Tick-Tock Talk: Understanding Automatic, Quartz, and Mechanical Movement

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Understanding Automatic, Quartz, and Mechanical Movement

Unless you’ve spent extensive time researching the inner workings of watches and their functions (which most folks don’t have much time for), you’ve probably experienced watch buyer’s confusion when perusing the market for your next timepiece. Don’t worry, it’s totally normal. Maybe you’ve figured out the difference between digital and analog, but then you start seeing words like “quartz” (and no, that doesn’t mean the color) and “movement.”

You just want to know what it all means and how it should affect your purchase decisions, right?

Here at Rockwell Time, watches are kind of our thing. So, we’ve done the research. We’re here to give you the lowdown on watch movement so that your next watch purchase is a confident one. Let’s start our journey with the birth of modern timepieces.

Chronicles of Chronometry: An Origin Story

Time-keeping devices have been around for centuries when people decided there had to be a better way to keep track of time than by staring at the sky. Following the age of tools like the sundial and water clock in ancient Egypt or the European hourglass, a man named Henry de Vick came up with a mechanical clock around the year 1360 that would revolutionize time telling forever. His design would pave the way for smaller, portable clocks, a.k.a. the watch.


The 16th century saw the rise of the mechanical watch, which featured a mainspring that needed to be wound to turn the gears, which then turned the hands around the face of the clock at a precise speed.

In the late 1770s, a Swiss watchmaker by the name of Abraham-Louis Perrelet designed a watch that did not require winding. His watch contained a weight that moved up and down. As the wearer moved their wrist, the weight wound the watch. This technology continued to evolve until the 1920s when English watch repair expert John Harwood patented an improved self-winding system, which Rolex would further develop in the 1930s.

Mechanical and automatic movement technology remained the standard until the quartz watch entered the scene in the 1960s.

Modern Movement Technology

Believe it or not, the 1960s gave us more than big hair and the Beatles. While quartz technology had been in development since the 1880s, it was nearly a century later that the technology began to be developed for a consumer market. A Japanese company named Seiko and the Swiss company Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH) each unveiled analog quartz wristwatches in 1967, officially taking the watch industry by storm. Although quartz watches began as luxury items, the technology soon spread to nearly every business and home in the Western world.

In the watch world today, these three movements still reign supreme, and all have their draw.

Mechanical Movement

Mechanical movement is what you could call the founding father of analog time telling. This technology features a spring that is wound when the wearer turns the watch’s crown. The spring transfers the energy through additional springs and gears before releasing that energy to the hour and minute hands, causing them to rotate at individual speeds around the watch face.

Automatic Movement

For those who don’t want to deal with the hassle of winding up a watch, the automatic watch does it for you. Here, energy is pulled from the movement of the wearer’s wrist and transferred to the rotor, an independently rotating metal weight. When the rotor spins, it causes the mainspring to coil, which powers the watch’s gears.

Quartz Movement

Modern-day quartz technology utilizes a battery that sends electricity through a tiny quartz crystal, creating vibrations that oscillate the movement, driving the motor that runs the watch’s functions.

It’s also helpful to note that a watch’s movement doesn’t necessarily determine its type. For example, a sports watch could have automatic, quartz, or mechanical movement, as could a dive watch or a tactical watch.

Which one is right for you?

Choosing the movement that is right for you is both a matter of preference and functionality.

Watch connoisseurs who don’t mind the attention and upkeep required to maintain mechanical movement watches enjoy the charm, rich history, and intricate workings of this good old-fashioned timepiece.

If you’re looking for a classic yet reliable piece that requires less maintenance than its mechanical counterpart, consider choosing an automatic watch.

Finally, if you want a no-fuss accessory, look no further than a trusty quartz movement watch. This fusion of classic functionality with modern technology offers users a wide range of styles and requires no maintenance apart from the occasional battery replacement.


The history and technology behind modern time-telling is rich and fascinating. Trust us, we could geek out on this stuff for days. Whatever your preference and lifestyle needs, the watch you choose is more than a fashion accessory; it’s a testament to the brilliance of human innovation.

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