Watch FAQ

What is a mechanical movement?

Mechanical movements are based on the original pocket and wristwatch movements from the early 20th century. Mechanical movements keep time through the use of springs, gears and levers – there are no batteries in a mechanical movement. Mechanical movements were almost eradicated from the planet in the mid 1980’s during the quartz revolution. Many of the watches sold at Island Watch have mechanical based movements. Mechanical watches are characterized by a sweeping seconds hand – much like that of a Rolex. This sweeping motion is actually the seconds hand ticking many times a second; usually 4, 6 or 8 times per second.

There are two types of mechanical movements – hand wound and automatics. See separate FAQ’s for more information on these types of movements.

What is an automatic wristwatch?

An automatic wristwatch is a watch that uses an automatic movement as its timekeeping mechanism. Automatic movements are a subset of mechanical movements that, when worn daily, do not need to be wound. Every time the watch is worn, an oscillating weight in the movement winds the mainspring, thus ensuring the mainspring (the source of energy for the watch) remains fully wound. Most of the automatic watches sold at Island Watch have a power reserve of 40 hours – this means that once fully wound, the watch will run for approximately 40 hours continuously. But, as noted above, when worn daily, they will never need to be wound again.

If you are like many of our customers, you probably have more than one watch. If you do not wear an automatic for a day (24 hours), it will still be running the next morning, but it is recommended to wind it by turning the crown about 20 times. This will guarantee the watch is fully ‘charged’.

If an automatic watch is allowed to run down fully, as in when it is shipped, or if it remains in your jewelry box, simply turn the crown clockwise 20 to 30 times to give the mainspring a full wind. You can not over wind an automatic movement – there is an internal clutch mechanism – the crown will simply keep turning but the watch will not wind any further.

What is a quartz movement?

Watches with quartz movements use a battery as its power source. The battery is used to provide a voltage across a quartz crystal which, in turn, oscillates very fast. A small microchip counts these oscillations. When a certain number of oscillations is reached, a signal is sent to a stepper motor that advances the hands (for example, one second intervals).

Quartz watches became very popular in the 1980’s and threatened the very existence of mechanical movements. Quartz watches are extremely reliable, and are by far the best time keepers – if you are looking for accuracy, quartz watches will serve your purpose. But, they do not have the same ‘life’ that mechanical watches have.


What is a hand wound (manual) movement?

Unlike automatic movements, hand wound movements need to be wound on a daily basis to ensure it will keep running. Like automatics, most manual wind watches sold at Island Watch have a power reserve of 40 hours, so you can get by without winding it for a day and a half, but, as the mainspring becomes unwound, the movement does tend to lose accuracy. For this reason, it is a good idea to wind it every morning.

If it does wind down fully, as in when it is shipped, simply turn the crown clockwise 20 to 30 times to give it a full wind. They crown will stop turning when fully wound.

What is a ‘jewel’, and how does the number of jewels affect watch quality?

In all watches, the power must be transmitted from the main energy source (eg mainspring) all the way to the hands. This power transmission takes place through many rotating parts. In a mechanical wristwatch, whenever there is a rotating component, there is friction. This friction reduces the watches accuracy and takes away valuable energy the watch needs to keep running.

To minimize friction, watches are fitted with synthetic rubies on most gear pivots. The ruby is lab created, is generally round, and has a small hole in it for one end of the gear to fit in. The gears itself rotates in these rubies. The rubies contain a small drop of lubrication to further minimize friction.

To simply transfer energy from the mainspring to the hands, about 17 jewels are needed. Many high quality watches use 17 jewels. There is a common misconception that more jewels is better. This is not true. More jewels only means there are more rotating parts and the movement is more complex. For instance, a chronograph complication adds more rotating parts. The basic Poljot 3133 mechanical chronograph movement is 23 jewels; the same movement with a moonphase indicator is 25 jewels.

What is a chronograph?

A chronograph is considered one of the most useful functions a wristwatch can have. A chronograph is used to time short spans of time; generally less than 30 or 60 minutes. A more commonly used name for a chronograph is a ‘stopwatch’.

Glossary of Watch Terms


Automatic (self-winding)
A style of watch that has a main spring that is wound by the movement of the wearer's wrist. This is accomplished by means of a rotor inside the watch that swings freely on its arbor to wind the main spring.

Breguet Hands
A style of watch hands designed by Abraham Louis Breguet (1747-1823), one of the most famous watchmakers of all time.

Chronograph
This is a very popular style of watch that has an additional complication that allows time to be measured in short periods (much like a stop-watch) without it affecting the main time keeping mechanism. Most chronographs feature sub-dials for seconds, minutes, and hour(s).

Complication
In horology terms, a complication in a mechanical timepiece is any feature beyond that of a simple hours, minutes, and seconds movement such as a moon phase, month display, quickset date, power reserve, chronograph, etc.

Ébauche
Ébauche is a French term meaning "outline" or "blank". In horology the term refers to an incomplete watch movement. The modern "ébauche" is a jewelled watch movement, without its regulating organs, mainspring, dial, or hands.

ETA Movement
ETA is a Swiss producer of mechanical and quartz watch movements and also manufactures clock movements, as well. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Swatch Group.

Luminescent Hands/DIals
Hands and indicies on a watch that glow in the dark after being "charged" by a light source (usually a strong light for 30 seconds or so).

Manual (hand-wound) Movement
Simply a watch who's main spring must be wound manually by turning or rotating the crown.

Mineral Crystal
Basically fancy name for hardened glass used to make scratch resistant watch crystals.

Sapphire Crystal
Sapphire is used to make a totally scratch proof watch crystal. Only a diamond is able to scratch sapphire.

Skeleton Watch
This is a watch in which various parts of the movement and dial have been reduced to a minimum by removing the bulk of the metal thereby enabling the parts of the movement to be seen. Most always this watch will have an exhibition (see-through) back.

Tourbillon
A watch escapement invented in 1795 by Abraham-Louis Breguet that is designed to counter the effects of gravity and other perturbing forces that can affect the accuracy of a chronometer. The tourbillon is considered to be the most complex of watch complications and is valued for its engineering and design principles.

Valjoux Movement
Valjoux (for Vallée de Joux, "Joux Valley") is a Swiss manufacturer of mechanical watch movements that specializes primarily in chronograph production. Major watch brands that use this base movement are Omega, Breitling, Oris, Tag Heuer, and so on.