frequency, similar to a pendulum in a clock. In conjunction with the escapement, the balance wheel’s oscillation regulates the watch’s timekeeping mechanism. 

The Escapement

In controlled increments, the escapement releases the stored energy from the mainspring to the balance wheel. This ensures the smooth and accurate mechanical watch movement of the watch’s hands.

The quartz watches differ from manual ones in that they are capable of self-winding. An automatic movement uses a weighted rotor mechanism by the wearer’s arm movement. Each time the wearer moves their wrist, the rotor swings and winds the mainspring, supplying the watch’s power.

Here is a simplified breakdown of a mechanical watch’s components:

  • Mainspring: Stores energy when wound
  • Gear train: Transmits force from the mainspring to the balance wheel
  • Balance wheel: Oscillates to regulate timekeeping along with the aid of a balance spring
  • Escapement: Controls the release of energy from the mainspring to the balance wheel

Maintenance is essential for a mechanical watch to ensure its longevity and accuracy. Proper mechanical watch maintenance includes regular cleaning, oiling, and inspection by a professional watchmaker.

Luxury mechanical watches are intricate and fascinating devices that continue to captivate horology enthusiasts. Their precise engineering, elegant designs, and timeless appeal make them popular among watch collectors and connoisseurs.

Types of Mechanical Watches

Mechanical watches can be broadly classified into two categories: manual and automatic. Both types work on the principle of winding a mainspring to store energy which is then released by a system of gears, regulating the timekeeping in the watch.

Manual Watches

These watches require the wearer to manually wind the mainspring by rotating the watch’s crown. The energy stored in the wound mainspring powers the progress of the watch’s gears, eventually moving the hour, minute, and second hands. 

Manual watches need to be wound regularly, usually every few days or even weeks, depending on the watch’s power reserve. They are often appreciated for their craftsmanship and are considered a more traditional option.

Automatic Watches

Unlike the manual watch, an automatic watch uses a small rotor within the watch’s mechanism to wind the mainspring. The rotor moves with the wearer’s wrist, automatically charging the watch’s mainspring throughout the day. 

This self-winding feature means that as long as the wearer consistently wears the watch, it stays wound and tells accurate time. However, if left unworn for an extended period, the watch may need to be manually wound to restart.

Additionally, various features and complications can enhance the functionality of mechanical watches:

  • Chronograph Watches: These watches incorporate a stopwatch feature alongside regular timekeeping, allowing the wearer to record time intervals.
  • Skeleton Watches: In these watches, the watch’s inner workings are visible through the dial, showcasing the intricate detail and craftsmanship of the watch’s movement.
  • Moon Phase Watches: These watches display the moon’s current phase on the watch dial, providing an elegant and practical function for those interested in astronomy.

Overall, mechanical watches come in various styles, features, and complexities. Whether you prefer the traditional appeal of manual watches, the convenience of automatic winding, or the added functionality of complications, there’s a mechanical watch out there to suit your preference.

Caring for a Mechanical Watch

Caring for a mechanical watch is essential to maintain its accuracy and prolong lifespan. Proper maintenance involves:

  • Regular cleaning.
  • Protecting the watch from extreme temperatures.
  • Avoiding magnetic fields.
  • Getting the watch serviced occasionally.

Below explains in detail how a mechanical watch should be maintained:

Keep Your Watch Clean

Gently brush over the watch face and metal bracelet with a soft-bristled toothbrush or microfiber cloth dipped in warm water. Avoid using soap; it can leave particles in small spaces, and never fully immerse the watch in water.

Protect Your Mechanical Watch from Extreme Temperature Variations

Sudden temperature changes can negatively impact the automatic or mechanical watch movements. Hence, avoiding situations like jumping into a hot tub or exposing the watch to freezing cold environments is best.

Consider the Potential Impact of Magnetic Fields

Exposure to magnetic fields can disturb the watch’s accuracy and even cause it to stop ticking. To prevent this, be mindful of your watch’s proximity to speakers, electronic devices, and magnets.

Have Your Mechanical Watch Serviced Regularly

Depending on the specific watch and the manufacturer’s guidelines, this may include maintenance every few years or more frequent tune-ups. Servicing typically involves cleaning, lubricating, and adjusting the watch’s movement, ensuring the timepiece functions as intended.

Properly caring for your mechanical watch can significantly affect its performance and longevity. By following these tips and best practices, you can enjoy the reliability and precision of your mechanical timepiece for years to come.

Best Mechanical Watches for Men and Women

1. Patek Philippe Calatrava

Patek Philippe Calatrava

The Patek Philippe Calatrava is a classic, elegant watch that stands out for its timeless design. It features Patek Philippe’s excellent craftsmanship and attention to detail, resulting in a sophisticated and luxurious timepiece.

With the brand’s long-standing value and prestige, the Calatrava collection, particularly the Patek Philippe Calatrava 6007A Limited Edition, has been a sought-after item in the market. The specific model is now valued at around S$136,031 in the secondary market. 

The private sales market can be different, albeit not drastically different from the secondary market. Old and modern watches from the Patek Philippe Calatrava are observed to range between S$14,021 and S$129,589.

2. Vacheron Constantin Patrimony

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony

The Vacheron Constantin Patrimony is known for its clean, minimalist design and exceptional craftsmanship. The collection features slim and elegant dress watches fit for men and women. They have a finely crafted dial and slender hands perfectly balance simplicity and sophistication.

One of the eye-catching models is no other than the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony 4010U/000R-B329. Its strap is made from crocodile skin, and it’s noted for its rose gold case material, white dial, and sky-like design. 

