There are some misconceptions with the sweeping hands of automatic watches (or any mechanical watches for that matter). However, I will lay out the facts for the difference in sweeping and ticking in automatic watches.
Automatic watches, along with any other mechanical watch, is characterized by their sweeping hands. Automatic watches tick 4-10 times per second, giving them a sweeping appearance.
There are some surprising facts about the sweeping hands that you don’t think about in your everyday life. The sweeping of automatic watches has to with the construction of the watch. Therefore, automatic watches can actually be made to tick.
Does Automatic Watches Sweep?
When you walk by the watch store and get your eye on a timepiece that looks like something you need. However, you prefer to own automatic watches rather than quartz watches.
How do you know which is which?
Well, actually it’s quite easy.
Mechanical and automatic watches sweep with their hour, minute, and second hands. Technically, automatic watches tick. However, at a rate of 4-10 ticks per second, it visually looks like a sweep.
In contrast, quartz watches are typically ticking in 1-second increments. A quartz watch is driving by what is called a stepping motor.
The stepping motor is controlled by the vibrations caused by a quartz crystal. For every 32,768 vibrations, the stepping motor will generate a rotation of the gears. The reason the vibrations from the quartz crystal works is because a quartz crystal is vibrating at 32,768 Hz per second, and a small microchip is counting the vibrations.
I have made a full walkthrough of quartz watches if you are interested in reading about them.
However, automatic watches are completely free from all electronics.
Therefore, everything in automatic watches is controlled by mechanical movement. The controlling unit in an automatic watch is (in rough terms) the balance wheel.
The balance wheel receives energy from the mainspring, which is releasing its energy through the escapement. The escapement is what makes the mainspring release energy at regular intervals to the balance wheel.
The swing of the balance wheel forces energy through the geartrain in the rate at which the balance wheel is spinning, which is usually between 4-10 times per second.
Therefore, it’s most likely an automatic or mechanical watch whenever you see a watch with sweeping hands.
Can Automatic Watches Tick?
While automatic watches will, in 99% of the time, have sweeping hands, some automatic watches actually tick just like a quartz watch.
Yes, automatic watches can sweep. However, most movements are made with sweeping hands. Automatic watches that tick is made from extremely complicated movements, and the prices are, therefore, in the luxury range.
However, if you are in possession of an automatic watch that ticks, you will undoubtedly know why. The reason is quite simple: automatic watches that ticks will cost upwards of $10,000.
In the video below, you visually see how an automatic and mechanical watch’s movement can be made to tick rather than sweep.
Therefore, if you have a regular Seiko, Omega, Rolex, etc. the watch will be sweeping. The ticking is only found in high-end/luxury watches, which is designed for the ticking.
The ticking of an automatic and mechanical watch is fairly useless and only an aesthetic feature. Therefore, it’s very uncommon to see ticking mechanical and automatic watches.
Can Quartz Watches Sweep?
Just like there is exceptions to the ticking of automatic watches, quartz watches also have exceptions.
Yes, quartz watches can also sweep. There are specific models made that is sweeping. Bulova Precisionist and Grand Seiko’s spring drive product lines that have sweeping hands.
A different regulation in the watches causes the sweeping. A regular quartz watch has 32,768 vibrations per second from the quartz crystal. However, the Bulova Precisionist models have a frequency of 262,000 vibrations per second.
The Grand Seiko’s spring drive movement is actually a combination of quartz and mechanical movement. Therefore, the mechanical components are made by spinning freely, and the quartz components regulate the speed. Ultimately, leading to a very smooth sweep.
What’s it Called When a Watch Doesn’t Tick?
Normally when a watch ticks, it’s a mechanical watch (either a manual or automatic watch).
If a watch is sweeping rather than ticking, the watch will be made of a mechanical movement. There are exceptions that made both automatic watches and quartz watches able to sweep.
However, there are several options. To give you the best answer you will need to read the previous sections to understand that quartz watches can sweep, and automatic watches can tick. However, it’s rarely the occasion.
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