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Watch Technologies Explained

In the ever changing technology of the 21st century, watch manufacturers are expanding their horizons. If you've been to any jewelry store, including Steven DiFranco Jewelers, lately you've seen the massive amounts of watches available to the customer today, and the technology of some of their inner workings may confuse you. If we were to ask you the difference between an automatic and a kinetic watch, would you be able to describe it?  Or, would you be one of the many customers that comes in for a watch battery replacement even though the watch doesn't even have a battery?

This web page has been designed to clear everything up relating to the different watch technologies, and/or help you better analyze you own watch problems so that you can avoid a lengthy trip to a watch "service station".

Manual Wind

These days seeing a manual wind watch is a rarity.  Older, even antique watches were predominantly manual wind mechanical style watches.  This meant that every morning you would put your watch on your wrist, then wind it up until you felt slight resistance. The watch would keep fine time throughout the day.

Manual wind watches were the mainstay of worldwide timekeeping for many years.  Some of you will even remember having to wind up your alarm clock before going to bed each night! 

If you own any manual wind watches, whether they are old or new, keeping them wound up and running is a very good idea.  Keeping a manual wind watch running on a regular basis will keep the watch from getting "gummed up" and causing maintenance issues down the road.  Your manual watches should be wound up at least a couple of times per week.

Older manual wind watches had a few problem areas that need to be addressed.  Problem number one is that all mechanical watches have a balance staff that supports the balance wheel.  This staff or shaft is very thin and can be easily bent by impacting the watch.  Problem number two is that older mechanical watches had poor dust resistant characterisitcs, making annual cleaning more of a necessity than modern watches.
Looking back on this technology today, makes it seem like a pain, back then we didn't know any different.  Today, there are a few watch manufacturers that are producing fine manual wind time pieces, these are somewhat pricey but very elegant.

Automatic / Self-Winding

Automatic or self-winding technology has been around for quite some time. These watches are common amongst Bulova and Accutron as well as the fine Filip & Company watches, all of which we carry in stock at Steven DiFranco Jewelers. Today, many luxury brand wristwatches are powered by automatic/self-winding movements.

An automatic watch represents its "ability" to wind itself, and yes we said WIND (pronounced whined), no battery here. Your movement actually moves a half-circle shaped winder that winds the mainspring of the watch, giving it a reserve of power which will last approximately 36 hours.

This technology has been around for awhile and that's because it's very reliable.  There is no need to change a battery. It only asks that you MOVE.  These watches can also be wound the old fashion way by simply rotating the crown (see the watch setting page for an explanation on the crown).

Is this technology for you?  Well, if you do not move either because of age or another physical condition, an automatic watch is not for you because of it's need for movement to keep the mainspring of the watch wound up.  If you have multiple watches, and you will only wear your automatic watch once a week or so, you will have to reset the watch every time you are wanting to wear it.  This can be a task you will quickly tire of. 

Automatic winders can be of a great help with automatic watches , keeping them wound up until you are ready to wear them.  These are available as a decortative item, similar to a jewelry box, or a very utilitarian item.  A valuable accessory for the automatic watch collector for sure.


Back in the 1969, Seiko turned the watch/timekeeping world upside down when they introduced quartz powered watches for the masses.  This was the equivalent of going from a horse and buggy to a car.  As a teenager, I was working at a jewelry store in the Great Lakes Mall when this technology arrived.  It was an amazing time for the watch industry.

How does a quartz watch work?  A battery provides the power to an integrated circuit that controls the quartz and stepping motor.  The quartz oscillates, dividing the time, and the Trimmer regulates the frequency at which the quartz oscillates.  The stepping motor then transforms the electrical impulses into mechanical power and starts the gear train, activating hours, minutes, and seconds.

Essentially, the Quartz movement watches are battery operated and run off the oscillations of the quartz, think of a tuning fork. Once the battery dies, the watch stops running.  These watches usually require a new battery every year to a year and a half, but some can last longer.

Every once and awhile a customer will come in for a battery change and ask for a "two year" or "three year" battery instead of the "normal one year" battery.  This is not an option.  Each battery operated watch only takes a particular battery that should be changed once per year.  If a battery lasts more than a year it is the cause of the varied battery manufacturing tolerances only.

Bulova Precisionist Technology

Bulova pioneered this technology with the help of their parent company Citizen.  Conventional quartz watches have second hands that move in "steps" every second.  Bulova Precisionist technology breaks the second hand movement into sixteen steps per second, giving the you the illusion that the second hand is moving in a smooth sweeping motion.

