Professional Jeweler Archive: The Quartz Movement

September 2000

Timepieces: Education & Repair

The Quartz Movement

Identifying the movement is the first step in a repair or replacement decision

One genuine benefit of the modern quartz watch movement is its price. Huge quantities and automated manufacturing efficiencies have brought down the price to just a few dollars each for good-quality, general-purpose movements.

This is a major reason why replacing rather than repairing such movements has become the standard procedure at so many retail jewelry stores and repair centers. Before you replace a timepiece movement, you have to determine what model it is and where to locate a replacement.

Make and Model Number

Watch movements are identified by the maker’s name and model number, called a calibre number. Calibre is essentially the French word for size. For years, these names and numbers have been located on the edge of the movement’s main plate under the balance wheel.

But since the advent of the quartz movement, the name and calibre can be found nearly anywhere on the back of the movement. On Swiss movements, you’ll most likely find it on the edge of the main watch plate or in the battery well. On Japanese movements, look on the bridge or the top plate.

To find these locations, look at the movement from the back side – the main plate is the major framework that holds the dial on one side and upon which the rest of the movement is built on the back side. The top plate is the thin metal or plastic plate screwed onto the larger main plate.

Various Qualities

Manufacturers make various qualities of quartz movements. All-plastic movements are at the low end. But not all such movements are created equal. Many feature engineered plastic with jeweled wheel bearings to increase the efficiency and, therefore, the quality. Others combine plastic parts with metal parts. At the higher end of the spectrum are nearly all-metal movements. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Swiss manufacturers make many quartz movements that look the same. These are general-purpose calibres, available to anyone.
  • The next group of movements may look similar, but often vary with specific enhancements made for particular brands. These are called pro-prietary calibres.
  • Some higher-end watch brands order an even higher grade of quartz model onto which the brand may add its own enhancements.

How to Tell Them Apart

The only way to tell the difference between the proprietary movements and general-purpose movements is to check the complete calibre number. Swiss manufacturers use a six-digit number – three digits followed by a decimal point followed by three more digits. The calibre pictured here, for example, is 956.411 made by ETA, by far the largest movement manufacturer in Switzerland.

The first three digits identify the main calibre (called the framework) the movement is built on. The next three digits identify whether it:

  • Has a second hand.
  • Has a calendar.
  • Is restricted to a certain brand or proprietary model.

If the last three digits don’t match models available from your watch material supplier, chances are the particular model (or calibre) is not available for replacement. It’s probably a restricted model or a proprietary model that has been enhanced. These are far more expensive than general-purpose movements. It’s better to service them rather than replace them.

Japanese movements can be treated similarly, except the calibre number is generally a four- or five-digit or combination of numbers and letters.

– by David Christianson

David Christianson is fourth-generation owner of Christianson Jewelry, Kendallville, IN. In addition to serving as AWI president, he is a certified master watchmaker and a fellow of the British Horological Society. He discusses watch repair for the sales staff in this column each month. Send questions, suggestions and comments to Professional Jeweler, 1500 Walnut St., Suite 1200, Philadelphia, PA 19102;

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