Since its appearance in the 17th century, wristwatches have continued to be an essential accessory in the life of many. Watches have been referred to as a lifesaver. Although there have been many transitions to date, one part remains as the lifeline of the watch. This poses the question, What Is The Most Important Part Of A Watch?

Although it is worth noting that each component has an important part to play in the effective functioning of the watch, one piece remains the hero. The escapement is the so-called watch engine, maintaining the oscillations of the balance wheel, causing the wheels and hands to revolve.

Join me on a journey of discovery as we take a closer look into the features that make this unsung hero shine and the contributions from its teammates to ensure the watch’s longevity.

The Importance Of An Escapement

To determine the most crucial part of a watch, you will first have to determine the core function of the timepiece. In this instance, the main reason for a watch being worn is to give the wearer the valuable information of being able to tell the time.

To put this into perspective, you should explore the function of each part and their contribution towards assisting the escapement function effectively. In hindsight, although all the features contribute to the overall effectiveness of the watch. 

The escapement is the traffic controller that transmits the watch’s energy source to other components, thus making the escapement the brain and heart of the watch. 

Without this hero standing in the line of duty, the watch would not tick. An unticking watch traditionally does not hold its value as an investment, reducing it to a mere accessory.

How Does The Escapement Work?

An escapement is a mechanical linkage that motivates the element of a watch that keeps time to release the gear chain causing it to move forward periodically. This motion is instrumental in advancing the clock hand.

Driving the escapement is the force from a coiled spring that transmits through the gear train of the timepiece. Each time the pendulum swings, it releases the escapement wheel by allowing the gear train to advance or escape by an allocated amount.

Periodically, the watch hands move as it simultaneously pushes the timekeeping element as the tooth catches on to the escapement pallet.

The escapement is then returned to its locked state. The sudden stoppage of the escapement is what generates the distinct ticking sound.

The Different Types Of Escapements

The escapement is such a crucial part of a watch that over 250 variations have been developed thus far. The Swiss lever escapement wins the popularity contest due to its use in most timepieces.

The Swiss lever escapement is also fondly known as the inline lever escapement.

The three main types of escapements are

  • Recoil escapements 
  •  Dead beat or cylinder escapements
  • Detached escapement

Recoil Escapements

Recoil escapements were one of the first forms of an escapementThe most common form was the spindle or verge escapement. These escapements were used in mechanical watches from 1948 – 1720.

The balance wheel is driven by impulse in the first and second phases. When the balance wheel stops at the second phase, it results in the direction of the swing being reversed, causing the escapement wheel to be rotated a bit in reverse.

The spindle escapement transitioned from a verge rod to an oscillator, and eventually, more mobility of the wristwatch when the balance wheel with the mainstream prevailed.

The recoil escapement’s only downside is its limited balance range, a maximum arch of 100 degrees. This limited range is compared to a broader balance wheel that oscillates to 220 degrees for greater accuracy.

Dead Beat Escapements

Thomas Tompion invented the deadbeat or cylinder escapements in the 16th century. The cylinder escapement replaced the verge escapement in the 17th century. The advantage of this was that it was a bit thinner, making it ideal for use in slim watches.

However, in the 18th century, a flaw was detected due to excessive wear, and it was only restricted to use in high-end luxury watches with rubber cylinders.

The problem was soon solved when the cylinder was made of hardened steel. It is currently more popular for use in pocket watches.

The deadbeat escapement uses a cutaway cylinder on the balance wheel shaft, causing the escape sheet to enter one by one. Pressure is placed on the cylinder edge when the wedge-shaped tooth impulses the balance wheel.

The wedge shape teeth are held inside the cylinder as it turns, leaving the other side as it impulses the wheel. The deadbeat escapement’s only downside is that high friction can result in more wear and tear.

Detached Lever Escapements

Almost all wristwatches are currently fitted with the detached lever escapement. The detached lever escapement was invented in the 17th century and is considered one of the most significant watch innovations.

The escapement allows the balance wheel to swing freely through most of the oscillation. The result is timekeeping accuracy due to the short impulse. The motion of the lock and draw mechanism could not be more exact. This detached lever escapement creates a ticking sound.

Why Is It Called An Escapement?

I am sure you are wondering how the name “escapement’ was derived. The name is quite apt. Considering that each oscillation allows one tooth on the driving wheel to escape.

What Components Make Up The Escapement?

There are typically two components to the mechanical escapement in a wristwatch.

  • Hairspring
  • Balance Wheel


Another name for the hairspring is the balance spring. The spring that is attached to the balance wheel is called the hairspring. When the timepiece is running, it causes the balance wheel to oscillate, controlling the speed at which the watch turns. This controls the rate at which the hands move.

