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A Beginners Guide To Watch Movements

A Beginners Guide To Watch Movements

Everything you need to know about the most popular affordable watch movement types.

The humble movement is the ticking heart, or engine of a watch, whether it’s a mechanical, quartz or meca-quartz timepiece. This article is a brief introduction to some of the movements you’ll encounter in more affordable wristwatches. They’re movements and brands, Swiss and non-Swiss, that have historically presented alternative movement choices to large and small watch companies. Two are Japanese; the others are Swiss. With widespread ETA availability ending recently, the supply role of Japan’s brands and ETA’s Swiss-based competitors can only increase.

Some of the best affordable watch movements

ETA

ETA has long been the Swiss watch industry’s defining movement and ébauche manufacturer – as well as the source of movements for ‘Swiss-made’ watches from other brands, including affordable German watch brands such as Steinhart.

The history of ETA, based in canton Solothurn, goes back to the eighteenth century. Today’s ETA emerged, with the renaming of Ébauches SA, from the consolidation of Swiss watchmaking after the ‘quartz crisis’. It’s said that if you wear a luxury watch sans in-house movement (and many affordable watches too), it’s probably ETA-powered. Quite possibly, the ubiquitous ETA 2824 or 2824-2 beats inside its case.

ETA 2824-2

GECKOTA S-01 PHALANX SPECIAL OPERATIONS WATCH

This may be the definitive contemporary Swiss mechanical watch movement. Currently in ETA’s Mecaline range and available in four movement grades (Standard, Elaboré, Top and Chronometer), it’s descended from the 1950s’ Eterna Cal. 1247. Based on proven quality and reliability, there’s a strong argument for this being the best ETA movement at the market’s affordable end.

  • Diameter 25.6mm 
  • Height: 4.6mm
  • Automatic
  • Hours, minutes, sweep second, quickset date
  • Self-winding mechanism with ball bearing
  • Hacking
  • Incabloc shock protection
  • Frequency: 28.800 VPH; 4 Hz
  • 25 jewels
  • Power reserve: 40 hours

Miyota

GLICKENHAUS AUTOMATIC WATCH

Heading now to Japan, another stalwart of affordable watch movements is Miyota. Originally founded by Citizen in Miyota, Nagano prefecture, in 1959, the company built its reputation among Japan’s top watch mechanism manufacturers with calibers such as the Cal. 2035, 2115 quartz movement and the 8000 and 9000 series.

Over decades, Miyota workhorses such as the 8215 have been used by brands as diverse as Festina, LIP, Laco and Geckota. Variants such as the 8218 with small seconds are also popular for affordable timepieces. However, for now, we’ll focus on Miyota’s 9015 – their ETA 2482/Sellita SW200 equivalent.

Miyota 9015

GECKOTA AIRSTREAM

Launched in 2009, this hi-beat movement was an improved version of the basic-but-reliable 8215. It’s closely related to the Miyota 90S5 (essentially a 9015 with open heart and no date).

  • Height 3.9mm
  • Diameter: 26mm 
  • Mechanism: automatic, self-winding
  • Hours, minutes, central seconds, quickset date and calendar, hand winding
  • Shock protection: proprietary
  • Frequency: 28,800 VPH
  • Jewels: 24
  • Power reserve: 42 hours

Ronda

As one of the world’s largest makers of mechanical and quartz watch movements, Ronda Group sets its store out clearly when it says: ‘Ronda produces mechanical and quartz watch movements with Swiss precision for numerous leading watch brands.

Ronda’s story goes back to William Mosset and Switzerland’s Waldenburg Valley in 1909. However, it was only after WW2, having perfected his skills at Oris, that Mosset founded Ronda SA in the Liestal near Basel. Apparently the name was inspired by the French ‘arrondir’, which refers to rounding off watch pivots.

Expanding globally, Ronda developed mechanical movements – albeit discontinued in the 1980s. The business survived the ‘watchmaking crisis’ and thrived on making over 20 million quartz movements each year. However, at Baselworld 2016, 30 years after eschewing mechanical watches, Ronda returned with its 11.5-ligne R150 ‘Mecano’ calibre. Development began in 2011, the year Swiss regulator COMCO approved ETA’s phased cuts to third-party movement supply. The R150 was aimed clearly at the ETA 2824. The company now confidently positions these mechanisms alongside well-received quartz movements such as its 715LI and 785.

Ronda 515 Quartz

The Ronda 515 is one of the company’s most popular analogue quartz movements, is widely used in affordable Swiss-made quartz timepieces. It's a fantastic option from Ronda that is reliable with parts widely available if needed. It also can be found in a range of great watches which we will cover below!

