A modern CAD rendering demonstrating the assembly of our classic Ship's Bell clock.

A modern CAD rendering demonstrating the assembly of our classic Ship’s Bell clock.

Here at Chelsea Clock, we pride ourselves in making the highest-quality mechanical clocks the old-fashioned way. However, some of our newer, more accessible models do utilize quartz technology. This leaves many customers wondering: What’s the difference between quartz and mechanical clocks? And how does a mechanical clock work? How do clocks work in general?

How Does a Clock Work?

There are now several types of clocks available. In addition to mechanical and quartz counterparts, there are also pendulum clocks, digital clocks and atomic clocks. All of them depend on an energy source, which controls an oscillator that marks off time in equal units. These units are then displayed in a form that’s easy to understand.
The biggest way each of these clocks differs is where the energy and oscillation come from. The basics of how the mechanical clock has worked remain unchanged since its creation — because it works. Here are the basics of mechanical clocks and how they keep time.

How a Mechanical Clock Works

Mechanical clock technology preceded quartz movements by nearly a thousand years. Unlike their digital and quartz counterparts, mechanical clocks don’t depend on a battery to keep time. Instead, they harness the energy stored in a wound spring. This is why all mechanical clocks must be wound to continuously keep accurate time.

Every mechanical clock needs energy to run. Winding your clock actually winds an internal mainspring. When the mainspring slowly unwinds, it puts a series of parts in motion which results in the turning of the gears. Perhaps the most important component inside a mechanical clock is known as the escapement. The escapement regulates the release of stored energy into a predictable curve, which translates into the motion of the hands around the dial.

The final element in the escapement is the oscillator, which is usually a balance wheel or pendulum. The rate of the oscillator is constant, resulting in the controlled release of the energy stored in the mainspring (or, in the case of larger clocks, the gravitational pull on a weight). Each swing of the pendulum or balance wheel releases a tooth on the escapement’s gear, which allows the clock’s gear train to advance by a fixed amount, moving the clock’s hands forward at a steady rate.

For decades Chelsea mechanical clocks have been the trusted timekeeper of the military due to our unmatched accuracy, precision and craftsmanship. Shop our entire collection of luxury and marine clocks now!