A Beginner’s Guide to Watch Movement

Did you know your watch is made of many parts? It may look really simple but it features different intricate components that help it tell time accurately.

The hands, dial, case, crown, bezel – are just some of the integral parts of a watch. But the most important part is the watch movement. Want to know why? We’ll tell you all about it in this post.

Read on!


What Is a Watch Movement?

Also known as a caliber, a watch movement is the mechanism of a timepiece or watch.

As an engine to a car and a heart to a person, a movement is what makes a watch operate.

It is made of several components, each of which plays a role for the watch to keep time.

In the next sections, we’ll show you the essentials of a watch movement and its components.


The Different Types of Watch Movements

Watch movements are available in three different types based on how they are run and the features they offer. Let’s get to know these watch movements in detail:

Quartz Movement

Seiko, a well-known Japanese watchmaking company, introduced the quartz movement in 1969. This type operates on a battery and it makes the second hand move in single ticks. The quartz movement is a favorite among watch buyers because:

• It is affordable since it only needs fewer hours to make compared to the other types.

• It requires less maintenance since it uses a battery and it has fewer parts.

• Because it is battery-operated, it tells accurate time and is easy to use.

Epson YM92 Quartz Movement

Automatic Movement

A lot of mechanical watches sold today come with an automatic movement. Also known as self-winding, this type of movement uses kinetic energy from the natural movement of the wrist. Watches that have this type of movement have additional rotors making them generally thicker.

The main benefit of an automatic movement is it continues to operate with regular wear. This means that you no longer have to wind it each day.


Source: Gear Patrol

Mechanical movement

A manual or mechanical movement almost works similarly to a quartz movement. The main difference is that a mechanical movement does not need a battery. It works through a spring-driven mechanism, called a mainspring, that requires regular winding.

Since it does not need any batteries, a watch that has a mechanical movement generally lasts a long time. It is also popular because of its appearance. A manual watch has a clear case on the back that gives you a clear view of the working parts of the watch.

TMI/SEIKO NH16 Mechanical Movement

How Does a Watch Movement Work?

Now that you have a good idea of the different types of watch movements, let’s take a look at how each one works.

Quartz Movement

To better understand the mechanism of a quartz movement, let us identify first the interior parts of a quartz watch:

• Battery

• Electric stepping motor

• Microchip

•  Circuit microchip connection to other parts

• Quartz crystal oscillator

• Crown screw

• Gears to adjust the second, minute, and hour hands

• Shaft that secures the hands

Now, let’s discuss the working mechanism of a quartz movement:

Parts of a quartz watch


1. First, the battery transmits electric current to the microchip.

2. Then, the microchip current prompts the quartz crystal oscillator to vibrate exactly 32,768 times per second.

3. The circuit identifies these oscillations and transforms them into electrical pulses one per second.

4. These electrical pulses will then power the electric stepping motor. This process turns electric energy into mechanical power.

5. After generating mechanical power, the stepping motor controls the gears.

6. The gears then drive the hands around the watch face to keep time.

Automatic Movement

Here is a look at the different internal parts of an automatic watch:

• Rotor

• Mainspring

• Reverse mechanism

• Geartrain

• Crown

• Balance wheel

• Escapements

• Jewel

rubis_laurent_ferrier automatic watch

Source: Initium

Here is how an automatic movement works:

1. The wrist motion of the wearer prompts the rotor to rotate and the gears to wind the mainspring. But winding the mainspring can also be done through the crown, similar to a manual watch.

2. The gears in the gear train transport mechanical energy to the escapement.

3. Then, the escapement generates energy at periodic intervals to the balance wheel.

4. Still utilizing the energy from the mainspring, the pallets push the balance wheel in two directions. This is to maintain the balance on the oscillations of the wheel.

5. The swings of the balance wheel progress the geartrain to prompt the watch hands.

6. The hands rotate on the dial to keep time.

Mechanical Movement

Generally, the essential parts of a mechanical watch movement include the following:


• Escapement

• Oscillator

• Stem

• Mainspring

• Barrel wheel

• Barrel spring

• Cannon pinion

Source: Oriental Watch Site

Here is how a mechanical watch movement works:

1. When the wearer rotates the stem, it advances to the mainspring, which lays on a flat and round barrel. The back of this barrel also serves as a wheel, which is commonly known as the barrel wheel. This wheel rotates when the mainspring starts to unwind. During this process, the barrel spring transmits power to the geartrain.

