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Mechanical watch movement: The Ultimate Beginners Guide

Jun 02,2023 | PAGANI DESIGN Official Store

Watchmaking is an eldern art.

 

Engineers used portable spring-driven clocks to tell time in the 15th century.

 

Winding mainsprings and rotating balance helped introduce mechanical watches in the 16th century.

 

The advent of vibrating quartz crystals resulted in quartz watches and relegated the use of mechanical watches in the 1970s.

 

It's been a long but easily forgotten journey. After all, who needs a mechanical watch when there are smart watches?

 

Well, the Swiss watch industry estimates over 8 million mechanical watches were sold in 2014.

 

And if you're here, you're wondering why humanity hasn't buried the mechanical watch movement in the sands of time.  Better yet, you've bought a mechanical watch recently and would like to know how it works.

 

Regardless of your intentions, you're in the right place. This article is a guide on how mechanical watches work.

 

Let's jump in.

 

What's a Mechanical Watch?

Mechanical watches are timepieces that use the mechanical watch movement (caliber) mechanism to measure time. These watches do not require batteries or electricity to work.

 

That sounds simple and antique, right?

 

Trust me; it's not simple. It sounds simple 'cause you don't know what the mechanical watch movement entails. And yes, it's antique.

 

Hear me out.

 

The mechanical watch movement comprises several minute and complex parts. It is a culmination of science and art, a reflection of human ingenuity.

 

Undoubtedly, the advent of electricity, the ubiquity of mobile phones, and the functionalities of smartwatches have made mechanical watches obsolete. Thus, mechanical watches are now an emotional buy, a piece of anachronism.

 

However, it is this anachronism that makes them unique.  like owning a popular artwork, mechanical watches reflect your personality, your taste, and your financial class in contemporary society.

 

The mechanical watch movement entails the combination of many intricate parts and complex sub-movements honed over time to ensure accuracy—more on this later.

 

And like any human endeavour that's been honed over time, numerous approaches were used in its development. As a result, there are different types of mechanical watch movement.

 

Types of Mechanical Watch

The two types of mechanical watch movement are:

  • Manual mechanical-watch movement
  • Automatic mechanical-watch movement

Manual Mechanical-Watch Movement

Like everything in life, watches need energy to work. And prior to the advent of quartz and automatic watches, horlogers used torsion springs to power watches.  

 

In a manual mechanical watch, these torsion springs are known as mainsprings. horlogers use them as the watch's power source. Here's how it works:

 

Springs are elastic. That's to say; they will return to their initial shapes if you compress or stretch them.

 

Similarly, when horlogers (watchmakers) wind the mainspring around an axle called the arbor and enclose it in a cylindrical case called the barrel, it will attempt to return to its initial shape.

 

However, as the mainspring attempts to return to its initial shape— that's to unwind— it turns the barrel around till it finishes unwinding.

 

Usually, the mainspring is wounded by turning the arbor, and after winding, the arbor becomes stationary. Subsequently, the force of the unwinding mainspring turns the barrel, which turns the gears attached to it.

 

Mainsprings are engineered to run between 36-40 hours. After these hours, the owner is required to rewind the watch for it to work. You can rewind a manual watch by turning its crown. The crown is connected to the arbor.

 

Automatic Mechanical-Watch Movement

The word automatic means capable of operating without external intervention. In this case, it means mechanical watches capable of self-winding without human intervention.

 

In automatic caliber watches, the natural movement of the wearer's hand helps wind the mainspring. That's to say; the watch will continue working if it's worn regularly.

 

That explanation isn't enough, right? I'll elaborate.

 

Unlike manually winded watches, which require you to wind it using its crown, an automatic watch uses an oscillating weighted rotor that spins whenever you move your arms.

 

In other words, the motion of your arms is converted to oscillatory motion in the watch. This oscillatory motion helps wind the mainsprings of the watch. As you already know, the mainsprings power the entire working system of the watch.

 

Core Parts of Mechanical Watches

Previously, I said mechanical watches comprise several minute parts. However, there are parts central to the operation of every mechanical watch. It's impossible to understand how mechanical watches operate without foreknowledge of these parts.

 

I've outlined the core parts of mechanical watches below:

  • The Mainspring
  • the gear train, dial train, or wheel train— any of these names is correct
  • The balance wheel
  • The escapement mechanism
  • The dial

 

Let's discuss these parts in detail.

 

The Mainspring

 

Mainsprings are the medium of energy storage in mechanical watches. A mechanical watch without a mainspring won't work.

 

To wind the mainspring, horlogers attach the inner part of the mainspring, which has a rectangular opening to a hook in the arbor. Thus the mainspring is winded by turning the arbor.

 

After winding, the mainspring starts to unwind immediately. And since the outer side of the mainspring is attached to the barrel, the force of the unwinding spring turns the barrel.

 

However, the mainspring unwinds too fast. Thus, it is unable to measure time. As a result, watchmakers attach wheel gears to the barrel.

 

The Gear Train

The gear train helps convert fast revolutions of the barrel due to fast unwinding to time-measuring revolutions of the watch's hands.

 

In mechanical watches, horlogers use a train of gears to create a 12-to-1 reduction that turns the hour hand after every revolution of the minute hand. The same relationship applies between the minute hand and the second hand.

 

Here's how it works.

 

Usually, there are four wheels, and the barrel acts as the first wheel, which drives the second wheel. The second wheel drives the third wheel. And the third wheel drives the fourth wheel.

