What Is a Watch Jewel? (And What Does It Mean for Your Watch?)

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Written By Alan

Would you believe a G-Shock I was gifted in 2014 by my grandpa started my lifelong journey of a watch geek?

🕑  Last Updated: September 23, 2022

Are you wondering what the number of jewels in a watch means and if they’re worth anything? Join the club of many. 

The inclusion of jewels in mechanical watches started as a way to reduce friction in the watch movements.

However, over time, not only has it become a marketing strategy, but the original jewels have been replaced with synthetic ones as well. So while there may have been real jewels used in the past, modern-day mechanical and automatic watches are no longer guaranteed to feature a jewel of any real value.

However, there are still questions over jewels’ functions as bearings and how exactly they work to improve the movements. In this article, we will explore the various facets of watch jewels and understand how they have changed throughout the years.

History of Jewels in Watches

Jewel bearings are far from recent developments.

They were initially invented in 1704 by Jacob Debaufre and Peter Debaufre, while it was Nicolas Fatio de Duillier who patented the unique method of drilling holes into the jewels. They also received an English patent for the idea of using jewels as bearings in watches. 

What is a jewel in a watch, then? The purpose behind using a gemstone or jewel such as diamonds, rubies, and sapphires was to reduce the friction and to decrease the amount of metal-on-metal wear in watch movements.

The idea of using synthetic jewels originated from Auguste Verneuil. In 1892, he developed the manufacturing technique of synthetic rubies and sapphires, which are now known as corundum.

There are different types of jewels watchmakers use as bearings in watches. These types include hole jewels, which are more or less doughnut-shaped, while the cap jewels have no holes. There are also pallet jewels and roller jewels, where the pallet jewels are shaped like a rectangle, and the roller ones are D-shaped.

History of watch jewels
Pocket watches were the first to use jewels

What are the jewels made of?

 The jewel bearings in a watch came from precious natural stones in earlier times.

The gems that used were natural rubies, sapphires, and diamonds. Although rubies and sapphires were the most common type as diamonds were an exorbitantly priced commodity. All stone types were used for the exact same reason: they are tough and help prevent and lessen the wear and tear caused by metal-on-metal workings.

So, what jewels are used in watches these days? Most of the watches hold synthetics jewels made of corundum, which is a synthetic ruby. These jewels are made in a lab by mimicking rubies’ properties in an artificial setting and don’t occur naturally at all. So while the gemstones used in historical times in watches might have held value, today’s ones have none.

Are the jewels in watches worth anything?

When jewels first started being used as watch bearings, authentic pieces of carefully crafted precious stones were used. Although diamond was rarely used, rubies and sapphires were very common.

However, in the present, the vast majority of watches don’t possess any precious stones. All the jewels used are synthetically made to resemble the component of rubies. So, the watches’ jewels don’t have any economic value and are pretty much not worth anything.

The Number of Jewels

The number of jewels used as bearings for the watch movements depends on the watch’s complexity. An automatic watch or one with functions that include additional movements in the watches like chronographs and calendars can increase the number of jewels used. 

Before the 1970s, you’d find most lower-end movement watches to have around five to seven jewel bearings. Those watches that had high-end movements or required more complicated functions included 17 or more jewels in them.

Today, most mechanical (hand-wound) models feature a standard component of 17 jewels. Automatic watches require more jewel bearings, so they hold around 21-27 jewels.

Are more jewels in the watch better?

You might think that the more the number of jewels included, the better the watch’s quality and its functions. However, that is untrue, and just a misconception that is being increasingly exploited for marketing purposes. Quill&Pad, a popular website in the wristwatch community, provides an interesting article on the subject.

The watch quality doesn’t depend on the number of jewel bearings it includes to reduce the friction of the movements. It is determined by how long-lasting and accurate the watch is and how smoothly it can function with minimal movements.

So it’s totally normal for a 17-jewel watch to be of better quality than one that’s equipped with 21 or even 27 jewels.

How many jewels should a watch have?