Per Bulova, the key to Precisionist's incredible accuracy is a unique three-prong quartz crystal, which produces a vibration frequency of 262.144 kilohertz (kHz), which is eight times greater than a conventional two prong crystal and is the hightest of any watch available today.  A thermo-regulating integrated circuit reduces the effects of tempurature variation on the timekeeping ability.

The picture above shows my pesonal Bulova Precisionist movement with the lithium battery and battery insulator removed.  The lithium battery covers the whole back of the movement.  An amazing amount of technology packed into a simple looking package.

Kinetic by Seiko

These watches are modern marvels and tap into the power of your body movement.  Like automatic watches, these movements depend on movement to keep them going, but movement doesn't wind a spring, it recharges a capacitor/battery.  The wearer's arm movement causes an oscillating weight to rotate.  A gear train transfers your body movement to the rotor inside the watch, whose spinning generates voltage across a coil block.  The electrical current is then stored in a little electrical storage unit (capacitor/battery), which stores the power and disperses the power as a battery would.

Solar / Eco-Drive by Citizen

Solar powered watches are one of the latest technological advances in watch development.  Solar powered watches contain a light sensitive receptor underneath the dial, which absorbs any light (natural or artificial), and converts it into energy to keep the watch ticking.  This captured energy is stored in a small permanent lithium ion cell in the watch so that the watch still functions in the dark.

For those of you who wear clothing that can cover up your wrist and watch, an Eco-Drive watch may not be the technology of choice for you.  A solar/Eco-Drive watch must be exposed to light to properly function.

One type of these watches is the Citizen Eco-Drive, which is available here at Steven DiFranco Jewelers.

Radio Control

 A few of the Citizen Eco-Drive watches we stock here at Steven DiFranco Jewelers have radio control technology.  Actually, this is a combination of the Eco-Drive technology, quartz, AND radio control, to give you the best of all three worlds.  Will this technology be the future?  Nobody knows for sure, but it is very exciting to ponder.  You never have to reset your watch again!  During the middle of the night your watch or clock will receive a signal from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder Colorado, resetting and synchronizing your watch or clock perfectly every single night.

The only problem with this technology is that in some buildings, the signal can't make it to the clock or watch to perform the resetting or synchronizing due to steel ceilings, excess wires, and other issues.  For example, at Steven DiFranco Jewelers, we can't have a radio control clock in our shop because of the steel roof, wires and equipment.

Tuning Fork Technology

In October 1960, Bulova introduced a revolutionary timekeeping technology that relied on tuning forks surrounding copper wound coils (8000 turns of 15 micron diameter copper wire!).  This watch used a 360 Hz tuning fork, and was invented by Max Hetzel, who joined the Bulova Watch Compay office in Switzerland in 1948.  This was the world's first electronic watch, because it used a transistor electronic oscilater.  This is very different from an "electric watch".  The tuning forks vibrate at a specific rate, causing accurate timekeeping.  These watches didn't "tick", they "hummed".  Some customers even complained that the humming caused a minor vibration on their wrist and it was annoying to them.  The achilies heel of this technology was a small part called an index wheel that had 320 teeth on it and was prone to problems.  Bulova Accutron watches were the first electronic wrist watches to be authorized for use on the Railroad.

A neat side note, Bulova Accutron watches were mounted as "clocks" on the Apollo moon landing modules and spacecrafts to assure accuracy during the moon missions, even though Omega watches were the "official watch" of NASA at the time.

With the advent of quartz technology, Bulova saw the writing on the wall, and now all Accutron watches are "high end" quartz or automatic movements, with the only current tuning fork Accutron being the very limited edition Spaceview that was released in 2010 (1000 made for the world, that's it).  Other than this limited edition tuning fork Accutron, the last tuning for Bulova Accutron was manufacturered in 1977.

In Conclusion

Which watch technology is right for you?  I hope this page helps you decide.  I've worn all the above technologies without issue or regret.  As a matter of fact, not only do I wear all of the above technologies, I do my best to break and abuse them so when you ask me if a certain technology or watch is good for certain tasks, I can tell you with personal experience, yes or no.

Should you be concerned about the accuracy of any of these different watch technologies?  Absolutely not!  If your life's schedule is so tight that being off a few seconds a week is a problem, you need to adjust your life's schedule!  All the watch technologies today are so reliable and accurate, your watch is more of a fashion statement than a time keeping necessity.

If you have any questions about these watch technologies or watches in general, please feel free to give me a call at 440-943-2700 and let's talk watches.