Today, watch movements are either made in-house or sourced from manufacturers. Although in-house watch movements are becoming more popular among more prominent brands, more affordable watch brands still use mass-produced movements. Unbeknownst to many of us watch wearers, three different manufacturers make the majority of movements: ETA, Miyota, and Ronda. Watches that use one of these manufacturers' movements often rename and modify them to appear as if they were made in-house (most commonly embossing their logo onto the rotor).
Let's talk more about each of these movement manufacturers:
Known by many as the Swatch subsidiary, ETA is Switzerland’s largest movement maker, with countless small and major brands relying on them since 1859.
Some popular movements by ETA are:
A three-hand automatic movement with a date display and 38 hours of power reserve. [Learn more about this movement here]
Despite its more expensive price range, ETA 2892 has large central rotor bearings and is flatter than the 2824-2. Twenty-one jewels ball bearings help reduce friction while adding aesthetic value to the watch. [Learn more about this movement here]
Valjoux 7750 / ETA 7750
The most popular mechanical chronograph classic movement. [Learn more about this movement here]
The first two digits of the model number categorize the movement family, and the next two digits indicate any additional complications. For example, 2836-2 offers a day and date function, while 2801-2 has no date display.
ETA Movements are typically available in grades of refinement, in ascending order to the highest, and the most luxurious finishes are standard, elaborated, top, and chronometer. Sometimes, it even comes with enhanced precision or a chronometer certificate.
Standard (adjusted in two positions and the highest variation of +/- 30 seconds per day)
Elaborated (adjusted in three positions, an average rate of +/- 5 seconds per day)*
Top (adjusted in five positions, an average rate of +/- 4 seconds per day)*Chronometer (must meet strict COSC standards with a maximum variation of +/- 5 seconds per day).
Keep a lookout for these grades whenever you are looking at ETA movements.
*The Elaborated and Top grades can vary by +/- 15 seconds per day. When you consider these are gears measuring time, to be off by this little is quite impressive.
Found within watches from well-known brands - ranging from elegant, sporty timepieces to stylish fashion accessories to luxurious models, Ronda is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of mechanical and precision electronic quartz watch movements full of innovative design.
Known for the precision in their Swiss Quartz Watches, Ronda combines manual craftsmanship and process automation to deliver exceptional quality and innovative products. Ronda’s efficient ISO 9001 quality control system ensures that every movement meets the most rigorous standards in design and quality terms.
Some of the popular movements by Ronda:
Ronda Mecano R150
With its innovative and fresh design, the 11.5-inch R150 made its debut at Baselworld 2016. Used mainly by Luxury watch brands, the R150 is not one for the faint of heart. [Learn more about the movement here]
Used in our flagship Tidal Moonphase, the Ronda 708 - an analog quartz watch movement with moonphase and date features, is the ideal movement for it. With a high average battery life span of 5 years and a -10/+20 accuracy per month, Ronda 708 serves as a reliable movement for an everyday timepiece.
Established in the 1950s, Sellita didn't become an independent and self-marketing Swiss movement manufacturer until 2003. Interestingly, Sellita used to produce movements from ETA prototypes. Since the associated patents expired, their bestselling Sellita SW 200 is the improved version of ETA 2824-2. The SW 300 was designed based on the ETA 2892, and the SW 500 is a replica of Valjoux 7750.
Though Sellita’s movements are not the original ETA components, their functionality and reliability are on par. However, movements are not in constant (and reliable) supply, leading to some watch manufacturers only offering ETA or Sellita. According to Professional Watches, with increased innovation and development, Sellita’s movements are becoming closer and closer to ETA’s movements.
One of the few fully integrated watch manufacturers, Seiko is Japan’s prominent maker of watches, clocks, and time. Seiko’s movements are also the heartbeat of other affordable mid-range automatic watches brands due to their accurate timekeeping.
One of Seiko’s subsidiaries is Time Module (TMI). Unknown to many, TMI distributes Seiko movements to third parties under designations that make identification of Seiko movements in watches more challenging. TMI’s bestseller is probably the NH35 or the 4R35 in Seiko models.
The NH35 is cost-effective and all-encompassing with a three-hand automatic movement, date, stop-seconds, and the potential for manual winding. Despite their low costs, they are on par with watches selling at a much higher price.
Seiko 72S6 Automatic
One of the least expensive automatic movements from Seiko is this 72S6 Automatic. On the Seiko 5 Military SNK809, a transparent caseback allows you to peer into your timepiece and look at the mechanics and jewels.
It would be accurate to state that Citizen Miyota provides the most common and widely used movement. While known for their quartz movements and Eco-Drive series, it might come as a surprise that Citizen also mass produces mechanical movements.
Some common Citizen Miyota movements:
Caliber 8200 series
Three-hand automatic Miyota 821A or 8215 are options that have stuck around for microbrands and lower-range watches throughout the decades.
Without the stop-seconds mechanism, Citizen Miyota movements face strong competition with Seiko’s signature NH35 movements.
Miyota 9015 (2009)
Stop-seconds Mechanism. Classier appearance. Power for additional complications.
Miyota 9015 surpassed its predecessor, meeting higher industry standards.
Known for their beautiful watch movements, Miyota prides itself on their balancing wheel being the apple of your eye. The exquisite balance wheel moves steadily, the finest metal mechanical parts and its intricate design reflects the high quality blueprint behind this outstanding movement.
For the longest time, Chinese-made movements have not been the most desirable due to often being poorly constructed replicas of Swiss movements. However, with rapid improvements in their manufacturing capabilities and improved quality control, Chinese watch movements from Tianjin Seagull are beginning to win the hearts of watch enthusiasts. Tianjin Seagull, one of the world’s most significant mechanical movement manufacturing company, contribute a quarter of global production (as of 2018) at an affordable price range.
Some of the popular movements by Seagull:
Both Seagull’s models and those of young brands like Baltic Watch have had success in the West with this retro movement.
This hand-wound movement is similar to Unitas/ETA 6497, making it an affordable substitute. [Learn more about the movement here]
Following ETA’s footsteps, STP - a Fossil subsidiary, has developed its business model beyond quartz movement for fashion watches to mechanical movements for third parties.
Some common STP movements:
The STP1-11 automatic mechanical movement could easily fit anywhere the ETA 2824-2 or the Sellita SW200 would - making it a strong competitor and substitute for them.
Many Zodiac watches carry STP movements, and pricing is in a comfortable range of $1000 for the excellent quality and performance.
Zodiac Jetomatic Watch Image Credit: ABlogToWatch
If you have ever seen an “open heart” view of the balance wheel, you would understand the beauty of looking at the watch's movement through the crystal. [Learn more about the movement here]
At only 15 years in the making, STP does not offer the prestige and value of the historical watch movement makers. However, STP produces high-quality movements with little human interference to ensure absolute precision.