How does a manual watch work?

Vaer Watches Updated by Vaer Watches

A manual watch, also known as a hand-wound watch, is a type of mechanical watch that requires manual winding to power the watch's movement.

A manual watch is one of the seven types of watches available on the market today and is the oldest timekeeping technology in the world of horology. The seven categories by order of invention are as follows:

  1. Manual Watch (Mechanical) - circa 1510
  2. Automatic Watch (Mechanical) - circa 1923
  3. Quartz Watch (Battery) - circa 1969
  4. Digital Watch (Battery) - circa 1970
  5. Solar Watch (Battery) - circa 1977
  6. Meca-Quartz (Battery+Mechanical) - circa 1984
  7. Smart Watch (Battery) - circa 1998
What is the timekeeping technology used in an automatic watch?

A manual watch is powered by a mainspring that must be manually wound by the user. The winding mechanism typically consists of a small knob or button on the side of the watch case called the crown, which is used to wind the mainspring by turning it clockwise.

When the mainspring is wound, it stores potential energy that is gradually released through a series of gears and springs that drive the watch's hands and other functions. The mainspring is connected to a small gear called the center wheel, which drives the motion of the other gears and wheels in the movement. The motion of the center wheel is transferred to a smaller gear called the escape wheel, which interacts with a component called the pallet fork to regulate the release of energy from the mainspring in precise increments.

As the escape wheel rotates, it pushes the pallet fork back and forth, which causes the balance wheel to oscillate back and forth at a regular frequency. The balance wheel is a small wheel that acts as a type of pendulum, swinging back and forth at a specific rate to regulate the speed of the watch movement. The rate of the balance wheel is controlled by a small spring called the hairspring, which resists the motion of the balance wheel and helps regulate the watch's timekeeping accuracy.

The motion of the balance wheel is transferred to the watch's hands through a series of gears and wheels that drive the hour, minute, and second hands. The position of the hands is controlled by a small gear called the cannon pinion, which is mounted on the center wheel and interacts with the gears that drive the hands.

Overall, a hand-wound watch is a simple and elegant mechanical device that relies on precise engineering and manufacturing to function accurately and reliably over time. The user must manually wind the watch on a regular basis to keep it running, but the process of winding the watch can also be a satisfying and enjoyable ritual for watch enthusiasts.

What is the difference between manual and automatic watches?

The main difference between an automatic and manual wristwatch lies in how the watch movement is powered.

A manual watch, also known as a hand-wound watch, requires the wearer to manually wind the mainspring using the watch's crown. The wearer must remember to wind the watch regularly to ensure that it maintains accurate timekeeping. If the watch is not wound, it will stop working.

On the other hand, an automatic watch, does not require manual winding. The natural motion of the wearer's wrist winds the mainspring through the movement of the watch's rotor. As long as the watch is worn regularly, it will remain wound and keep accurate time. However, if the watch is not worn for an extended period, it may stop working and require manual winding to restart.

Another difference between the two types of watches is their power reserve. A manual watch typically has a shorter power reserve than an automatic watch, as it relies solely on the energy stored in the mainspring. An automatic watch, on the other hand, has a longer power reserve because it can continue to wind the mainspring as long as it is worn.

How accurate are manual watches?

Manual watches are generally considered to be highly accurate timepieces, with most models able to keep time within 25 seconds per day. However, the actual accuracy of an mechanical watch can vary depending on a variety of factors, including the quality of the movement, the condition of the watch, and how frequently the watch is worn and wound.

When purchasing a manual watch (including from Vaer) there is always a degree of variance between individual timepieces, which is symptomatic of the analog nature of mechanical timekeeping technology. A general rule of thumb for manual watches is accuracy within 25 seconds per day, and most factory specs are within 30 seconds. "Chronometer" (COSC) timing, which is considered to be near-perfect accuracy, gets into the 6 seconds per day range - this is generally found on watches in the $3,000+ range.

Here at Vaer we regulate our manual watches to -5/+15 seconds per day.

However, even the highest-quality movements can be affected by environmental factors like temperature and humidity, which can cause the watch to run faster or slower than normal. Additionally, the accuracy of an automatic watch can decline over time if it is not properly maintained, which can lead to a loss of power and less precise timekeeping.

Overall, the accuracy of a manual watch is generally considered to be more than sufficient for most everyday uses, but if you require highly precise timekeeping, you may want to consider a quartz watch, which are significantly more accurate than a manual option.

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