2. The geartrain has two functions. First, it advances the speed of the oscillation from the mainspring. Second, the center of the geartrain sets the rotation rate of the minute and hour hands. This is done as the geartrain advances energy from the barrel wheel to the escapement mechanism, which returns the energy at a controlled rhythm.

3. The escapement wheel rotates at regular intervals through a pallet that connects to an oscillator. This pallet functions as the “break” to maintain the intervals, which determine the movement speed of the geartrain. To make it simpler, the escapement wheel generates power for the oscillator, but in turn, its speed is controlled.

4. Because of the oscillator and escapement, the center wheel of the geartrain spins at a regular rate. Attached to the middle wheel is another wheel called a “cannon pinion.” This tiny wheel turns and secures the minute hand. At the same time, the cannon pinion rotates the specified hour wheel that spins the hour hand.

How to Remove a Watch Movement from the Case

Now that you know more about a watch movement, we’re going to share with you how to remove it properly. This would really come in handy when your movement needs cleaning or replacement.

Step 1: Open the Watch Back

Opening the back depends on the type of case back your watch has. If you are not familiar, here are the types of watch back cases:

• 4-screw Watch Back

4 screw watch back

Source: HeadTalker

As its name implies, a 4-screw watch back has four screws securing the case back.

It is made from a variety of materials, such as rubber, plastic, and metal. If you have this type, use a straight edge or a Phillips screwdriver to open it.

• Screw-off Watch Back

screw-off watchback

Source: Watch Talk Forums

A screw-off watch back has huge grooves around the sides. You can use a case holder or case opener wrench to open the watch back.

When unscrewing, be careful to avoid damaging the gasket.

• Pressure-fit Watch Back

If you have a pressure-fit watch back, you will find a tiny dent at the back. This is where you will slide your watch opener tool to open the case.

Step 2: Remove the Stem From the Watch

removal of the stem of a watch

Source: Esslinger Blog

The next step is to take off the stem. If it is a threaded type, find the screw that you need to loosen. Rotate the screw counterclockwise around three to four times. This should remove the stem. If there is no screw, find a dent (usually marked with an arrow) and push it to remove the stem.

Step 3: Take off the Watch Movement

taking off of the watch movement

Source: Esslinger Blog

For the last step, you must remove the movement ring first. In the image above, the movement ring is the green plastic ring that secures the interior watch parts. Use a pair of tweezer, lift the movement ring, and put it in your parts tray. Since the stem is already out, the movement should come off easily.

Here’s a cool video to give you a clearer picture of how to remove a watch movement:

How to Clean a Watch Movement

Now that you know how to remove a watch movement, we’ll show you how to clean it. Cleaning a watch movement is necessary to remove oil residue and debris from the surface of the movement parts. You don’t have to go to a professional to have it done, you can do it yourself and we’ll teach you how to do that in this section.

Things you will need:

• 1-2 drops Liquid detergent diluted in 100 ml distilled water

• 99.99% pure isopropyl alcohol

• Small paintbrush

• Peg wood

• Air blower

Important Tips:

1. You must only clean your watch movement if it’s completely disassembled.

2. Do not include the balance assembly and pallet fork as you will clean them separately.

Now, on to the steps!

1. Soak the parts in the first cleaning fluid (detergent and distilled water) for a few minutes. Add first the larger parts followed by the smaller ones. Then, hover your paintbrush on the surface of the parts to remove stubborn debris.

2. After cleaning the parts in the liquid solution, blot them with a paper towel to remove the residue of the cleaning solution.

3. Soak the parts in isopropyl alcohol for 10-15 minutes. This will dissolve traces of oil that was not completely removed in step 1.

4. While submerged, you can help clean the parts by hovering the paintbrush on their surfaces. Use a peg wood to keep the parts steady while you are cleaning them.

