How Does a Mechanical Clock Work?

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 on making the highest-quality mechanical clocks the old-fashioned way. However, some of our newer, more accessible models do utilize quartz technology. This allows us to combine the best of old technology and new, leading to classic clocks in terms of style and function but which can last longer or require less maintenance thanks to modern advancements.

Improvements and changes in clock-making technology leave many customers wondering about the nature of mechanical clocks. What's the difference between quartz and mechanical clocks? And how does a mechanical clock work? How do clocks work in general? If you're wondering how to work a clock, learn from our expert clockmakers here at Chelsea Clock and uncover the secrets of mechanical clocks.

How Does a Clock Work? An Intro Look at Clock Mechanics

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. After all, there are only so many improvements you can make to telling time, and old-fashioned clocks generally work just as well as newer ones.

What has changed in clockmaking are the base materials, along with some fine tuning for more accurate time keeping that doesn't require as much maintenance. Here are the basics of mechanical clocks and how they keep time, along with how mechanical clock technology has evolved with modern innovations.

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.

All mechanical clocks need energy to run, and energy is made through the act of winding. Winding your clock manipulates the internal mainspring to generate energy. 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.

So what is the difference between a mechanical clock and a quartz one? Quartz clocks rely on batteries to power your clock. The battery sends a current into a small quartz crystal, which causes vibrations to echo around the clock. The vibrations drive the motor, which moves the clock hand.

Quartz clocks require less maintenance than mechanical clocks because of the difference in design. However, hand movements aren't as smooth on quartz clocks as mechanical clocks, and many clock collectors feel modern quartz clocks lose the classic feel that mechanical clocks bring into a room. Both tell time well though, so whichever clock you choose to rely on is up to your personal preference.

Find Luxury Analog Clocks at Chelsea Clock

Whatever kind of clock you're looking for, you'll find it here at Chelsea Clock. For decades, Chelsea clocks have been the trusted timekeeper of the military due to our unmatched accuracy, precision and craftsmanship. We also offer customization services, such as personal engravings, providing a personal touch to our revered clocks.

Shop our entire collection of luxury and marine clocks now and add a touch of elegance to your home, office or boat when you shop with Chelsea Clock.