Massdrop 101: Intro to Watches
The Improbable Popularity of Watches
Since the sundial was invented some 5,500 years ago, humans have taken a keen interest in horology, or the science of timekeeping. And it’s no wonder why. Clocks break up the day in standard sets of intervals, allowing us to better organize our lives. Today, we’re utterly dependent on the clock—the world revolves around it. So it’s no surprise that timekeeping devices are everywhere, from our phones and computers to our walls and dashboards.
Why, then, do wristwatches still exist? Because watches—especially mechanical watches—are more than just timekeepers. When watch enthusiasts see a watch, they see a wearable work of art. They see craftsmanship, innovation, and a way to express their personal style. They see adventure, history, provenance, and sentimental value. Watches are given as heirlooms and as milestone markers, and they’re passed on across generations. They are daily companions on the road of life. Indeed, they are not just keepers of time but also of memories.
The Improbable Popularity of Mechanical Watches
Like wristwatches themselves, mechanical wristwatches seem outdated. After all, they were invented some 500 years ago. Not only are they less accurate than battery-powered watches, they also require more frequent cleaning and calibration. And yet, since the 1980s, mechanical has been the primary source of fascination for watch enthusiasts.
Why mechanical? Much of the appeal lies in the watch’s movement: the motor that keeps the watch ticking. As its name suggests, the movement comprises tons of tiny brass and steel components working in unison—the escapement, rotor, springs, and gears, to name only a few. It’s little wonder why many enthusiasts refer to mechanical watches as tiny cities.
Quartz vs. Mechanical: What’s the Difference?
In order to activate those moving parts and keep the watch accurate, mechanical watches must store power mechanically, then release that power in a controlled manner to turn the gears. Some mechanical watches are manually wound by hand, though most mechanical watches today are automatic, or self-winding, which means they’re wound by the wearer’s natural movement—all without the aid of a battery. Mechanical watches are true wonders of engineering.
Quartz watches, on the other hand, use a battery and a tiny synthetic quartz crystal. The battery emits an electric current, which oscillates the quartz crystal at a precise frequency. While they are more accurate than mechanical timekeeping devices, quartz watches lack the intricacy and soul of a mechanical watch.
Basic Watch Components
To understand watches, it’s important to familiarize yourself with basic watch componentry and terminology. Below is an incomplete list of the elements that make up the modern wristwatch.
  • Bezel: A bezel is an outer ring that protects the crystal. Dress watches might have a small, plain bezel, while sportier watches such as divers and aviators might have larger, rotating bezels capable of measuring elapsed time.
  • Bracelet/Strap: The bracelet is the piece of material that attaches the watch to your wrist. It is typically made out of stainless steel. When made out of leather or nylon, it’s referred to as a strap.
  • Case: The case of a watch is the housing for the dial and movement. Watch cases are most often made of stainless steel, which manufacturers will polish or brush for aesthetic purposes. And while they’re most often round, watch cases can come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Case width and thickness are two common measurements to look out for.
  • Complications: Complications are elements of a watch dial that offer functionality outside of the basic time display. A date display, often positioned at 3 o’clock, is an example of a complication. A chronograph is another complication and it offers stopwatch and timing functionality.
  • Crown: The crown is the small knob, usually positioned at 3 o’clock, that’s used to set the time and date.
  • Crystal: This is the translucent material that sits above the dial. Cheaper watches often come with a mineral crystal, which is prone to scratching but resistant to shattering. More expensive watches are fitted with a highly scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, which is slightly more prone to shattering.
  • Dial: The dial is the face of the watch, where the hands and markers live—the business end of a watch.
  • Hands: Watch hands come in a variety of different styles. There are sword-style hands, syringe-style hands, and dauphine hands, among many others. Some watch hands, such as those on dive watches, have specific shapes and colors to improve legibility.
  • Lugs: Lugs are the pieces of metal extending from the 12 and 6 o’clock positions of the case. In conjunction with the spring bars, lugs help hold the watch strap or bracelet in place.
  • Lume: Lume is a glowing material applied to the dial and hands of many watches to improve visibility in low-light conditions.
  • Hour Markers: Some watches use Arabic numerals as hour markers, and others use Roman numerals. And still others use no numerals at all, using baton-shaped markers instead.
  • Subdial: A subsidiary dial, or subdial, is any smaller dial within the larger dial. Chronograph watches often have two or three subdials, which measure running seconds, minutes, and hours.
Stay Tuned for More on Watches! There you have it: Watches 101. But that’s only the beginning. Stay tuned for articles and tutorials that dig deeper into automatic watches. In the meantime, if you have questions or comments about the article, or about watches in general, leave ‘em below. Or, if you have personal recommendations or watch stories to share, we’d love to hear them—and see pictures, too!
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thumb_upPETER706682, jaykay21089, and 70 others

Oct 24, 2017
Great job. Thanks for writing this up and thanks for caring.
