How accurate are mechanical watches?

How accurate are mechanical watches?

Accurate timekeeping is crucial for individuals who depend on their wristwatches to keep track of time. However, not all watches are created equal in terms of precision. The accuracy of a quartz watch versus an mechanical watch can differ. In this article, we explore the standard accuracy of both types of watches and the various factors that can impact the accuracy of mechanical watches.

A Combination of Minuscule Parts

When it comes to  mechanical watches, the first thing that stands out is the intricacy of their construction. These timepieces are made up of an array of tiny parts, from screws and gears to bridges, levers, and springs. Working on these components requires specialized precision tools due to their incredibly small size. Some springs, for example, are no wider than a human hair. Despite their minuscule size, mechanical watches manage to maintain impressive accuracy – even down to the minute. This is made possible by the harmonious interplay of all the watch's components, which work together seamlessly to power the timepiece and maintain its accuracy.

Mechanical automatic watches are known to have slight variations in timekeeping, with deviations of up to +/- 10 seconds a day. However, most modern mechanical watches can maintain accuracy within a range of +/- 5 seconds a day. Some high-end mechanical watches can achieve an even greater level of accuracy, with a deviation of only +/- 3 seconds a day. In the case of chronometer-certified mechanical watches, the accuracy is guaranteed to be within -4/+6 seconds a day. It's worth noting that the accuracy of automatic watches can be affected by several factors, such as the watch's position, the wearer's movements, and the temperature or surrounding environment. While all watches are susceptible to slight variations in timekeeping over time, understanding the specific factors that influence the watch's movement can help to ensure its accuracy.

Casablanca from Tufina Theorema. This is a golden case watch paired with a white genuine leather band. It has a fully skeletonized dial and a blue sub dial. The sword hands are double colored in white and gold.

The Position of The Watch

The position of a mechanical watch when not worn on the wrist can affect its accuracy. Gravity can impact the balance wheel of the watch when it is in certain positions, which can cause it to gain or lose time. To compensate for this, watchmakers adjust the balance wheel by hand for specific positions. The number of positions that a watch is adjusted for can vary depending on the type of movement, ranging from two to eight positions. Some of these positions include dial side up, crown down (when the watch is placed on its case side with the crown facing down), and dial side down. It's important to note that the accuracy of a watch can vary depending on the position it's placed in when taken off at night.

The Temperature

The functioning of a watch can be influenced by temperature changes due to the expansion and contraction of internal components in extreme hot and cold environments. The balance wheel of a watch can be particularly affected by such changes. To counteract these effects, manufacturers have utilized advanced materials and designs that can regulate temperature changes and preserve the watch's precision. Usually, high temperatures can cause a watch to run slower, while low temperatures can cause it to run faster.

The Effects of Magnetism

Magnetic fields have the potential to interfere with the mechanical movements of a watch. To avoid this, it is advisable not to keep watches in close proximity to magnetic objects for long periods. The intricate movement of a watch contains numerous minuscule steel components that can be pulled in various directions by the magnetic force, leading to slowed down or halted cogs.

In a watch, the balance spring is the central component and is particularly susceptible to magnetic fields. This tiny coiled spring causes the wheel to move back and forth at a set rate of beats per hour, essentially the heart of the watch. The energy from the spring is then disseminated throughout the watch movement to power its hands and any other features. Magnetic fields can impact the  balance spring  by reducing its swings and increasing its frequency.

Buenos Aires from Tufina Theorema is a rose gold men watch with a skeleton dial and three blue sub dials. It has a sun and moon phase indicator, double colored white and black hands and a stainless steel rose gold bracelet.

Shock Impacts

Mechanical watches can be negatively affected by forceful impacts, which may cause damage to their delicate components. To avoid direct strong impacts, it is advisable to remove your watch before participating in impact sports. Unlike magnetic fields, which can also cause interference, shocks can be particularly harmful to the balance spring, as it moves constantly at a high speed relative to other parts. The disturbance caused by a shock can also disrupt the heartbeat of the balance wheel.

The Passing of Time

As time passes, the accuracy of mechanical watches may decrease. The oils and lubricants inside the watch can deteriorate, resulting in less smooth interaction between the gears and levers, which can cause a slight increase in inaccuracy. To maintain accuracy, it is recommended to have the watch serviced every five years.

In recent times, watchmakers have developed new materials and techniques to protect watches from various external factors such as  shock resistance, magnetic fields, and extreme temperatures. Watches with silicon balance springs (silicium) offer better stability in temperature variations and are antimagnetic, thus ensuring greater accuracy in timekeeping. Quartz watches, on the other hand, are more precise than mechanical watches due to their circuit board and battery-powered mechanism. However, choosing between a mechanical or quartz watch ultimately depends on personal preferences, as both movements can provide sufficient accuracy to keep up with daily activities.

Buenos Aires is a mechanical men watch from Tufina. It has a skeleton dial and three blue sub dials. The double colored stick hands are paired with the black case and stainless steel bracelet.

Tips for Maintaining the Accuracy of Mechanical Watches

Wind the mainspring up fully to stabilize accuracy

Using the watch without fully winding it can lead to time discrepancies, causing either a gain or loss of time. To prevent such occurrences, it is advisable to wear the watch for a duration of over 8 hours every day.

Have the watch serviced regularly

It is recommended that you bring your watch to a service center every three years to have it thoroughly inspected, cleaned, and lubricated as necessary.

Have a watchmaker regulate your watch

For optimal accuracy of your watch, it is important to have it regulated correctly. This involves adjusting the tension on the spring by turning a small screw. With the appropriate tools, a skilled watchmaker can complete this procedure in a matter of minutes.

Have your watch regularly adjusted

Ensuring that your watch is appropriately adjusted is crucial. This pertains to balancing the balance wheel, as opposed to regulating it. It is advisable to have a professional watchmaker perform this task, as it may take several hours to complete. However, this service will be extremely beneficial in the long run.

Have your timepiece lubricated

It is important to ensure that your watch is well-lubricated. The lubricating oils in your watch tend to break down with time, leading to poor performance. Depending on the quality of the initial lubricants used, it is necessary to lubricate the watch every 2-3 years. However, it is advisable to re-lubricate your watch every 5 years at a minimum. Failure to do so may cause premature wear and tear on the parts, which can be costly to replace.

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