A watch is a timepiece that is made to be worn on a person. The term now usually refers to a wristwatch, which is worn on the wrist with a strap or bracelet. In addition to the time, modern watches often display the day, date, month and year, and electronic watches may have many other functions.
Most inexpensive and medium-priced watches used mainly for timekeeping are electronic watches with quartz movements. Expensive, collectible watches valued more for their workmanship and aesthetic appeal than for simple timekeeping, often have purely mechanical movements and are powered by springs, even though mechanical movements are less accurate than more affordable quartz movements.
Before the inexpensive miniaturization that became possible in the 20th century, most watches were pocket watches, which often had covers and were carried in a pocket and attached to a watch chain or watch fob. Watches evolved in the 1600s from spring powered clocks, which appeared in the 1400s.
Different kinds of movements move the hands differently as shown in this 2 second exposure. The left watch has a mechanical 21,600 bph movement, the right one has a quartz movement.
A movement in watchmaking is the mechanism that measures the passage of time and displays the current time (and possibly other information including date, month and day). Movements may be entirely mechanical, entirely electronic (potentially with no moving parts), or a blend of the two. Most watches intended mainly for timekeeping today have electronic movements, with mechanical hands on the face of the watch indicating the time.
Compared to electronic movements, mechanical watches are less accurate, often with errors of seconds per day, and they are sensitive to position and temperature. As well, they are costly to produce, they require regular maintenance and adjustment, and they are more prone to failure. Nevertheless, the "old world" craftsmanship of mechanical watches still attracts interest from part of the watch-buying public.
Mechanical movements use an escapement mechanism to control and limit the unwinding of the spring, converting what would otherwise be a simple unwinding, into a controlled and periodic energy release. Mechanical movements also use a balance wheel together with the balance spring (also known as a hairspring) to control motion of the gear system of the watch in a manner analogous to the pendulum of a pendulum clock. The tourbillon, an optional part for mechanical movements, is a rotating frame for the escapement which is used to cancel out or reduce the effects of bias to the timekeeping of gravitational origin. Due to the complexity of designing a tourbillon, they are very expensive, and only found in "prestige" watches. The pin-lever (also called Roskopf movement after its inventor, Georges Frederic Roskopf), is a cheaper version of the fully levered movement which was manufactured in huge quantities by many Swiss manufacturers as well as Timex, until it was replaced by quartz movements.
Tuning fork watches use a type of electromechanical movement. Introduced by Bulova in 1960, they use a tuning fork with a precise frequency (most often 360 hertz) to drive a mechanical watch. The task of converting electronically pulsed fork vibration into rotary movement is done via two tiny jeweled fingers, called pawls. Tuning fork watches were rendered obsolete when electronic quartz watches were developed, because quartz watches were cheaper to produce and even more accurate.
Electronic movements have few or no moving parts, as they use the piezoelectric effect in a tiny quartz crystal to provide a stable time base for a mostly electronic movement. The crystal forms a quartz oscillator which resonates at a specific and highly stable frequency, and which can be used to accurately pace a timekeeping mechanism. For this reason, electronic watches are often called quartz watches. Most quartz movements are primarily electronic but are geared to drive mechanical hands on the face of the watch in order to provide a traditional analog display of the time, which is still preferred by most consumers.
The first prototypes of electronic quartz watches were made by the CEH research laboratory in Switzerland in 1962. The first quartz watch to enter production was the Seiko 35 SQ Astron, which appeared in 1969. Modern quartz movements are produced in very large quantities, and even the cheapest wristwatches typically have quartz movements. Whereas mechanical movements can typically be off by several seconds a day, an inexpensive quartz movement in a child's wristwatch may still be accurate to within half a second per day-ten times better than a mechanical movement. Some watchmakers combine the quartz and mechanical movements, such as the Seiko Spring Drive, introduced in 2005.
Radio time signal watches are a type of electronic quartz watch which synchronizes (time transfer) its time with an external time source such as an atomic clocks, time signals from GPS navigation satellites, the German DCF77 signal in Europe, WWVB in the US, and others. Movements of this type synchronize not only the time of day but also the date, the leap-year status of the current year, and the current state of daylight saving time (on or off).
An analogue wristwatch with a second hand.
Traditionally, watches have displayed the time in analog form, with a numbered dial upon which are mounted at least a rotating hour hand and a longer, rotating minute hand. Many watches also incorporate a third hand that shows the current second of the current minute. Watches powered by quartz usually have a second hand that snaps every second to the next marker. Watches powered by a mechanical movement have a "sweep second hand", the name deriving from its uninterrupted smooth (sweeping) movement across the markers, although this is actually a misnomer; the hand merely moves in smaller steps, typically 1/5th of a second, corresponding to the beat (half period) of the balance wheel. In some escapements (for example the duplex escapement), the hand advances every two beats (full period) of the balance wheel, typically 1/2 second in those watches, or even every four beats (two periods, 1 second), in the double duplex escapement. All of the hands are normally mechanical, physically rotating on the dial, although a few watches have been produced with "hands" that are simulated by a liquid-crystal display.
Analog display of the time is nearly universal in watches sold as jewelry or collectibles, and in these watches, the range of different styles of hands, numbers, and other aspects of the analogue dial is very broad. In watches sold for timekeeping, analog display remains very popular, as many people find it easier to read than digital display; but in timekeeping watches the emphasis is on clarity and accurate reading of the time under all conditions (clearly marked digits, easily visible hands, large watch faces, etc.). They are specifically designed for the left wrist with the stem (the knob used for changing the time) on the right side of the watch; this makes it easy to change the time without removing the watch from the hand. This is the case if one is right-handed and the watch is worn on the left wrist (as is traditionally done). If one is left-handed and wears the watch on the right wrist, one has to remove the watch from the wrist to reset the time or to wind the watch.
Analog watches as well as clocks are often marketed showing a display time of approximately 10:09 or 10:10. This creates a visually pleasing smile-like face on upper half of the watch. Digital displays often show a time of 12:38, where the increases in the numbers from left to right culminating in the fully-lit numerical display of the 8 also gives a positive feeling.
The Rolex Submariner is an officially certified chronometer
All watches provide the time of day, giving at least the hour and minute, and usually the second. Most also provide the current date, and often the day of the week as well. However, many watches also provide a great deal of information beyond the basics of time and date. Some watches include alarms. Other elaborate and more expensive watches, both pocket and wrist models, also incorporate striking mechanisms or repeater functions, so that the wearer could learn the time by the sound emanating from the watch. This announcement or striking feature is an essential characteristic of true clocks and distinguishes such watches from ordinary timepieces. This feature is available on most digital watches.
A complicated watch has one or more functions beyond the basic function of displaying the time and the date; such a functionality is called a complication. Two popular complications are the chronograph complication, which is the ability of the watch movement to function as a stopwatch, and the moonphase complication, which is a display of the lunar phase. Other more expensive complications include Tourbillion, Perpetual calendar, Minute repeater, and Equation of time. A truly complicated watch has many of these complications at once (see Calibre 89 from Patek Philippe for instance). Among watch enthusiasts, complicated watches are especially collectible. Some watches include a second 12-hour display for UTC (as Pontos Grand Guichet GMT).
The similar-sounding terms chronograph and chronometer are often confused, although they mean altogether different things. A chronograph has a stopwatch complication, as explained above, while a chronometer watch has a high quality mechanical or a thermo-compensated quartz movement that has been tested and certified to operate within a certain standard of accuracy by the COSC (Controle Officiel Suisse des Chronometres). The concepts are different but not mutually exclusive; so a watch can be a chronograph, a chronometer, both, or neither.