Ok, so some of you couldn’t care less about a timepiece on your wrist. You consider them a brash vanity, a waste of money and completely pointless when your phone tells you the time anyway. But for a lot of people, watches range from a nice piece of jewelry to an outright obsession. So, for all those in the middle, here’s the Eighteen Eight guide to a watch movement…
What’s the difference between a ‘sweeping’ second hand and one that ticks along, second by second? The sweep isn’t just a Rolex thing, it’s any watch that has an automatic movement. That means it’s self-winding – the motion of your arm causes a rotor (often visible through the transparent case back) to spin, which winds the watch. The best automatic movements are ‘in-house’, but many automatics have a standard movement produced by the Swiss company ETA.
In a bizarre market scenario that could only be attributed to the Swiss, ETA continues to operate in a virtual monopoly and is forced to provide movements to companies. This will be declining over the next few years, so expect to hear a lot more about ‘in-house’ movements and also be aware that some may not be of the quality you’d find now. Just to complicate things a little, the Chinese and especially Japanese (the Miyota movement) are now producing automatic movements too.
Now this is not to say that the tick-tick of the quartz watch is bad or wrong. Many Swiss Quartz movements are excellent and in some cases, especially ladies’ watches, an automatic movement may not fit. Look out for the letters COSC, which means the Swiss Quartz movement has been certified as exceptional in its timekeeping. That’s what Quartz movements are all about, keeping great time. Automatics don’t always keep perfect time and need servicing about every 5 years.
We mustn’t forget about manually wound watches, which also feature a sweeping second hand, but require the wearer to wind them, often as much as every day, by turning the crown. And finally, the tourbillon, which is French for ‘whirlwind’ mounts part of the movement in a rotating cage to negate the effects of gravity. Tourbillon watches are only produced these days to display a watchmaker’s craft. They’re exceptional timepieces of massive complication and are often in excess of $250,000. Yes, that’s each!
In the face of the Apple and other smart watches, the industry faces a massive challenge over the course of the next decade and will definitely have to adjust. But one thing’s for sure – watch movements will continue to define fine watchmaking and will always be sought after.