26.01.2022 - Patek Philippe

Watch Movement Meaning: Automatic, Manual & Quartz

It can often be difficult to decide which watch is the best. It’s worth looking beyond factors such as price, brand, and style. Exploring how the watch you plan to buy actually works, such as what watch movement it utilises.

But what does a watch movement mean?  

What Does a Watch “Movement” Mean?

A watch movement (also known as a “calibre”) is essentially what makes it tick. It is the engine of a watch which enables the watch and its movements to operate as they should. 

This in turn moves the hands, powers and any other complications such as a dual time zone, annual calendar, etc. The movement is essential in keeping the watch running and showing the accurate time.

The Different Types of Watch Movements

There are various different types of watch movements that have been invented by manufacturers over the years, but all of these movements fall into one of two categories of movement: manual and quartz. 

The main difference between manual and quartz watch movement is the second-hand movement. It’s relatively easy to spot either movement by watching how the second-hand travels around the watch face. 

A manual watch movement can be seen through its smooth, sweeping movements, while a quartz movement moves progressively in stages (or individual ticks).

While there are two categories of watch movements, these are by no means exhaustive. We are going to cover the meanings and workings of the most popular watch movements: manual, automatic and quartz.

Manual Watch Movement

The oldest of the watch movements is manual. Dating back to the 16th century, a manual watch movement is often referred to as a hand-wound movement. 

Manual watch movements are established as the most traditional of the three movements and are reserved for more expensive and collectable watches.

It is worth noting that a watch with a manual movement does require daily winding. 

How Does Manual Movement Work?

The manual watch movements work by manually turning the crown, which in turn stores the energy. This energy is then transferred through various facets of the watch, finally powering the hands of the watch.

This is how a manual watch movement works:

  1. Winding the watch turns the crown and stem, winding the mainspring, which then stores the energy.
  2. The gear train then transfers the energy from the mainspring through a series of springs and gears.
  3. This energy is then regulated periodically to power the movement of the hands.

An example of a watch with a manual movement is the Gondolo Haute Joaillerie 7042/100R-010 by Patek Philippe. 

Automatic (or Self-Winding) Watch Movement

An automatic (or self-winding) watch movement is largely similar to that of the manual watch movement in that the power is stored in the mainspring and again, transferred through a series of gears and springs.

The difference between an automatic and manual watch movement is that while manual requires hand-wound movement, automatic does not. The automatic watch movement is simply powered by the movement of the wearer. 

Automatic watch movements were first brought into the mainstream by Rolex with the Oyster Perpetual, produced back in 1920. This was a welcomed addition to the industry as it, for the most part removed the need for the manual winding of a watch.

How Does Automatic Movement Work?

The movement of an automatic watch is, for the most part, the same as a manual one. The difference is that instead of manually winding the watch, the watch is powered by the wearer’s movement. 


An automatic watch is winded by movement, powering the rotor, which then winds the mainspring. The rest of the steps are essentially the same as the manual watch movement. 

This is how an automatic watch movement works:

  1. The wearer moves their wrist, this then turns the rotor.
  2. Turning the rotor winds the mainspring, this can also be done by manually turning the crown as you would a manual watch.
  3. The gear then transfers the energy from the mainspring through an assortment of gears and springs.
  4. The energy is then regulated every number of beats and transferred to the hands of the watch.

An example of a watch with an automatic (or self-winding) movement is the Golden Ellipse 5738P 001 by Patek Philippe. 

Quartz Watch Movement

A quartz watch movement is often the preferred method as it does not require any manual winding, and is the most accurate out of all the options available. 

They now make up a large portion of the modern watch market due to the low maintenance required for them to function, aside from battery replacements.

The best way to spot a quartz watch movement is a ticking second hand, as opposed to the sweeping motion of automatic and manual watch movements.

How Does Quartz Movement Work?

Instead of being powered by manual movements, the quartz movement is powered by electricity from a battery. The electricity is then transferred to the dial train which advances the hand on the watch.

This is how a quartz watch movement works:

  1. The electricity from the battery is transferred to the quartz crystal through the integrated circuit.
  2. The electricity then makes the quartz crystal vibrate.
  3. The electrical pulses are then transferred to the stepping motor via the integrated circuit.
  4. The electrical pulses (every 32,768th pulse) are then sent to the dial train from the stepping motor. 
  5. The dial train then moves the watch hand.

An example of a watch with a quartz watch movement is the Nautilus 010R 011 by Patek Philippe. 

Discover Automatic, Manual & Quartz Movement in Patek Philippe Watches

We hope that you found our watch movement guide useful, and it helped you to decide which watch movement is right for you. If you would like to buy a Patek Philippe watch, then please see our full range at Luxe Watches.

Alternatively, if you would like to sell a Patek Philippe watch, then please contact us to find out more information on how much you could make. Our in-house team have over 40 years of experience working alongside Patek Philippe and will help to value both popular watches and more niche releases.

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