How Hand-Wound Mechanical Watches Work

watch Heritage

A mechanical watch uses a mechanism driven by a mainspring that must be wound periodically; it has a characteristic ticking sound.  The mechanical watches originated in Europe during the seventeenth century and were inspired on spring powered clocks from the fifteenth century.  These watches are usually more expensive but not as accurate as quartz watches, and they have an aesthetic appeal and are considered as a statement of a personal style.  Up until the quartz revolution of the 1960s, all the wristwatches were mechanical

Every mechanical watch has at least 5 elements:  a mainspring that stores energy, a gear train that transports the energy from the mainspring into the balance wheel, the balance wheel which steadily oscillates back and forth, the escapement that pushes and maintains the movement of the balance wheel, and the time indicator.

Energy is what makes the watch tick.  By winding the watch periodically through the winding mechanism, we can store up this energy in the mainspring and, when needed, the barrel will transfer this energy to the balance wheel.

The wheels transfer this energy throughout the watch, but this energy has to be controlled so that the wheels don’t just spin out of control.  The escapement is the piece that stops the energy from ‘escaping’ in one big burst.  The escape wheel moves in steps, locking and unlocking the escape wheel. At the same time, the escape wheel’s teeth push against the pallet moving the forked lever against the impulse pin.

The swing of the balance controls the escapement as it swings back and forth while the balance spring keeps the action uniform.

The time indicator is the visible dial of the watch.  As the name implies, it shows the time.  In its center, the canon pinion carries the minute hand while the hour wheel carries the hour hand.  With a seconds’ sub dial, a separate fourth wheel carries the seconds hand and usually, for these watches, the seconds hand has a sweeping motion.  With a co-axial seconds hand, the hand sweeps across the dial along with the hour and minute hands.

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