Watch Movement Types: A Primer

January 11th, 2010 | 7 Comments

One thing that you notice, and notice fast, when perusing the wonderful world of watches online or through magazines is this that there is a good chance that you can find whatever you are looking for.

But there are many factors to consider: style, price, size and movement type just to name a few.

This article tackles the movement issue by shedding some light on the various watch movement types.

These include:

Mechanical Movement

Mechanical Watches: Watches without a battery.

The oldest type of movement is that of the mechanical watch. Usually seen as a watch lover’s watch, mechanical watches provide a sense of timeless value and mechanical beauty.

Within the mechanical category there are two watch types: automatic watches and manual wind watches. The difference between the two types is simple.

In an automatic watch…

  • Watch is powered by the energy generated from the watch being worn.
  • Movement of the rotor (i.e. the free-moving, semi-circular piece usually seem through an exhibition style caseback) collects this energy.
  • Energy is then stored in a mainspring and released at a regulated rate.

In a manual wind watch…

  • The watch must be self-wound periodically (most times daily).
  • Winding must take place for energy to be stored within the watch.

Both mechanical watch types are on average within +/- 30 seconds per day.

Standard Quartz Movement

Quartz Watches: Watches that contain a battery and use quartz as an oscillator.

Quartz watches arrived on the scene in the 1970’s. The common perception of ‘cheap quartz timepieces’ no longer holds true. The evolution of styles and materials have allowed high-end quartz movements to surface as a major player within the watch world that appeal to those who favor the movement or want to experience high accuracy and numerous options.

In a quartz watch…

  • The quartz crystal is used as an oscillator so energy from the battery is sent into the quartz oscillator causing it to vibrate, power and through a number of other mechanisms, regulate the movement of the watch hands.

  • Highly accurate, usually within +/- 0.5 seconds per day.
  • Battery must be replaced (usually every couple of years depending on use).

Eco-Drive / Light Powered Movement

Eco-Drive Watches: Quartz movement that uses light to recharge the battery.

Seen any ads with New York Giant’s quarterback Eli Manning recently? I have. Citizen has taken ownership of the eco-drive concept starting back in 1995. On the other hand, this is not an orphan technology limited to just Citizen.

The green revolution of mechanical watches (components do not house any harmful materials) has transpired into the quartz (rechargeable batteries contain no harmful chemicals) segment of Orient. These watches, although fashionable and practical, are a middle ground between standard quartz movement and a kinetic movement.

In an eco-drive or light powered watch…

  • Energy is captured by solar cells below the watch dial.
  • Watch can be charged by various light sources in addition to the sun.
  • After six hours of charging time, an Orient light powered watch will work for 4,000 hours.
  • No need to replace battery.

Kinetic Movement

Kinetic Watches: A quartz movement that is powered by the movement of the wearer (a quartz version of an automatic watch).

The latest quartz technology is that of kinetic offered by the Seiko Watch Company (although the first prototype was revealed in 1986). A niche within the quartz industry, Seiko has taken technology to the next level by creating a quartz watch with automatic-like properties.

In a kinetic watch…

  • Potential energy is converted into kinetic energy (kinetic energy means active or moving).
  • Energy is generated through the movement of the wearer via a rotor.
  • Instead of being stored in a mainspring (as with an automatic watch) it is converted into electrical power that runs the watch.
  • No need to replace battery.

Kinetic Auto Relay Movement

The kinetic relay movement is a derivative of the standard kinetic quartz movement that was released in 1998.

In a kinetic auto-relay watch…

  • The watch has all the features of a kinetic movement.


  • When the watch is motionless for 72 hours, a power save function will be triggered.
  • The hands stop moving but the circuit board within the watch continues to keep time.
  • The watch will again track time through the use of the watch hands when the watch is disrupted or caused to move by shaking or wearing.

This will cause the watch hands to rapidly catch up and display the correct time.


  1. 7 Comments | Tell us what you think!

  2. By Steve Poorman on Jan 19, 2010

    It always amazes me how these most complex machines are so small.

  3. By Donald on Jan 20, 2010

    Nice article – very informative!

  4. By Mike Kilheeney on Feb 11, 2010

    What a fantastic & informative article. It was precise and accurate just like orient watches.

  5. By Henry on Aug 8, 2011

    I have recently come across a movement described as Semi automatic, and cannot find a definition of this anywhere.

  6. By howard wood on Nov 19, 2011

    i find it very informative not only the types of movements but also with a little thinking on the part of the wearer,the best movement for use in day to day life of the wearer.i myself have much to look into to become better informed.thank you for this great start.i know i will be back.

  7. By S.Reddi on Jan 28, 2012

    Very good and compact documentary on the movement types of watches.It would be nice to include a comparasion as well and the companies using these movements in their watches.

  8. By Chirayu on Apr 7, 2012

    I’m new to watches and wanted to learn more about features such as movements (swiss, japanese, french, etc), sizes, bands, watch manufacturers, etc. How do you suggest going about learning as much as possible about watches? Thanks.

7 comments | Tell us what you think!