How Does a Mechanical Watch Work: A Complete Guide

Table of Contents

What is a Mechanical Watch?

A mechanical watch is a watch that uses a mechanical movement to measure time. Unlike quartz watches that run on batteries, mechanical watches rely on the power generated by a wound spring.

The winding mechanism in a mechanical watch powers the mainspring, which stores energy and transfers it via gears to display the time. Therefore, mechanical watches require winding either through manual winding or through the natural movement of the wearer’s wrist to keep them running.

Mechanical watches are considered more traditional and collectible than modern quartz watches. Watch enthusiasts appreciate the intricate craftsmanship, engineering, and charm of mechanical timepieces. When you look through the transparent case back of a mechanical watch, you can observe the mesmerizing movement of gears at work.

Most mechanical watches feature stainless steel or leather bands since they are more suitable for formal occasions. The first watches invented were mechanical pocket watches, making them the origins of modern horology. Mechanical wristwatches did not emerge until the late 19th century but soon became the standard in timekeeping.

A Mechanical Watch
A Mechanical Watch

How Does a Mechanical Watch Work

The working mechanism of a mechanical watch is powered by the mainspring, which is a coiled flat spring that stores energy when wound. Manual winding or the movement of the wrist tightens the mainspring and builds tension. As it slowly unwinds, the stored energy gets transmitted through a series of gears, providing a controlled release of power.

Mainspring Powers the Movement
The mainspring sits in a barrel and drives the movement of the watch. When wound fully, the mainspring stores maximum potential energy. As it unwinds, the mainspring turns the winding stem and transmits energy to the gears.

Gears Transfer Energy to Display Time
The gear train consists of intricate interlocking gears that regulate the unwinding of the mainspring. The gear ratios guarantee precision timekeeping by controlling the rotational speed of components connected to the watch hands. The energy flows from the mainspring barrel through the gear train, pushing the escapement, balance wheel, and clock hands.

No Battery Needed
The unique feature of mechanical watches is that they do not require batteries. The mainspring provides consistent torque to keep the gears turning and maintain the oscillation. Manual winding every day or natural wrist movement of automatic watches keeps repowering the mainspring. Hence, mechanical watches can potentially last very long without ever needing electric cells.

Gears mechanical of the mechanical wrist watch
Gears mechanical of the mechanical wrist watch

How to Wind and Set a Mechanical Watch

Keeping a mechanical watch powered and set to the right time requires occasional winding and time adjustment. Both manual and automatic mechanical watches need winding to keep the mainspring tensioned. Time setting should be done carefully at initial use or after the watch stops.

How to Wind a Mechanical Watch?
Winding a mechanical watch charges the mainspring to store power reserve and keep the movement running:

  1. Hold the watch horizontally in one hand. Grip the winding crown with your other hand.
  2. Gently turn the crown clockwise. When fully wound, you’ll feel resistance.
  3. Stop winding when the crown locks up to avoid over-winding.

How to wind a mechanical watch

How to Set a Mechanical Watch?
Time setting on a manual mechanical watch:

  1. Unscrew locking bolts if any on the crown by turning counterclockwise.
  2. Pull the crown carefully out to the time-setting position, usually labeled at the 2nd notch.
  3. Turn the crown to move the hands clockwise until desired time is set.
  4. Push the crown all the way in and lock bolts to start the watch.

How to set a mechanical watch

How to maintain a mechanical watch?

Mechanical watches require periodic maintenance to keep working accurately for decades and become family heirlooms. Proper care and timely servicing are key to longevity and preventing expensive repairs.

How Long Do Mechanical Watches Last
With regular upkeep, a high-quality mechanical watch can provide generations of reliable timekeeping. The daily wear subjects the parts to friction but professional servicing every 3-5 years reduces wear and tear. Watch connoisseurs still use century-old pocket watches that remain sturdy due to proper care.

Regular Maintenance Tips
Simple at-home maintenance steps include:

  • Winding the watch daily for maximum power reserve
  • Keeping the watch away from dust and moisture
  • Checking time accuracy over days
  • Cleaning exterior case and crystal with a soft cloth

Common Issues and Solutions
Some commonly faced mechanical faults include:

  • Dust accumulation: Interferes with gear movement → Requires cleaning by a watchmaker
  • Water damage: Corrodes and rusts components → Replacement of damaged parts
  • Oil depletion: Causes increased friction and inaccuracy → Needs lubrication
  • Part wear and tear: Affects timekeeping due to play in gears → Part replacement

Automatic vs Manual Mechanical Watches: What is the differences?

