Knowledge Base

How Does a Mechanical Wrist Watch Work?

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Jacky Chou

How Does a Mechanical Wrist Watch Work? A watch is a timepiece that is made to be worn on the wrist.

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In order to understand how a mechanical wrist watch works, it is important to first understand how a regular wrist watch works. A regular wrist watch uses a battery to power a quartz crystal. The quartz crystal creates vibrations that keep the watch hands moving at a steady pace. A mechanical wrist watch does not use a battery or a quartz crystal. Instead, it uses a small weight called a rotor that turns when the wearer moves their arm. The rotor is connected to gears inside the watch, which keep the hands moving.

Mechanical watches are more accurate than regular watches because they are not affected by changes in temperature or humidity like quartz watches are. They are also more durable and do not require batteries, which makes them more environmentally friendly.

The Parts of a Mechanical Wrist Watch

A mechanical wrist watch is a watch that uses a winding mechanism to store energy in a spring, which is then used to power the watch. The energy is released gradually, which powers the watch for a certain period of time. There are several parts to a mechanical wrist watch, which we will get into below.

The Case

The case is the housing that protects the interior components of the watch. It is usually made of metal, although some cases are made of plastic, ceramic, or other materials. The case typically has a screw-down back or a snap-on back that allows access to the interior of the watch. The front of the case may have a crystal, which is a clear cover that protects the dial.

The Dial

The dial is the face of the watch where you can see the time. It is usually made of metal, glass, or plastic. The hands of the watch are attached to the dial and they point to the numbers or markers on the dial to show the time. There are many different types of dials, including:
-Analog: This type of dial has numbers or markers around the edge and hands that point to them to show the time.
-Digital: This type of dial has numbers or symbols that light up to show the time.
– LCD (liquid crystal display): This type of dial has a liquid crystal display that shows the time in numbers or symbols.
– LED (light emitting diode): This type of dial has a light emitting diode that lights up to show the time in numbers or symbols.

The Hands

The hands of a watch tell time by pointing to the hour, minute and second markers on the dial. Most watches have three hands, but some have only two. The longest hand is the hour hand, which points to the hour markers. The next longest hand is the minute hand, which points to the minute markers. The shortest hand is the seconds hand, which points to the seconds marker or track. (A few watches have a fourth hand that points to a 24-hour clock or day/night indicator.)

The Movement

The movement is the “engine” of the watch that keeps time and drives the watch’s other functions. The vast majority of modern watches have electronic movements, powered by tiny batteries. A very small minority of watches have mechanical movements, powered by springs.

There are three main types of mechanical movements:
-Manual: You must wind the watch periodically (daily or weekly) to keep it running.
-Automatic: The watch winds itself while you wear it, using a rotating weight inside the watch that moves as your wrist moves.
-Kinetic: Like an automatic, but instead of a rotating weight, it uses an oscillating weight that moves back and forth.

The Winding Mechanism

All mechanical watches need to be wound regularly in order to keep them running. The most common type of winding mechanism is the “automatic” or “self-winding” mechanism, which winds the watch automatically when it’s worn on the wrist. However, many watches also have a “manual wind” option, which allows the wearer to wind the watch by hand when necessary.

The winding mechanism is located at the bottom of the watch case, and it typically consists of a small knob or lever (known as the “crown”) that can be turned in either direction. When the crown is turned in one direction (typically clockwise), it winds the watch’s mainspring, which stores energy to power the watch. When the crown is turned in the other direction, it allows the wearer to set the watch’s time.

The Balance Wheel

The balance wheel is the heart of the watch, oscillating back and forth at a constant rate. This vibration is what keeps time, and the faster the balance wheel swings, the faster time will pass. A hairspring is attached to the balance wheel and returns it to its original position after each swing. The combination of the balance wheel and hairspring is called a balance assembly, and it’s what makes a mechanical watch “tick.”

The Escapement

The escapement is a toothed wheel that transfers energy to the watch’s balance wheel. It consists of an escape wheel with saw-toothed teeth and a lever with two pallets. As the escape wheel turns, each tooth locks into place with one of the pallets on the lever. This action stops the watch’s gears from turning. The other pallet releases the tooth so it can lock into place with the next one. This action gives the balance wheel a push, or impulse, keeping it moving.

The Mainspring

The mainspring is the power source of a mechanical watch. It is a long spiral of metal flat wire (sometimes called a “blade”) that is coiled around an arbor. The mainspring’s purpose is to store energy to run the watch. The energy in the mainspring is released gradually and unwinds the watch. As the mainspring unwinds, it slowly turns the gears, which power the watch’s movement.

