The buttery smooth glide of a watch with a sweeping second hand is mesmerizing.
While common quartz watches tick once each second, watches with a smooth sweeping second-hand tick many times. This creates the appearance of a smooth sweeping second hand.
Not only does this look cool, but it’s also practical. Watches with a sweeping second hand can tell time more precisely, down to a split second.
In this article, we’re going to break down what makes a watch’s second hand sweep smoothly. We’re also going to look at why some watches sweep, why some don’t, and some of the best watches in this category.
Let’s slide right in.
How Does the Second Hand Sweep Smoothly?
The smooth sweeping second hand of a watch is a result of the second hand ticking many times per second.
The frequency at which a watch ticks is called a “beat rate” and is measured in beats per hour (bph). A beat rate measures the exact amount of times the second hand will beat each hour if everything is in working order.
Watches can beat anywhere from 5 – 10 times a second (more with a few exceptions – mentioned later). The larger the beat rate, the more frequently the second hand will tick, and the smoother the second hand will sweep.
Beat Rates Compared
The beat rates of a watch typically range from 18,000 – 36,000, with varying beat rates in between.
The higher the beat rate, the smoother the second hand will sweep.
Common Beat Rates
- 18,000 bph
- 21,600 bph
- 25,200 bph
- 28,800 bph
- 36,000 bph
Take a look at the video below to watch how higher different beat rates can affect the second hand sweep.
Why do Some Watches Tick Instead of Sweep?
While some watches sweep smoothly, most watches don’t.
Quartz watches are powered by a battery which sends signals to a quartz crystal and causes it to vibrate frequently, over 32,000 times per second!
These vibrations cause the second hand to tick just once per second, resulting in the tick-tock you see in most watches and clocks instead of the smooth sweeping second hand.
Quartz watches that tick are often much more affordable than watches that sweep, as they can be much less costly to manufacture. They also tend to be much more accurate.
Pros and Cons of a High-Frequency/High-Beat Movement
- Smoother glide
- Greater possibility to regulate the watch’s precision (more accurate)
- More accurate and granular timekeeping down to split seconds
- Shorter maximum power reserve
- More wear and tear on the movement
- Often more expensive
What kind of Watches Have a Sweeping Second Hand?
Here’s a list of the many different kinds of watch movements that have a sweeping second hand.
Automatic watches use an automatic winding rotor to power a mechanical movement, which keeps time with a sweeping second hand.
The movement inside of a mechanical watch has a series of mechanical parts (gears and springs). Hand-winding the mechanical watch generates power for the movement, and in turn, the sweeping second hand.
A meca quartz is a hybrid chronograph movement that combines separate quartz and mechanical modules into one movement.
The chronograph module in a meca quartz is mechanical. This results in a smooth sweeping second hand for the chronograph function.
The quartz movement keeps track of the time-keeping aspect of the watch itself, meaning the current minute, hour, and second. Quartz movements are often more accurate than mechanical movements, but they only tick, instead of sweep.
If a watch has a meca quartz movement, its chronograph second hand will sweep smoothly, while the timekeeping hand will tick once a second.
A hi-beat, or “high beat” movement has a faster beat rate than most watches.
While most watches beat at 6 or 8 times per second, high beat watches can beat as much as 10 times per second. This is especially useful in chronograph watches where precise timekeeping, down to 1/10 of a second, is necessary.
Note: Seiko, and some other brands, have some movements that beat at 8 times per second, which they also refer to as ‘hi-beat’.
The Bulova precisionist movement is made by Bulova and is a marvel of engineering. It uses an ultra high-frequency quartz crystal to overcome many of the limiting factors of quartz and mechanical watches.
This allows it to run more efficiently and beat much more frequently – producing one of the smoothest sweeping second hands in all of watchmaking.
Perhaps most impressively, the precisionist movement can be found in affordable Bulova watches, including the Lunar Pilot mentioned later in this article.
The Spring Drive movement is a new technology made, and used almost exclusively, by Grand Seiko.
While most watches with a sweeping second hand do so by beating multiple times per second, the Grand Seiko glides in a fluid motion, in one direction. It doesn’t actually beat at all!
Uses for Watches With a Sweeping Second Hand
Watches with sweeping second hands are not just to admire and put you in a trance.
These watches are also some of the most practical, used anywhere precise timekeeping is necessary. They have been used well before modern smartphones were as accessible as they are today.
One of the oldest uses for the sweeping second hand watch dates back to the ’60s, when the laps of motor races were recorded with a chronograph.
The chronograph would start and stop at each lap, to measure a racecar’s time against another. Of course, this isn’t just limited to motorsports and has been used to measure many kinds of races, including horses, yachts, etc.
Nurses use watches with a sweeping second hand to more precisely take pulses, down to a split second.
Few professions require more precision than the military. Historically, mechanical watches with a sweeping second have been used to precisely coordinate attacks – such as artillery strikes.
Counting Swim Laps
Although modern swim lap watches have more advanced features to track each individual stroke, watches with a smooth sweeping second hand were the first to count swim laps.
BONUS: Rappers (Seriously?)
Less of practical use, and more of a flex – watches with a sweeping second hand are notorious in rap music for their desirability and frequent associations with high-end watchmakers.
“This a Rollie not a stopwatch, **** don’t ever stop”
- Drake, Nonstop
Best Watches With A Sweeping Second Hand
Watches with sweeping second-hand are often associated with high horology (and high price tags), but that’s not always the case.
There are great watches out there with a sweeping second hand that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
When it comes to watches with a sweeping second hand, just about any automatic/mechanical watch will do the trick – so you’ll broaden your scope by taking a look at watches that don’t use batteries, an article I’ve shared previously.
With that said, here’s a brief list of some of the best sweeping second-hand watches, from affordable to luxury.
