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At the present time the Swiss watch industry is applying two parallel technologies: electronic technology, with the analog quartz watch (sometimes combined with digital display) and the more traditional technology of the mechanical watch which origin dates back in the 14th century.

Almost 90 % of the industry's production, in terms of volume, is currently made up of electronic, battery-operated watches, mainly of the analog type. 10 % is of mechanical products whose export value continues to be of fundamental importance, as these watches represent more than 52 % of Swiss watch exports in terms of value.

In an analog quartz watch, the heart of the watch is the integrated circuit, made up of a large number of electronic components grouped together on a base of only a few square millimeters.

The source of energy consists of a miniature battery which lasts several years. The time is divided by a quartz oscillator which is made to vibrate by the energy supplied by the battery. Quartz watches are extremely accurate thanks to their high frequency of vibrations (32 kHz); their annual variation is only about one minute per year, equivalent to less than a second a day. In this field there are two main kinds of products:

1) watches with an analog display (hands),
2) watches with digital display; this is fitted with liquid crystals which receive, directly from the integrated circuit, the impulses needed to display the time. So there is no mechanical transmission.

 

Working principle of a quartz watchAn electronic (quartz) watch

1) Battery, providing the power
2) Integrated circuit, controlling the quartz and the stepping motor
3) Oscillating quartz, dividing the time
4) Trimmer, regulating the frequency
5) Stepping motor, transforming the electrical impulses into mechanical power
6) Gear train, activating the hours, minutes, seconds hands
7) Analog display

 
 

These two types of products are sometimes combined together in the same finished watch (double display, particularly useful for measuring short time intervals).

The traditional mechanical watch is made up of about 130 parts assembled in the three main parts which are the source of energy, the regulating parts and the display. The number of component parts is much higher in so-called complicated watches (date, phases of moon, fly-back hand, etc.). The "ébauche" (about 60 parts) fitted with the regulating and certain other parts, forms the movement, in other words the internal mechanism of the watch, which makes it possible to maintain a constant tension in the spring once it has been wound manually or automatically (by movements of the wrist) and to regulate the display by means of the hands (hours, minutes, seconds). A watch is said to be finished when the movement has been fitted with a dial, hands, and case.

 

Working principles of a mechanical watchA mechanical watch

1) Barrel/mainspring providing the power
2) Gear train, transmitting the power
3) Escapement, distributing the impulses
4) Balance wheel & hairspring, oscillating, making the division of time
5a) Winding stem, for manual winding and setting
5b) OscillatingwWeight, for automatic winding
6) Dial train, activating the hours, minutes, seconds hands

 

The combination of these two technologies recently brought on a new type of watch movement running like a traditional quartz movement but getting its energy the same way as in a self-winding mechanical movement (Self-winding watch with the quartz precision).

Its working principle is simple and however revolutionary: an oscillating weight streches the mainspring which release starts a micro-generator converting the mechanical energy into electrical power. This power is then accumulated in a capacitor. The system works later as a traditional quartz watch, meaning that the integrated circuit controls the power supply and provides the impulses to the stepping motor.


Quartz Watch
Mechanical Watch

       
   

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Last update : July 5, 2004