What is the Kinetic watch movement? How does it keep accurate time?
The Kinetic is an interesting evolution of watch technology; it is worth learning a little more about this evolved tech, which is powering lots of watches worldwide, even today.
In very short, the Kinetic tech is a hybrid tech that mixes mechanical and electric components. Kinetic is the evolution of the electromechanical watches of the 1960s; it blended these two techs together and was ultimately replaced by quartz-based movements. Its original name was AGS (Automatic Generating System), and its concept dates back to 1972.
The company worked on it until it presented it at the Basel Fair in 1988, where its name was still AGS. It assumed the Kinetic name some years after.
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Kinetic vs. Electromechanical
When the electric novelty broke into the mechanical field, which was used by watches since their beginning, the research went into two main themes.
The first had the objective of providing electrical energy to a standard regulatory device (traditionally, a balance wheel), or as it happened, to a new system, like the diapason powering the Bulova Accutron.
Several electric watches of the first kind came out, with three leading different solutions as to drive the balance wheel through electrical impulses:
1 – Moving coil system, contact controlled: watches with a balance wheel, integrated coil, fixed magnets, and mechanical contacts.
2 – Fixed coil system, contact controlled: watches with a piece of refined iron attached to the balance wheel, a fixed coil, and mechanical contacts.
3 – Transistorized watches with balance: had a balance wheel, a transistor acting as a switch, and no mechanical contacts.
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The evolution of the Kinetic movement
The manufacturers ranged widely, from companies such as Hamilton (the first manufacturer to launch an electric movement, the Hamilton 500, in 1957), Timex, LIP, and ESA, among the others. The second was just the opposite. It provided mechanical power to charge a quartz-based system.
The Kinetic was one of the first systems to follow this latter principle. It was among the first, but others were in the pipeline, including the one by Jean d’Eve, which released its system, the Samara, concurrently with the Kinetic. But the latter gained more traction, and ultimately succeeded.
Between the two, the Kinetic path was far more promising. The quartz-based mechanism is much more precise than any mechanical-based one, and it is sturdier as well. So, eventually, the Kinetic became widespread and was reworked through the years to create new models and new complications.
Essentially, the Kinetic mechanism is a sort of automatic-quartz movement
As you can see in the diagram above, the Kinetic features a quartz watch mechanism driving the hands and keeping the time, with a stepping motor (so the second-hand moves in bursts, and does not flow along with the dial). This motor does not get electrical power from a traditional chemical button battery, but from a capacitator. The capacitor essentially has the same function as a chemical battery; however, it is fixed, instead of removable and rechargeable).
The capacitator holds power coming from a traditional energy-generating unit; the rotor revolves around itself and magnetically charges the capacitator, saving energy for a few days.
The first Kinetics had issues with recharging, but these technical glitches were ultimately resolved. The Kinetic movement was improved in time and, eventually, it provided the foundation to design another innovation based on the same hybrid principle. In this case, combining a mechanical foundation with a quartz-timed regulation system.
The Spring Drive, an improved mechanism that debuted around 2000, took the higher end of the business.
Today, the Kinetic mechanism has been updated. It is still produced and used in watches of the Seiko company, precisely in its middle-end. At the same time, the Spring Drive is the movement mounted inside the high-end Seiko electromechanical watches, especially in the Grand Seikoline.
These systems, essentially quartz-based or quartz-controlled, offer impressive timekeeping capabilities, which far surpass the features of the true mechanical watches.
However, some die-hard enthusiasts still lament the quartz invasion inside their mechanical movements: so, Kinetics, and Spring Drives, end up in this middle ground that separates tradition and innovation, with a foot here and another there.
And because of this same fact, it will neither be here nor there.