5. Use the peg wood to clean the holes of the main plate and bridges. Repeat this step until the holes are clean.

6. Blot the parts with a paper towel and soak them again in another container with isopropyl alcohol. Leave them for 5-10 minutes to make sure that all debris is removed.

7. Use a pair of tweezers to remove the parts one by one and transfer them to a clean paper towel. Use an air blower to dry the parts.

8. For the pallet and balance assembly, only clean them with lighter cleaning fluid. Just follow the steps above, but do not use isopropyl alcohol to prevent damaging the delicate parts.

9. After cleaning and drying all the parts, you can reassemble and lubricate the watch movement.

Things to Consider When Buying a Watch Movement

Did you just find out that your watch movement is beyond saving and needs replacement? We’ll help you ease up some of your worries. Below is a guide to help you choose which watch movement is best for you.

Quartz Movement or Mechanical Movement?

The first thing you need to decide is whether you are getting a quartz movement or mechanical movement. We have discussed them earlier on this post so you may refer to that to decide.

What Features Do You Need?

Apart from how they run, mechanical and quartz movements each have their set of features. Let’s take a look at them:

Mechanical Movement:

1. Year

2. The month of the year

3. The day of the week

4. Date

5. Big date (two wheels to show the date)

6. GMT

7. Minute repeaters

8. Timing/stopwatch/chronograp

9. Tourbillions

10. Power reserve

Quartz Movement:

1. Solar power

2. GPS position

3. Atomic or internet clock-linked time

4. Altitude & Dive depth

5. Calculator

6. Digital time display

7. Multiple alarms and timers

8. Time display for various cities worldwide

9. Temperature

10. Barometric pressure & Compass

The features of a mechanical movement are also found in a quartz one. But, since it is battery-operated, a quartz movement has features that you can’t find in a mechanical movement.

As you can see, a quartz movement offers a lot of features. If you plan to use your watch for various activities, then a quartz watch is the one for you. Meanwhile, a mechanical watch may have fewer features but it surely has appeal. If you’re looking for a watch with excellent aesthetics, then go for a mechanical one.

Does Swiss-made Matter?

A watch movement is considered Swiss-made if it was assembled and inspected by a manufacturer in Switzerland. Watches made in Switzerland follow higher standards compared to others. This means that if it’s Swiss-made, it has better quality and could last a lifetime.

If you are a watch lover, you know that many prefer watches that are “Swiss-made.” But, does it really matter? Is Swiss-made better compared to others? Some would say yes. But, for an average watch user, paying more for a watch just because it is Swiss-made seems unnecessary.

Where to Buy a Watch Movement?

Do you need to replace your old watch movement but don’t know where to look? Don’t worry! There are various places where you can find watch movements for sale. To help you get started, we have some great suggestions for you.

Watch Parts Suppliers

If you make a quick search online, you’ll discover a handful of watch movement suppliers. You can check them when you have the time. Take note, don’t simply choose the one you see first. Take a look at their website to know more about the company. Also, compare prices so you can get a high-quality watch movement at a really good price.

Online Marketplace

Another great place to look for a mechanical or quartz watch movement for sale is an online marketplace. Some awesome examples are Amazon and eBay. What’s great about these platforms is you can easily find an item complete with information.

By simply searching “watch movement,” you’ll receive results that already include the brand name, price, reviews, and other important details.

Authorized Retailers

Authorized retailers are those given permission by manufacturers to sell their items. While many of these retailers sell the entire watch, there are still others that sell watch parts, including the movement. If there’s a retailer near you, contact them first and check if they offer watch movements.

Watch Repair Shops

Many watch repair shops today offer both services and watch parts and tools. You can find these shops both online and offline. Like the others, check out the shop first if they sell watch movements of high-quality.


So that’s it for our watch movement guide.

Which movement is your watch using? Do you have any questions on watch movement? Or do you wish to add something? Either way, let us know by leaving a comment below! 

If you are interested in knowing about about watch repairs, check out our change watch battery guide!

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You’ve very well info these.

Great content! Super high-quality! Keep it up! 🙂

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