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Understanding How Watches Keep Time

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The mechanics of watches boasts a history of sophistication. Even the most primitive timekeeping technology–the sundial–was an ingenious invention for its time, requiring clever application of astronomy and mathematics. Today’s wristwatches are a vast departure from the sundial; they are personal, portable, and as much a fashion statement as a functional time keeper.

Understanding the design and mechanics behind a watch’s movements brings a deeper appreciation for its elegance. There are several designs for watch mechanics, and some of the most common are described below.

  • Digital. One of the most straightforward watch designs, digital watches typically run on battery power and project–in numerals–the current time based on input from an internal “counter” mechanism.
  • Mechanical. In mechanical watches, energy is derived from the physical winding of a lever on the watch itself. This energy is dispersed through a series of interconnected wheels and channeled through a controlling mechanism to move the second, minute, and hour hands according to a preset pattern.
  • Automatic Mechanical. This is similar to the original mechanical design, except the watch’s energy is gathered from natural movements by the wearer of the watch that result from walking and moving one’s hand, instead of from deliberately cranking a lever.
  • Quartz. This design harnesses the natural low-current electrical impulse that results when pressure is applied to crystal quartz. The movements of the small crystal quartz within the watch trigger the hands to move according to a preset pattern.

Most luxury watch brands, such as Cartier and Longine watches, utilize the automatic mechanical technology. When shopping for your next timepiece, consider the mechanics of its design, as this is an integral component of your watch’s character.