  • Height 3mm
  • Diameter: 26mm
  • Mechanism: analogue quartz
  • Three hands and quick-change date
  • Hacking: yes
  • Battery: 371
  • Battery life: 45 months
  • Jewels: 1

Seiko

GECKOTA G-01

Discuss Seiko movements (particularly the ‘best Seiko movement’), with horologists such as Anthony O’Boyle at Hour Vintage Watch Shop in Northern Ireland, and the word ‘workhorse’ is soon used. In particular, the vintage Seiko 7005A and 7625D seem particularly well-rated. That’s hardly surprising given Seiko’s long history in affordable watchmaking. With all their movements being in-house, Seiko (and subsidiary Orient – check out the Mako II’s F6922) holds a deserved place as leader among Japanese watch movement manufacturers.

If affordable watches interest you, it won’t be long before a Seiko passes through your hands – probably several. It’s hard to knock Seiko movements’ sheer value and affordability, whether in their watches or indie brands. Fun as it would be to investigate classic vintage Seiko calibres – along with recent stars such as the 7S26 in the ubiquitous SKX007 – we’re focusing on two automatic mainstays of affordable Seikos from recent years. And for variety, their meca-quartz VK64.

GECKOTA ENSIGN

Seiko NH35 Movement

This is a hand-winding upgrade to Seiko's venerable NH25. It’s an unbranded (‘trade’) version of the Seiko 4r35 movement in many affordable timepieces from leading watch manufacturers.

  • Height 5.32 mm
  • Diameter 27.4mm 
  • Mechanism: automatic, hand-winding (bi-directional)
  • Hours, minutes, central seconds, date, hacking:
  • Shock protection: Seiko Diashock
  • Frequency: 21,600 a/h
  • Jewels: 24
  • Power reserve: 41 hours

Seiko 4R36 Automatic

The 4R36 family (variants include the 4R35, 4R37, 4R38 and the 4R39) directly succeeds Seiko’s 6R15 movement and the earlier 7S26 in the SKX007. Dating from 2011, it’s a contemporary of Miyota’s 9015 movement. The big buzz around the 4R36’s introduction was the hand-winding and hacking capability it brought to affordable mainstream watches such as Seiko’s SAR, Seiko 5 Sports, numerous diving watches and independent brands too.

  • Height 5.32mm
  • Diameter 27.4mm 
  • Mechanism: automatic with manual winding
  • Day, date and hacking
  • Shock protection: Seiko Diashock
  • Frequency: 21,600 a/h (3 Hz)
  • Jewels: 24
  • Power reserve: 40 hours

Seiko SII VK64 Meca-Quartz

FORZO DRIVE KING CHRONOGRAPH

Meca-quartz isn’t just for affordable watches. Since Jaeger-LeCoultre and Frédéric Piguet first added a mechanical component to quartz watches in the 1980s, other luxury brands have used meca-quartz movements. They include Omega, Breitling, Porsche Design and IWC (e.g. the Ref. 3741 and Cal 631 flieger chronographs, the latter using the JLC 631 movement).

  • Height 5.10mm
  • Diameter 30.8mm 
  • Mechanism: hybrid meca-quartz
  • Accuracy: ± 20s/month at normal temperature range
  • Hours, minutes, central chronograph seconds, 1/5 seconds, 60-minute counter at 09:00, 24-hour indicator and date
  • Frequency of tuning-fork oscillator: 32,768 Hz
  • Jewels: 0
  • Battery: (SR936SW silver oxide)
  • Battery life: approx. 3 years

Sellita

For many years, ETA used Sellita Watch SA in La Chaux-de-Fonds to outsource movement manufacture (with ETA parts). The relationship ended in 1990 when ETA began assembling their own movements and competing with their long-standing partner.

Nowadays, thanks to the expiry of intellectual property on movements such as ETA’s 2824 (and, so the story goes, with the blessing of Nicolas Hayek) Sellita goes from strength to strength. Today it’s clearly Switzerland’s second-largest movement manufacturer. With ETA’s reduced willingness to supply third parties, Sellita has assuredly stepped into the breach – making a point of doing so the background so individual brands remain the horological stars. The first independent Sellita calibre, launched in the early 2000s, was their ETA 2824 equivalent. It was the 98-per-cent-Swiss SW 200 – the first of tens of millions of calibres that Sellita has since sold.

Sellita SW-200-1

Sellita pinned their hopes on the original Sellita SW200 after ETA outsourcing stopped in 2004. With the tiniest of variations (26 jewels vs.27), it’s essentially an ETA 2482 clone. And legitimately too, because the intellectual property on the design was already in the public domain.

  • Height 4.6mm
  • Diameter 25.6 mm 
  • Mechanism: automatic, self-winding
  • Hours, minutes, sweep second hand, quickset date and hacking
  • Shock protection: Incabloc
  • Frequency: 28,800 VPH (4 Hz)
  • Jewels: 26
  • Power reserve: 38 hours

So there we have it, from Grenchen and Sion in Switzerland to Tokyo and Nagano in Japan, a brief introduction to some of the better-known affordable watch movements. It’s not a comprehensive guide to all, or the most up-to-date, watch movements. That would be nigh-on impossible to achieve given the ongoing development and constant launch of new movements.