back to top

Why Aren’t Mechanical Watches More Advanced?

Nikoloz K. from Moscow, Russia asks:

Dear aBlogtoWatch! (in fact i like aBlogtoRead more, but i guess it suits the content better)… What might be a reason that mechanical watches have not developed much, if any, in terms of replacing the balance wheel? There are numerous watch complications but the balance wheel escapement concept remains the same. I mean what could be harder to invent and produce then a minute repeater but still no replacement for balance wheel mechanism. Of course, not that I have something against balance wheel and hair spring movement concept but it would be fun to see many other escapement options. Seiko has invented Spring drive (that is quartz crystals oscillating) but it’s hardly noticeable in watch industry… Thank you.

One person on team aBlogtoWatch says: I think the reasons may be two-fold. One practical and one aesthetic. The main reason I can think of would be size. We know there are alternative regulating organs for timepieces, like large clock pendulums for example, but there is nothing that is comparably accurate within the space constraints of a wrist watch.

The balance and hairspring design is remarkably efficient for its size and easily adjusted compared to other systems that may be developed. Whilst there have been developments in the hairspring like the Breguet overcoil, silicon hair springs, or the latest design developments from Breguet, the overall concept has yet to be bettered.

Why Aren't Mechanical Watches More Advanced? Ask Us Anything

It pays to bear in mind that for everyday wear the tolerances from mechanical watches (-4 +6 Chronometer, -3 +10 normal mechanical watches) are satisfactory and extreme levels of accuracy are not normally required for normal use.

Quartz has given us accuracy in a practical format, but many people feel it rather lacking in soul or technical mastery. Which leads on to my second point. There is something aesthetically pleasing about watching a hairspring breathing through a glass caseback. It shows the watch is not just a jumble of circuits and coils, but it has a life and beat of it’s own.

You may get a more accurate regulating organ in the form of quartz (or even hybrids like the Seiko Spring Drive), but you don’t get that blend of acceptable day-to-day accuracy and also the level of technical mastery and beauty that a hairspring and balance allows. Some brands have recognized this to such a degree that they have introduced one hertz models which show the beat of time perfectly and still maintain a high level of accuracy.

Another says: I agree with my colleague above and would like to reiterate that mechanical watches stopped being state-of-the-art over 50 years ago. Quartz is far more accurate so putting lots of money in to incremental improvements in mechanical movement technology wasn’t a priority for anyone in a long time. The biggest improvement in the last 100 years in mechanical watches is the Co-Axial escapement by George Daniels, but that still uses a traditional balance wheel. Today some brands like De Bethune and Omega produce totally silicon balance wheels, but overall the concept is the same. To preserve the “beating heart” of a mechanical watch this element is retained and tweaked as much as possible. It is a very clever system to be honest. For those who need quartz level accuracy, then they have tons of options available.

We choose a few questions each week and publish them. Want to ask the aBlogtoWatch team a question? We want to hear from you »

About the Author

The world's most popular blog about watches, with news, reviews, watch buying guides for men's and women's watches, industry information, commentary and discussion.

Watch Brands

Previous Post What Happens To Watches Reviewed On aBlogtoWatch? 5 years ago by aBlogtoWatch
Next Post How Do I Fix Weak Lume On My Vintage Watch? 5 yearsago byaBlogtoWatch



Disqus Debug thread_id: 3992268763

  • Ulysses31

    An extension to this question might be – why aren’t balance wheels smaller?  We’ve seen watches that have a huge balance wheel and a slow beat, but wouldn’t it be easier to create a more accurate hi-beat movement with a smaller/lighter wheel that oscillates faster?  It would use less energy to keep it running too.

  • David 52

    Ulysses, there are watches like the Zenith “El Primero” that oscillate at higher frequencies. the problem is wear in the high beat watches. The higher beat does create a much faster wearing of the balance staff. So there are drawbacks to the fast beat watches. Tag Heuer is trying to develop a magnetic escapment and ballane wheel with virtually no wear. Cartier has devloped a watch with a vacume inside the case that allows for very little drag from the air. There are other escapments out there just none quite as simple and pleasing to the eye and Ear for that matter.

  • DG Cayse

    Good question – one that I have had asked me many times over the last few years.
    While the basics have remained fairly constant, there have been many significant advances in materials used in the mechanical watch process.
    IMO, it is here that some of the most important advances have been made.
    Of course, in some of the more esoteric boutique marques there has been some far reaching changes in the mechanical movements – however these are such a miniscule segment as to barely raise a blip on the radar. But they are there.

  • Marcos Caetano

    smaller balance wheels which rotate at a higher velocity exist already, the problem pertaining to a higher rotation speed is the overall wear of the mechanism and a shorter turnover period for services; which is why watch brands do not produce watches which vibrate over 36000. on a side note, parmigiani has just conceptualized a silicon watch which vibrates around 75000.