Since the dawn of man, humans have been trying to find new and efficient ways to tell time. First, there was the sundial, then the clock, and then finally, the watch.
When wristwatches were first worn, many people saw them as fads or gimmicks. However, by the time World War I rolled around, it became apparent that telling the time quickly could be a matter of life or death.
But even though watches have been worn by millions of people for decades, many of those wearers have no idea how mechanical watches work.
Mechanical watches are true pieces of engineering ingenuity. And if you’re trying to figure out how they work, you’ve come to the right place.
Keep on reading and we’ll walk you through everything you’ll want to know.
What Is a Mechanical Watch?
Unlike an Apple Watch or other smartwatch, a mechanical watch doesn’t have any circuitry, microchips, or batteries. Watch parts are machined to near perfection at microscopic sizes. Many mechanical watches have an accuracy range of two to three seconds per day.
The watch’s power is stored in the mainspring. It’s released in reliable increments via the escapement assembly.
The gears that connect the escapement and the mainspring turn at different speeds. This is what allows the watch to tell the time.
As you might have guessed, there are many different components to a watch. Because of how important every piece of a watch is, it’s important that you shop from reputable vendors, such as the C.R. Time Company.
Let’s look at them in-depth and see how they work together to keep a watch working properly.
The crown is the piece that you pull out to set the time on the watch.
The setting jumper has indents in it in order to keep the crown mechanism locked in place. Each mode is going to engage a different gear set.
The sliding pinion meshes with a set of gears connected to the mainspring when the crown is pushed in.
The crown is pulled out to set the time. Once it’s pulled out, the setting lever clicks into the second indent in the rigid setting jumper. While this is going on, the setting lever is pressed against the spring-loaded yoke.
The yoke moves the sliding pinion into connection with time-setting gears.
The mainspring is a thin strip of hardened metal. If stretched out, it would be nearly twelve inches long. It’s coiled inside of the mainspring barrel.
The mainspring is connected to the mainspring barrel at one end and the winding pinion at the other. This winding pinion moves independently of the barrel.
A ratchet wheel and click assembly are connected to the pinion. This allows the winding pinion to rotate in just one direction and stops the spring from unwinding.
Time-keeping hands and other wheels are driven by the wheel train. The center wheel rotates once every hour and is controlled by the mainspring barrel. This wheel controls the minute hand.
The third wheel moves power through the fourth wheel. The fourth wheel rotates every minute and it controls the second hand.
Each wheel has an axle that rests on a synthetic jewel bearing. These jewel bearings can keep a mechanical watch running properly for many years.
Watch hands are able to freely rotate for time setting thanks to the motion works. Because the minute hand and center wheel rotate once every hour, the hour hand needs to move a lot slower. It rotates once every twelve hours.
This speed reduction is possible when power moves from the cannon pinion to the minute wheel to the hour wheel.
The hour wheel and cannon pinion are pressed to fit the pinions. So if there’s enough force, they can be moved without messing up the underlying wheel train that moves them.
Balance Wheel and Escapement
The balance wheel swings in a certain rhythm. It knocks the pallet fork back and forth. The escape wheel is then able to move and release power from the mainspring.
The most vulnerable part of the watch is the balance wheel. It’s supported by a mounting system that features a capstone and jewel bearing. They ensure that the wheel doesn’t break when the watch is dropped.
The balance wheel is driven by the hairspring.
The escapement is made up of the escape wheel and the pallet fork. The impulse pin of the balance wheel bumps into one side of the pallet fork. This releases the opposing pallet jewel from its stationary position against an escape wheel tooth.
This all works to push the impulse pin and launch the balance wheel into another swing. The process repeats for as long as the watch maintains mainspring power.
There are regulator pins in the hairspring that adjust the active length of the spring. This changes the swing rate of the balance wheel and the speed of the watch. It regulates a watch that keeps time too slow or fast.
That’s How Mechanical Watches Work
Hopefully, after reading the above article, you now have a better idea of how mechanical watches work. As we can see, there are many tiny pieces that go into something as common and useful as a watch. This should help you appreciate everything that goes into something as important as telling the time.
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