While all mechanical watches rely on gear trains and mainsprings, there is a key difference between automatic and manual movements. As the names suggest, the distinguishing factor is the winding method.

Manual mechanical watches require winding the crown periodically to tension the mainspring. If you don’t wind a manual watch daily, it will stop running when the power reserve runs out. So wearing needs a commitment to wind it up manaully everyday.

Automatic mechanical watches, on the other hand, use the kinetic energy from the wearer’s wrist movements to self-wind the mainspring. A metal rotor in the movement rotates with each hand gesture and arm swing, thereby tensioning the mainspring automatically. So an automatic mechanical watch never needs manual winding as regular use keeps it powered perpetually.

Accuracy and Precision Precision engineering of the escapement gives both manual and automatic mechanical watches accuracy rivaling quartz. But hardcore watch connoisseurs consider finely crafted manual movements to keep slightly more accurate time than automatics.

Automatic Wrist Watch vs Mechanical Wrist Watch
Automatic Wrist Watch vs Mechanical Wrist Watch

Mechanical Watch Components

The intricate construction of a mechanical watch consists of hundreds of parts that work harmoniously to track time. Some of the main components that power this micro-machinery are:

Mainspring
The mainspring is a coiled flat spring that supplies energy to the entire system. Winding tensions the mainspring and tightening it like a coiled snake stores maximum potential energy. The controlled unwinding of the mainspring drives the gear train.

Gear Train
The gear train consists of gears of different sizes meshed together to transfer motion. The tooth ratios ensure optimized torque is delivered from the mainspring barrel to the escapement and other parts. The gear train significantly slows the unfurling of the mainspring.

Escapement
The escapement is the regulator of the watch controlling the release of each pulse of energy. It governs the periodic ticks that maintain the oscillations of the balance wheel. This very wheel coupled with the hairspring controls the timing.

Motion Works
The motion works consist of the components that turn the wheels connected to the hands on the watch face. The power channeled through the gear train causes the final pinion gear to rotate step-by-step, driving the motion works.

Structure and parts of Mechanical Wrist Watch
Structure and parts of Mechanical Wrist Watch

Mechanical Watch Buyer’s Guide

For first-time buyers exploring mechanical watches, following certain guidelines helps narrow down the perfect model:

Purpose: Finalize the specific reason you need the watch for – dress, dive, aviation, etc. This determines optimal features and complications.

Movement: Decide on automatic or manual winding based on your wearing habits and commitment towards daily winding.

Complications: Include only the complex functions you have utility for rather than getting overwhelmed by too many – chronograph, GMT, moonphase, etc.

Size: Balance aesthetics and wearing comfort to pick the right case dimensions and slimness to suit your wrist.

Budget: High-end Swiss premium brands offer utmost prestige, craftsmanship and resale value, while Japanese watches provide reliability on a budget.

Romlicen Watch Manufacturing Services

As a leading China-based watch manufacturer, Romlicen offers professional private label and custom OEM & ODM watch development services. We produce high-quality mechanical and quartz watches tailored to your brand’s needs in record times.

Our manufacturing strengths include:

  • Complete in-house production of watch parts for minimum lead times
  • Latest machining technologies and skilled craftsmanship
  • Stringent quality control procedures for maximum accuracy
  • Diverse material options from stainless steel and titanium to ceramic and sapphire crystal
  • A wide capacity range from hundreds to thousands of bespoke watches per month
  • Minimum order quantity of just 100 pieces with flexible terms
  • Seamless customization of dial and case designs
  • Packaging and branding support to establish a novel watch brand

With over 15 years of experience in delighting global private label brands, Romlicen is your dependable Chinese partner for launching your own unique watch label cost-effectively.

Contact our watch experts today to bring your watch design vision to marketable fruition!

Related Mechanical Watch Products

Romlicen offers an extensive range of mechanical watches showcasing fine craftsmanship and technical artistry for mechanical movement aficionados. Some of our top picks are:

  1. Automatic Diver Watch With 300m water resistance, stainless steel construction, luminous hands and screw-down crowns, this mechanical diving watch can withstand professional marine activity. The self-winding movement never needs batteries.
  2. Mens GMT Watch This dual time zone automatic watch for the global traveler has a 24-hour marked rotating bezel. The independent adjustable GMT hand keeps track of a second time zone displayed on the black dial framed by a stainless steel case and bracelet.
  3. Mechanical Chronograph Watch The precise chronograph subdials on this automatic watch measure elapsed time accurately. The tachymeter scale on the stainless steel bezel calculates average speed. Bold luminescent hands and markers make night reading effortless.

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