Often to alter the length of the spring and make an adjustment to the rate of the timepiece, a regulator lever is fitted.

Balance Wheel

A more fitting name for the balance wheel is the timekeeper. It is a wheel that rotates backward and forwards, returning to its central position by the hairspring.

Both the balance wheel and the hairspring are the two components that work harmoniously. The driving force behind the movement is the escapement that takes the impulses and rotation of the gear train and delivers it to the balance wheel.

Each movement of the balance causes a tick which then advances the gear train so that the hands of the timepiece can move.

Can An Escapement Get Damaged?

A watch can be a valuable investment and become problematic over time if not well maintained. 

It is very easy for the exterior of a watch to get damaged, which can be prone to scratches and cracks over time. But what about the interior components?

Since the escapement is the essential part of the watch and the so-called heartbeat, is it possible that it can also incur damage with wear and tear?

As with any mechanical product, a watch is not meant to last forever. You may be able to delay the inevitable breakage, but as long as you wear it daily, the lifespan will eventually be shortened. This includes the lifespan of the escapement.

What Causes Damage To An Escapement?

The following factors can cause damage to the escapement,

  • Wear And Tear
  • Power Loss And Friction
  • Magnetization
  • Use Of Watch Under Water

Wear And Tear

Over time constant daily use of a watch and the step-by-step motion of all the parts in conjunction with each other can cause friction between the balance wheel and the escapement, affecting the watch movement.

Although the escapement is unaffected by lubrication, most watches have a thin protective film on the tip of the escapement wheel teeth, which is more than ample to preclude wear and tear.

However, there are instances where the lubrication can fail, causing it to drag and if there are worn brushes, dirt particles can become embedded in these brushes.

Power Loss

The force exerted on the pallet as the escape wheel rotates clockwise can be in a different direction than the movement of the pallet. Depending on the distance between the two directions, a more significant loss of power is transferred between the escape wheel and the pallet.

An angle of 90 degrees or less will not transfer power to the pallet. If the escape wheel receives a negative impulse from the pallet, there won’t be sufficient power to run efficiently.


Friction is caused when the lubrication on the tip of the escapement wheel wears out due to the motion of the escapement, which causes it to drag, wearing out the brushes—the worn brushes cause the gear and teeth to grind together.

The rotation of the pivots causes frictional losses due to the rough surfaces. Dirt becomes trapped in the worn brushes causing the binding of the pivot.


Resting your watch on a stereo speaker or electronic device with a magnetic field can cause an erratic escapement movement, causing significant discrepancies in the time display.

You will find that there will be time loss with the watch by either losing seconds or minutes in a day. This is the result of the balance being magnetized.

Use Of Watch Under Water

Not all watches are water resistant. Suppose there is no sticker on the watch indicating water resistance, then stay clear of the water. 

Although some timepieces are water-resistant, they may only have a certain resistance level. In extreme cases, the seal can be compromised, and water can enter, damaging the escapement.

Can An Escapement Be Repaired?

If you plan to keep your timepiece ticking, you must initiate repairs at a watch specialist as soon as the problem is detected.

The good news is that the escapement can be removed as a unit; hence, the repair is possible depending on the problem; it can be readjusted.

Important Parts Of The Watch

Although the escapement may be referred to as the hero of the watch, no watch can function efficiently without its teammates. So before we strip them of their glory, let’s introduce them; below are ten components that are just as important. These are necessary for it to be anything but a watch.

In no particular order of importance, let me introduce the team players that contribute to the effectiveness of the watch.

  • Bezel- Holds the crystal in place.
  • Crystal – A clear glass window that protects the inside of the watch, giving you the clarity to tell the time
  • Case -Plastic, ceramic, or metal, the case holds all the contents together.
  • Pusher- Is situated on the side of the watch. It performs a similar function to the crown, but the pusher changes the date instead of adjusting the time.
  • Crown- Found on the side of the watch, used to set or adjust the time. Known as the command center of the watch.
  • Hour Marker – Labels the time from 1 to 12 on the watch face.
  • Dial – Part of the watch that displays the time. No matter how much work goes on behind the scenes, it is futile if the time is not showcased.
  • Hand – Moves over the dial to tell time. Without it, you won’t be able to tell the accurate time.
  • Lugs – Metal pieces that attach the watch case to the strap.
  • Subdial – Insert found on the main watch dial but used for secondary functions like seconds.


The hero of every story is often left with the task of doing the most work, and so too with the escapement. Although all parts of the watch are just as important, much of the watch’s existence depends on the efficient functioning of the escapement.

The escapement is one of those parts that has to be found in every watch. It can, however, be prone to wear and tear. To ensure that your watch is always ticking, make sure that you diagnose the problem and initiate repairs accordingly.


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