A pre-owned watch of this kind can cost around S$43,022. As for the collection, the price ranges from S$15,747 to S$44,858 in a private sales market

3. A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1

A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1

A symbol of German watchmaking excellence, the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 is a beautifully designed mechanical watch that showcases the brand’s distinct asymmetrical dial layout. The unique combination of a large date window and an off-center time display makes it a fascinating piece for watch enthusiasts.

It appeals to both men and women who appreciate innovative design and exceptional engineering. On the private sales market, the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 has a price range between S$32,156 and S$65,221, depending on conditions, rarity, and specific model variations. 

This broad price range reflects the desirability and value of this extraordinary timepiece, making it an enticing addition to any discerning collector’s ensemble.

4. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is a versatile sports watch that combines elegance and durability. With its iconic octagonal case and integrated bracelet, the Royal Oak has a distinct and recognizable design. This watch suits both men and women looking for a timepiece that seamlessly transitions from casual to formal settings.

In the private market, the price of an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak varies significantly, ranging from S$8,091 to S$556,188. The watch’s condition, rarity, materials, and specific model variations influence this wide price range. 

5. Rolex Daytona

Rolex Daytona

As one of the most sought-after Rolex models, the Daytona is a classic chronograph watch with precision and durability. The iconic design, featuring a tachymeter bezel and subdials, makes it an excellent choice for watch enthusiasts who appreciate high-quality engineering and timeless style.

The Rolex Daytona, an emblem of luxury and precision, has long been a coveted timepiece among watch aficionados and collectors.

Renowned for its exquisite craftsmanship and iconic design, the Daytona represents the pinnacle of horological excellence. On the private sales market, the Rolex Daytona can command prices ranging from S$26,454 to S$160,534. 

6. Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso stands out for its unique reversible case, which can be flipped to reveal an entirely different face. Initially designed for polo players, the Reverso’s ingenious design has become a favorite among watch collectors. The variety of dial designs allows both men and women to find a Reverso that suits their style.

The Reverso has become an iconic timepiece in luxury watches, boasting a unique reversible case and exceptional craftsmanship. In the private sales market, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso showcases a price range of S$4,819 to S$25,862. 

This diverse price spectrum is attributed to the watch’s condition, rarity, materials, and specific model variations. 

7. IWC Portugieser

IWC Portugieser

Known for its clean and clear dial layout, the IWC Portugieser is a timeless dress watch representing the International Watch Company’s Swiss-German heritage. The Portugieser’s highly legible design makes it ideal for everyday wear. It works well for either men and women looking for a sophisticated yet understated timepiece.

The IWC Portugieser, renowned for its elegant design and precision timekeeping, is prominent in the pantheon of luxury watches. On the private sales market, the IWC Portugieser commands prices from S$5,770 to S$69,752. 

As a representation of refined taste and horological excellence, the IWC Portugieser continues to attract discerning buyers who appreciate its enduring charm and exceptional performance.

8. Cartier Tank

Cartier Tank

A symbol of elegance and sophistication, the Cartier Tank is a rectangular watch that has made its mark due to its distinctive design. Its sleek, clean lines make it an excellent choice for dress occasions and it easily adapts to men’s and women’s wrists. The iconic Tank design has proven to be both versatile and enduring in its appeal.

Synonymous with sophistication and class, the Tank has solidified its status as an iconic timepiece in luxury watches. On the private sales market, the Cartier Tank garners prices between S$2,508 and S$14,672. 

9. Omega Speedmaster

Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch

The Omega Speedmaster is widely known for its association with NASA and the Apollo missions. This legendary chronograph watch is equally suitable for men and women, featuring a tachymeter bezel and subdials for timing purposes. The Speedmaster’s iconic design and rich history make it an excellent addition to any luxury watch collection.

As the first-ever watch worn on the moon, the mechanical Speedmaster carries a unique horological legacy. On the private sales market, the Omega Speedmaster mechanical watches cost between S$921 and S$56,055. 

Factors such as the watch’s condition, rarity, and materials influence this diverse price spectrum.

10. Panerai Luminor

Panerai Luminor

The Panerai Luminor is a robust watch with a bold design that exudes a strong presence on the wrist. Known for its distinctive crown guard and highly legible dial, the Luminor is an excellent choice for men and women alike who appreciate a watch with presence and technical prowess. The Luminor’s distinctive design has earned it a loyal following among watch enthusiasts.

The Panerai Luminor mechanical watches, celebrated for their bold design and precision timekeeping, have captivated watch collectors and enthusiasts for generations. These timepieces, with their distinctive crown guard and robust build, embody the spirit of adventure and the art of watchmaking. In the private sales market, the Panerai Luminor mechanical watches are valued at around S$4,613 to S$37,518.

Final Word

Mechanical watches, which come in manual and automatic styles, have been a favorite among watch enthusiasts for their craftsmanship, intricate design, and personal interaction with the wearer. As mechanical watches continue to capture the hearts of enthusiasts, their appeal lies in their artful design, interaction with the wearer, and the sense of tradition they evoke.

Key Takeaways

  • Each timepiece is a result of meticulous workmanship, often consisting of intricate designs and mechanisms.
  • Unlike the quartz watch or other smartwatches, mechanical watches require the wearer’s interaction to function.
  • Mechanical watches come in various designs and styles. For example, the Junghans Max Bill series offers a minimalist, Bauhaus-inspired aesthetic. There is truly a mechanical watch for every taste and preference.
  • Consistent maintenance and care are vital to ensure the longevity and smooth functioning of a mechanical watch. This may include servicing, cleaning, and proper storage.
  • With no need for a battery, they are powered by a mainspring that must be wound periodically.

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