Cheap/Affordable Watch: Seiko 5
Beat rate: 21,600 beats per hour
The best, most affordable pick for a watch with a sweeping hand is by far the Seiko 5. They use an automatic movement that powers the sweeping second hand and can be viewed through the see-through case back.
Although the Seiko 5 only beats at 21,600 beats per hour or 6 beats per second, this is expected for an entry-level watch and is more than fair for the price tag.
It still beats plenty smooth enough to give you that smooth sweeping second hand we all desire. Further, this beat rate has been known to keep the Seiko 5 running for years, and even decades without needing a watch service, whereas watches with higher beat rates will need costly services more often.
The Seiko 5 is built well, looks much more expensive than they are, and have been known as one of the best value watches of all time.
Dress Watch: Orient Bambino
Beat rate: 21,600 beats per hour
Want something dressy and refined? Few affordable watches are classier than the Orient Bambino. The Bambino has an automatic movement with a sweeping second hand that beats at 21,600 beats per hour, or 6 beats a second.
It’s seriously one of the best looking, affordable watches out there – and is built much better than fashion watches from brands like MVMT or Daniel Wellington.
Throwing out the cheap leather strap it comes on, and replacing it with a genuine, quality leather strap (or a Milanese metal mesh, for the leather-averse) will cost a few bucks, but elevate the watch tenfold. Best of all, the total package will still be more affordable than your recent dinner date night!
Military Watch: Hamilton Khaki Field
Beat Rate: 21,600 / 28,800 beats per hour
The Hamilton Khaki Field is a field watch, traditionally built for the military. But its bold, legible design and overall durability make it a perfect watch for casual, everyday wear as well.
While modern variations of the Khaki Field use an H10 movement that beats at just 21,600 bph, some older models use a Swiss ETA2824 movement that beats at a smoother 28,800. You’ll just need to hunt one down on the second hand market.
Everyday Watch: Tissot Gentleman
Beat rate: 21,600 beats per hour
For an everyday watch, you want something that is versatile and durable.
The Tissot Gentleman looks great and is built well. For office meetings, back-country hikes, and baking cookies at home, the Gentleman is the perfect one-watch collection.
With an automatic Tissot Powermatic 80 movement, the Gentleman beats at 21,600 bph, or 6 beats per second, and, maybe most impressively, boasts an 80-hour power reserve.
Smoothest Sweep on a Budget: Bulova Lunar Pilot
Beat rate: 262 kHz
The Bulova Lunar Pilot uses Bulova’s own Precisionist, high-frequency movement.
While most quartz movements vibrate at 32,782 cycles per second, the Precisionist vibrates 8 times that – 262,144 cycles per second, or 262 kHz (source). This results in a second hand that beats about 16 times per second, almost double the beats of high-end luxury Swiss watches.
Aside from its innovative movement, the Lunar Pilot is a chronograph with a significant history, having been worn on the moon.
It has a traditional, three sub-dial layout, and a cool, monochromatic color scheme that makes it extremely versatile – in all but its size.
Unfortunately, at ~45mm in diameter, it’s a bit large and chunky for the average wrist. But if you prefer a larger watch, it’s impossible to get a smoother sweeping second hand at just about any price range – let alone the ~$500 price the Lunar Pilot often sits at.
Beat rate: 28,800 beats per hour
Instantly recognizable, the Rolex Submariner is a watch icon for many reasons – and none of them are the smooth sweeping second hand that beats at 28,000 beats per hour, or 8 beats per second.
Originally, Rolex was built as a purpose-built tool watch. The Submariner was built for professional divers.
The smooth sweeping second hand was merely a byproduct of the technology of the time, rather than something to particularly strive for. With that said, the 28,800 bph of the Swiss juggernaut is more than adequate and packaged in one of the most iconic watches of all time.
Smoothest Sweeping Chronograph: Zenith El Primero
Beat rate: 36,600 beats per hour / 5Hz
The Zenith El-Primero doesn’t just use a first-of-its-kind mechanical chronograph movement – Zenith invented it. The El Primero beats at 36,600 beats per hour or 10 times a second. This allows the chronograph function to measure increments of up to 1/10 second. Zenith was the first amongst competing brands to create the fully mechanical chronograph movement still used in the El-Primero today.
The El Primero also looks great. Sporty chronographs have been in style since their inception in the ’60s, and are still in high demand as seen by watches like the unattainable Rolex Daytona.
If you want a smooth sweeping chronograph, why not go for the smoothest sweeping chronograph, from the brand that invented them, no less.
Smoothest Sweep, Period: Grand Seiko Spring Drive
Beat rate: Infinite
Featuring the smoothest sweep out of any watch, the Grand Seiko Spring Drive is an engineering marvel that glides smoothly in one direction.
Unlike mechanical watches, the second hand of a Grand Seiko doesn’t beat at all, and side-by-side, there is a noticeable difference when compared to watches that do.
It doesn’t stop there, however, as Grand Seiko is more than just its amazingly smooth secondhand.
They have some of the most beautifully textured dials, and finished surfaces, in all of watchmaking. Although growing in popularity in the states, they aren’t yet quite as popular as their Swiss counterparts (except amongst watch enthusiasts), and their more than fair prices are a reflection of that.
To wrap things up:
- Watches with a sweeping second hand achieve this look by ticking many times per second
- Most automatic and mechanical watches have a sweeping second hand
- Quartz watches don’t have a sweeping second hand since they tick just once per second
- The Grand Seiko Spring Drive movement has the smoothest sweeping second hand out of any watch
- The Bulova Precisionist movement is a special type of quartz movement with a smooth sweeping second hand
Hope this article was helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments below, I’ll be happy to answer!– Anthony