Jun 1, 2017
Marathon Dive Watches ... Christopher Ward C60 Watches ... Tourby Lawless 45 ... Ball NEDU ... Fortis B-42 Marinemaster ... Atlantic Seashark ...
Feb 10, 2017
like it
Aug 31, 2016
wonders if oris will be on list..
Aug 30, 2016
would it be possible to source 50 fathoms seiko mods ?
Aug 30, 2016
Very interesting, it develops the need for amother warch , even if u don't need but it's the truth. ..
Aug 30, 2016
For anyone interested in watches, The Watchmaker's Apprentice' is a great documentary on a couple of the giants of British watchmaking. It is on Netflix in the UK, hopefully elsewhere as well.
Aug 30, 2016
I'll have to seek that out! Thanks for the recommendation.
Jul 24, 2016
I'm an Army Retiree that served on active duty from m 1987 - 2007. I'm also a 100% (service connected) disabled veteran.
I'm currently trying to begin collecting men's wrist and/or pocket watches. I just love the look of men's larger sized watches and can't wait to own more than one! The one I do own is a pocket watch my fiancé gifted me this past Christmas.
That being said, I'm finding the process of acquiring a collection very slow with being on a fixed income. So it's save what little money I can, then purchase one watch at a time. At this rate, I figure by the time I'm 80, I'll have a small collection of maybe 20 to 25 watches.
Any ideas or recommendations to help me speed up the process and what's a great recommendation for my first "real watch" for my collection?
Nov 28, 2017
I have bought a two pre-owned, high end watches and saved money on my collection of 35 watches. I frequently say to my self and my wife, that I am not going to buy another watch...i must stop lying. I love watches, and have since I was a kid. Now, in my sixties, they still hold a fascination for me. good luck on your collecting.
Apr 17, 2019
I’ve always had really good luck trading on forums. As long as you do your research and buy smart then you could start a pretty good collection by starting with one quality watch. Some people are looking for a specific watch that you may have but they don’t have the money right then. I started with the watches that have a good following like seiko and Hamilton. If you can trade in to get a Hamilton automatic, The khakis are usually best priced, then you can find a lot of people who would be happy trading with you.
Jun 21, 2016
This is nice, well done guys. Most people should be able to google any further questions.
Jun 11, 2016
Nice, but I feel that you missed out on one important distinction between mechanical and quartz watches that is apparent to the naked eye and might help lure people to the dark side. :)
For the uninitiated, some more info. Unlike (most) quartz watches that beat / tick once every second, mechanical movements usually tick at a faster rate. This results in a smoother movement of the second hand, what people tend to call the "sweeping seconds hand". I've only seen three different rates at which the second hand moves - 21,600 beats per hour (bph), 28,600 bph, and 36,000 bph. There must be more, but I haven't come across them yet. What that basically means is that the second hand ticks six / eight / ten times each second. I feel this is something that new mechanical buyers should know about.
Some other stuff with some science / mechanics terms thrown in to make me look really intelligent:
Adding to the list of components, The *movement*. This is the heart and soul of your watch. When you say a watch is quartz vs mechanical, you are referring to this "movement", which is the engine that rotates the hands of your watch. Quartz movements run on battery power which charges the quartz crystal. Quartz is a substance that exhibits the piezoelectric effect, that is if pressure is applied to it then it generates electricity. So the crystal vibrates when a current is passed through it (inverse piezoelectric effect), and this kinetic energy is used to rotate the gears. In the case of mechanical movements, the power comes from a spring mechanism. A spring is "loaded", meaning, some torque is applied to it, and it stores some potential energy. This energy is used to drive a mechanical watch, and once this spring is completely depleted of its potential energy (ie the spring is completely unwound), you will need to wind the movement again.
Winding mechanism. In mechanical watches, you can have two types of winding mechanisms: hand wound, or automatic. As stated above, mechanical watches run on spring power. On some movements, you rotate the crown to wind the spring. On others, you would have a rotor that moves automatically as you move your hand. This rotor's kinetic energy is used to wind the spring and rack up potential energy in the spring which is eventually used to drive the watch. Because of this these watches are called "automatic", because once wound they will automatically stay wound as long as you keep them on your wrist.
Hacking movement: A hacking movement is one where the second hand stops when you pull the crown out to set the time. Most quartz watches, in fact all quartz watches that I know of, have hacking movements. It's not that uncommon to find non-hacking movements in mechanical watches, though, so that's something to consider too.
I hope this helps, and hope I was clear. I'm not too good with being concise, though.
Oh well.
Oct 24, 2017
Don’t forget the Bulova high beat rate quartz movements 262khz. They have beautiful sweeping hands :)
Oct 24, 2017
Sort of knew about the hi-beat movements from Bulova but didn't realize their frequency was that high. Learn something new everyday. Thanks!
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Jan 18, 2021