How It Works

If you’ve ever wondered how those tiny gears and springs inside your watch work together to tell time, you’re not alone. Even though wrist watches are fairly common, most people don’t know how they work. In this article, we’ll take a look at the inner workings of a mechanical wrist watch. You’ll see how the gears work together to move the hands around the dial and how the springs provide the power to keep the watch running.

The Winding Mechanism

The winding mechanism is what keeps the mainspring tight so that it can power the watch. On a mechanical watch, you’ll usually see a knob on the right side of the case (if you’re wearing it) called the crown. When you unscrew or pull the crown out, it disengages the winding mechanism so that you can set the time.

There are two types of winding mechanisms: automatic and manual. Automatic watches have a weight inside that swings with your wrist movement and winds the mainspring automatically. You don’t have to do anything except wear it. Manual watches require you to turn the crown periodically to wind up the mainspring. How often depends on how active you are and how much power is Reserve, or stored, in the mainspring. Most manual watches will run for 24 to 48 hours before they need to be wound again.

While the mainspring is tightly wound, it’s storing energy like a stretched rubber band ready to snap back into place. When fully wound, most mainsprings have enough energy Reserve to run a watch for two days or more without being wound again. The length of time a mainspring will run before needing to be rewound depends on how much power is required to operate the watch’s complications (features like a chronograph or perpetual calendar). A simple time-only watch with no complications can usually run for 48 hours or more before it needs to be wound again, while a complex perpetual calendar watch may need to be rewounded every seven days or so.

The Balance Wheel

A balance wheel is a weighted wheel that oscillates back and forth at a constant rate. It is the timekeeping element of a mechanical watch that makes tick-tock sound with each swing. In a typical balance wheel assembly, there are two metal weights (called the “screws”) affixed to the outer rim of the wheel. As the balance wheel swings back and forth, these weights rotate on their axles. The position of the screws can be adjusted using a flathead screwdriver, which is how watchmakers “fine tune” the watch’s ticking sound to make it as accurate as possible.

The balance wheel is attached to a thin metal rod called the “balance staff.” The staff’s other end is connected to the “escapement,” which is a set of gears that regulates the release of energy from the mainspring to power the watch’s ticking sound. The escapement also has a “fork” that helps keep the balance wheel in constant motion. As each tick occurs, one of the prongs on the fork catches on one of the teeth on the ratchet wheel, which is attached to the mainspring barrel. This releases a small amount of energy from the mainspring, which powers both the ticking sound and (in most cases) the minute hand on the watch face.

The Escapement

The escapement is a vital component in any mechanical watch. It is responsible for the ‘ticking’ sound that you hear when a watch is running, and it regulates the release of energy in the watch movement.

The escapement is made up of two parts – the balance wheel and the pallets. The balance wheel is a weighted wheel that oscillates back and forth at a constant rate. The pallets are two small metal prongs that act as a brake, stopping the balance wheel each time it swings past.

As the balance wheel swings, it lifts the pallets off their resting position one at a time. This allows energy to flow from the mainspring through the gear train and into the balance wheel. Once the pallets have been lifted, they fall back into place and stop the balance wheel again. This process repeats itself over and over, creating the ticking sound of a mechanical watch.

The Mainspring

A watch’s mainspring is a long, tightly-coiled torsion spring that stores energy to run the watch. As the spring unwinds, it slowly releases that energy to turn the watch’s gears.

The mainspring is located in the watch’s barrel. The barrel is a cylindrical container with gear teeth cut into its inner surface. The mainspring sits inside the barrel and is wound around a central post, called the arbor.

The other end of the mainspring is attached to the barrel wall. As the mainspring winds around the arbor, it twists. This twist creates torque, or rotational force, which turns the gears in the barrel.

The barrel’s gears are connected to other gears in the watch movement. These gears transfer energy from the barrel to the watch’s hands, which move around the dial to indicate time.


A mechanical wrist watch is a marvel of miniaturization and engineering. By harnessing the power of a rotating weight, it can store enough energy to keep accurate time for days or even weeks. The engineering that goes into making such a tiny and precise machine is truly astounding.

Jacky Chou

Jacky Chou is the co-founder of Uberwrists and has gotten into watches from his father from a young age. His first watch was a black G Shock that was comedically large for his wrist. He appreciates watches from Seiko to a Patek Philippe.

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