What Makes A Watch Tick

Operating frequency

Suppose a mechanical watch has an operating speed of, for example, 28,800vph. That means the balance wheel “vibrates” 28,800 times per hour. Each vibration equates to a single tick. And so, a watch with a 28,800vph operating frequency “ticks” 8 times per second (28,800/60/60=8).

The escape wheel effectively acts as a brake…

Every time the balance wheel “vibrates,” a unit of power is released from the mainspring. It’s traveling through the gear train, moving the hands. This is enabled by the balance wheel unlocking the escapement, allowing the escape wheel to advance by one tooth. The escape wheel effectively acts as a brake. It’s restricting the power supply of the mainspring in its barrel from being released to the hands in one go. If you’ve ever witnessed a watchmaker remove the escape wheel of a fully wound watch, you’ll know this results in the wild windmilling of the hands until the power drains a matter of seconds later.

It also results in an ear-splitting whirring and a cheek-reddening groan from all others in the workshop. A slow, painfully ironic clap has been known to follow…

And so watches tick when the power source is engaged and allowed to move the components forward. The sound itself is created when the escape wheel tooth smashes into the face of either the entry or exit pallet stone mounted on the pallet or anchor of the escapement.

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