When you first start learning about watches, information fatigue quickly sets in and you feel exhausted just trying to understand basics such as watch movements and all the new terminology that comes with the territory. Our mission here at the Watch Resource is to help with just that. Take a look at our organized guide in which we present all the basics in a digestible way, guiding you through the journey into the world of watches.
Starting with the most important: watch movement. Some would argue the movement is the soul of a watch, and we tend to agree. It determines the accuracy of timekeeping, as well as the overall quality of the timepiece. Let’s take a look at all the different watch movements you may encounter.
Manual / Hand Wound
This requires you –as the responsible owner– to manually wind the watch using the crown. It is one of the oldest mechanisms, and the fact that you have to manually maintain the mechanics of the movement does have a certain charm to it. These watches are not made to be shoved into a box never to see the light of day.
In the case of automatic movements, there’s a rotor on the back of the movement that will wind around or circulate, thus helping to wind the main spring inside the watch and provide power.
What does ‘winding up a watch’ mean exactly?
When winding a watch by turning the crown, the energy is stored in a main spring that coils up inside a barrel in the watch, which is the center where power is stored within the case.Once the mainspring is coiled up very tightly, it will gradually start releasing the energy through a gear train. When you see metrics such as ‘power reserve’, it refers to how long the watch can run without being wound or worn.
The gear train leads to a thing called “escapement” that works together with a “balance wheel”. The escapement wheel and the pallet fork will lock-unlock-lock-unlock. The other side of the pallet fork will move the balance wheel accordingly, so it results in the balance wheel moving in a back-and-forth motion. This is basically acting like a pendulum (see illustration below).
What’s interesting with mechanical watches is the movement of the seconds hand is a sweeping movement vs a ticking movement we usually see with quartz movements. Technically, the movement of the mechanical watches consists of very quick, small consecutive “ticks”, but visually it looks like a sweeping movement.
The first thing to know is that ‘quartz’ does in fact refer to a crystal and this crystal is key to the regulation of the watch (not the power, but regulation). A quartz movement is typically powered by a disposable lithium battery (or by Solar power as with the Citizen Eco-Drive).
The battery sends electrical energy and is the power element of the movement.
Due to this electrical energy, the quartz starts vibrating (at a specific frequency). This specific frequency is sent back to the integrated circuit that will then send an electromagnetic impulse through coils in order for the hands (seconds, minutes and hours) to move. Fun fact: quartz movements (even cheaper quartz movements) are actually more accurate in tracking time than mechanical movements.
Industry Landscape: Mainstream Watch Brands
While trying to navigate the vast sea that is watch brands, you will most often come across the mainstream established brands due to their market visibility. Usually, you will find these brands are part of one big holding company. Here’s a quick organization chart of the most popular mainstream brands:
- Harry Winston
- Jaquet Droz
- Vacheron Constantin
- Lange & Sohne
- Mont Blanc
- Van Cleef & Arpels
- Baume & Mercier
- Roger Dubuis
- Grand Seiko
- Frederique Constant
- TAG Heuer
- Rolex (Tudor is owned by Rolex)
- Patek Philippe
- Audemars Piguet
How a Watch Should Fit
Your wrist size should determine what size would be the most comfortable for you. We encourage you to go to stores, try on different sizes to get a good understanding of what ranges feel comfortable.
Keep in mind, there are watches for different occasions and activities. To give you an easy example, an oversized pilot watch is not the best pick for a black tie event. Read more about the etiquette of watch wearing in our comprehensive guide.
Straps & Tools
Don’t forget, you can wear your watch with different straps, and it’s something you can customize very easily. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
2 things to keep in mind:
- Know the lug width – the distance between the two lugs. This will be in millimeters usually so you can look for straps with that same width.
- Get a spring bar tool. (follow these easy steps to change a watch strap in minutes.)
A new strap can completely change the look of your timepiece. The different styles you can achieve include a sporty look with a steel bracelet, dressy with a patent leather strap, or a military look with a NATO strap.
You will notice different ways manufacturers annotate water resistance. The most common measurements are meters, ATM and bar. Now, here’s where it gets tricky. If you see a watch that’s water resistant up to 30 meters, it doesn’t mean you can do all kinds of activities up to 30 meters. This is because most of these watches are tested in steady conditions, but in reality, you’re moving around with the watch, there’s pressure, changing temperatures, etc.
So, here’s what the measurements REALLY mean:
- 30 M / 3 ATM / 3 BAR: Splash resistant only, no swimming
- 50 M / 5 ATM / 5 BAR: Light swimming (think pool parties)
- 100 M / 10 ATM / 10 BAR: You can do most water activities wearing this watch
- 200 M / 20 ATM / 20 BAR and above: Suitable for diving
Watch Crystals (aka the glassy cover of the case)
- Acrylic / Plexiglass: they’re usually inexpensive and these crystals can have a nice dome design that can give a cool vintage feel. The disadvantage of these is they can scratch pretty easily.
- Sapphire crystals: Scratch resistant, very clear crystals, and they usually have anti-reflective coatings on them, so the actual dial is more visible. Downside? They are more expensive.