Once upon a time – pun intended – there weren’t many parts to our ways of keeping time. Going back through history, humans might have only gauged the time by the sun or the moon, first simply by gazing toward the sky, and eventually by using objects like sundials and calendars. As our mechanical sophisticate grew, so did our time keepers. With the invention of the clock, and eventually the portable clock which we know as a watch, our time keeping abilities continued to develop. With that development came simply this:

More parts.

Today, we have GPS watches and electronic watches that tell us the temperature or pressure of the atmosphere in addition to the relatively easy task of time keeping. With this growing sophistication comes a greater need for parts.

Still, there are those among us who prefer the more efficient, classic look of a mechanical watch with less parts, and less fuss. So when we ask how many parts do watches have, the answer would simply be this: well, show me what kind of watch you have.

Let’s take a look at the parts that go into producing each different type of watch, and maybe we’ll have a better grip on how many parts go into making a watch.

Mechanical Watches

The older the style of watch, generally, the less parts it will have. Older mechanical watches have reliance upon one specific part: the mainspring. The mainspring is “wound” in order to provide many mechanical watches with power, and as the spring unwinds, the hour and minute hands are able to move.

In mechanical watches like these, we’re likely to see fewer parts, perhaps, than an electronic gizmo might require. But is that always the case?

Some of the world’s most expensive watches aren’t digital, but still have some amazing parts and functions. For example, the “Henry Graves Supercompilation” watch, once sold for over $11 million, has 24 functions – and that’s without buttons.

Still, a simple mechanical watch might require less parts on average. In addition to a mainspring, you’ll find parts like a balance wheel, a balance spring, as well as the casing and the clock’s hands itself. Each mechanical watch differs, but you should expect to see a minimum of these basic parts present.

Mechanical watches can still develop to a high degree of craftsmanship and complexity – but typically these are the rarer, more expensive watches. For the more common complex watches, it will help to turn to electronic watches and see what they’re made of.

Electronic Watches

Though they still keep time, electronic watches are significantly different from mechanical watches. Electrically-powered watches were available in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the invention of quartz watches that electronic watches became popular.

Electronic watches became possible with the addition of quartz. Not only did quartz provide a more stable way of keeping time, but it allowed for electronic displays of the time, making watch hands unnecessary. With this kind of system, watches became more like handheld computers than the traditional mechanical watches we’re familiar with.

Instead of parts like a “balance spring,” an electronic watch might instead contain an oscillator circuit, or a digital counter. Many of the parts on electronic watches require smaller parts built in to help it function. The more sophisticated the technology, the greater demand for complexity, or at least an elegant solution to fitting the necessary electronics the watch will have to contain.

For this reason, the phrase “wearable computer” is becoming more popular. Depending on your definition of a “computer,” you could actually argue that pocket watches were portable computers, but there is no denying that the development of electronics has lead to a far greater deal of sophistication.

Once your watch is only keeping time as a secondary function, you might actually find yourself questioning whether that thing on your wrist is even technically a “watch.” It might simply be a wrist-top computer.

What about precious metals?

Don’t forget that silver, gold, and platinum can often be added to function as parts within a watch. Watch bands and casings, particularly, are popular places to gild your time keeper. Some of the world’s more valuable watches contain these precious metals – or a precious stone like a diamond – in order to increase a watch’s inherent worth.

If you have an old gold, silver, or platinum watch that no longer functions, consider selling it to a precious metal broker. The precious metal present in your watch will be melted down for re-use, allowing you to recycle these metals safely – and while generating an easy profit for yourself. Take a look at your old watches to see which might contain parts made out of these metals.