 

While these gears help reduce the movement of the watch's hand, the unwinding speed, the escapement mechanism was added to help regulate how fast the mainspring unwinds.

 

The Escapement Mechanism 

The escapement mechanism of mechanical watches regulates the release of energy stored in the mainspring. that's to say; it controls the unwinding speed of the mainspring. Here's how:

 

In mechanical watches, the escapement mechanism comprises the escape wheel and the pallet fork. The escape wheel is driven by the fourth wheel and like every wheel, it's designed to move in circular motion.

 

The pallet fork limits the movement of the escape wheel. One end of the pallet fork is connected to the wheel balance. And the other end of the pallet fork has two fingers called pallets. These two fingers latch on the teeth of the escape wheel to limit its motion.

 

That's to say;  periodic motion from the balance releases the escape wheel from one pallet, allows it to rotate for a while, and blocks its rotation with the other pallet.

 

Okay, I agree. That's a lot to uncover. Here's a summary. The mainspring wants to unwind. Consequently, it turns the barrel and gear wheels for a brief moment.

 

However, the pallet fork stops it from unwinding due to a to-and-fro motion from the balance wheel.

 

But wait, what's the balance wheel?  

 

The Balance Wheel

The balance wheel comprises a balance spring and a weighted wheel. It is the timekeeping element of mechanical watches. Let me explain.

 

The combination of a weighted wheel and a balance spring in the balance wheels form a harmonic oscillator. The period of the oscillator is adjusted by controlling the mass of the wheel, which wheel's moment of inertia. It can also be controlled by adjusting the stiffness of the spring.

 

Watchmakers design balance wheels to oscillate between 5, 6, 8, or 10 beats per second. This oscillation rate translates to 18,000, 21,600, 28,800,  and 36000 beats per hour. Also, in most watches, there's a regulator lever that's used to adjust their oscillation rate.

 

Top 7 Most Affordable Mechanical Watches

In case you don't know, mechanical watches are more expensive than their quartz counterparts. And that's because they require more labor-intensive work procedures.

 

However, there are a few brands that offer affordable quality mechanical watches. One such brand is Pagani Design. Here are some Pagani Design watches you can buy for less than 200 bucks:

 

Pagani Design  DateJust (PD-1645)

Price Range: $90 - $100

 

 

Specifications

Watch dial colour: multiple

Water resistance: 100 Metres

Case Size: 42mm

Thickness: 12mm

Lug width: 21mm

Movement: mechanical automatic  (Japan Seiko Nh35 movement )

Complication: date indicator

Extra features:  sapphire crystal

 

Pagani Design GMT MASTER II (PD-1662)
Price Range: $90 - $170

 

 

Specifications

Watch dial colour: Black

Water resistance: 100 Metres

Case Size: 40mm

Thickness: 14 mm

Lug width: 20mm

Movement: Automatic Mechanical (Chinese Pearl DG5833GMT)/Seiko NH34

Bezel Material: stainless steel

Complication: GMT

Extra features:  sapphire crystal, Luminous hands, water resistant, auto date

 

Pagani Design  Speedmaster Moonwatch  (PD-1701)

Price Range: $110 - $130

 

Specifications

Watch dial colour: multiple

Water resistance: 100 Metres

Case Size: 40mm

Thickness: 13mm

Lug width: 20mm

Movement: Quartz (Japan Seiko VK63)

Bezel Material: ceramic

Complication: chronograph

Extra features:  sapphire crystal, Luminous hands

 

Pagani Design  Daytona Chronograph  (PD-1644)

Price Range: $70 - $80

 

 

Specifications

Watch dial colour: multiple

Bezel material: ceramic

Water resistance: 100 Metres

Case Size: 40mm

Thickness: 12mm

Lug width: 20mm

Movement: quartz (Japan Seiko VK63)

Complication: chronograph

Extra features:  sapphire crystal

 

Pagani Design Explorer II (PD-1762 V3)

Price Range: $150 - $170

 

 

Specifications

Watch dial colour: Multiple

Water resistance: 100 Metres

Case Size: 40mm

Thickness: 12.4mm

Lug width: 20mm

Movement: Seiko NH34

Bezel Material: stainless steel

Complication: GMT

Extra features:  sapphire crystal, Blue-shine luminous hands and hour mark.

 

Pagani Design  Presidential Day-Date   (PD-1752)

Price Range: $110- $120

 

Specifications

Watch dial colour: multiple

Water resistance: 100 Metres

Case Size: 36mm

Thickness: 12mm

Lug width: 20mm

Movement: mechanical automatic  ( Seagull ST16 movement )

Complication: day and date indicators

Extra features:  sapphire crystal

 

Pagani Design  Air King  (PD-1723)

Price Range: $160 - $170

 

 

Specifications

Watch dial colour: multiple

Water resistance: 200 Metres

Case Size: 36mm

Thickness: 12.1mm

Lug width: 20mm

Movement: mechanical  automatic  ( HKPT PT-5000 movement )

Complication: none

Extra features:  sapphire crystal, Luminous hands, Backlight

 

Conclusion 

To sum it up, Mechanical watches are an essential part of contemporary fashion. However, they are more expensive than their quartz counterparts.

 

Also, there are two types of mechanical watches. And depending on your choice, you can buy any of these mechanical watch types. However, they are expensive.

 

Thankfully, you don't need decades' worth of savings to buy a quality mechanical watch. Pagani Design offers popular mechanical watches at affordable prices— less than $200.  In this article, I've outlined three of Pagani Design's chronograph and GMT  watch models.

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