History has shown that some of the best watches with the most refined movements have 17 jewels. So, in this case, the simpler, the better is the motto. Hence, a mechanical watch may be able to function entirely at its best with only 17 jewels.

However, if the watch has complex movements or has a more complicated setting and function, it may need more jewels. Such is the case for many mid-to-high-end automatic watches.

The modern self-winding watches typically hold anywhere between 21 to 27 jewels. The number of jewels used in the watch is often etched into the rotor.

The number of jewels is often determined based on the watch’s complications and the need to increase its longevity by reducing its wear. As the watches become more and more complicated, the number of jewels used increases as well.

So the number of jewels used would typically indicate the complications of the watch’s movements. More jewels mean more complexity, and, believe it or not, that’s not always a good thing.

A 15-17-jewel watch can be perfectly functional and be on par with an automatic watch with 27 jewels in terms of the standard.

Are 17-jewel watches worth anything?

In terms of the jewels’ value inside the 17-jewel watches, they don’t have any economic worth. That’s because the jewel used is artificial and does not occur naturally. Hence it is not a gemstone.

Are 17-jewel watches worth anything? Example: Oris
An example of a 17-jewel automatic watch by Oris

However, if a 17-jewel watch contains real jewels as bearings, it can have huge value economically. Other than that, a carefully crafted 17-jewel watch from a reputable brand can have some value, but it will not be because of the jewels themselves but other aspects such as accuracy or the quality of material used to assemble it.

Watches from high-end brands might have more worth, whether they have 17 jewels or more, but, again, not because of the jewels as such. It would all be down to their craftsmanship and function.

What does a 21 jewel mean in a watch?

The number of jewels used as bearings in pivots and other parts of the watch determines if it will be 17, 21, 23, 27, or a 42-jewel watch or more.

What does the number of jewels in a watch mean? The number is a plain indication of how many synthetic jewels were used. Even a 17-jewel watch is termed as a fully jeweled watch. This is because, in such watches, jewels like synthetic rubies or sapphires are used in mechanical movements. These movements can include the use of a balance wheel and central pivot, and more.

What does a 21 jewel mean on a watch? Example: Bulova 98A187
An example of a 21-jewel automatic watch by Bulova

In the case of a 21 jewel watch, it also has a fully jeweled movement. A 21-jewel watch contains 21 jewels in the specified parts of the watch as bearings. A 21-jewel watch often also includes some extra capstones to lessen positional eros and improve accuracy.

In this case, high-quality automatic watches tend to have an extra number of jewels.

What is the highest number of jewels in a watch?

The highest number of jewels ever included in a watch was 100. The watch was called Waltham 100, naturally, after the 100 jewels that were inside the watch. However, out of those 100 jewels, 83 of the jewels were non-functioning and were positioned outside of the watch’s movement.

Which watch had the biggest number of jewels?
Waltham 100, a watch from the 1960s, had a record number of 100 jewels

So, they didn’t really serve any real purpose. The rest were used in the movement of the watch to reduce friction over time. 

Another case was the IWC II watch, which had 76 jewels in it. It was known as the most complicated wristwatch of its time.

Presently, it is very common to see manufacturers add extra stones and jewels that are not really improving the watch functions in any way.

These stones are often put outside of the working, so the watches are not used in any inner parts. This way, watchmakers promote their watches with higher numbers of jewels as being of higher quality. In reality, the number of jewels used as a bearing of the functions remains the same. Naughty, naughty.

What’s more, sometimes when more jewels are unnecessarily added, it may decrease the watches’ smooth working and use.

The Workings of Watch Jewels

So, what does a watch jewel do exactly? Since you already should have a general idea, it’s time to dive into some details. Let’s understand what the work of jewels in the watches is and how they serve to improve the watches’ functioning.

The jewels are placed in several areas of the watch movements. They function as shock absorbers and friction-reducing agents that increase the longevity of the watch.

Here are the areas where the jewels are used in a mechanical watch (hand-wound or automatic):

  • Staff pivot
  • Balance wheel
  • Center wheel
  • Third wheel
  • Fourth wheel
  • Escape wheel
  • Escape lever
  • Escape lever pallet

Importance of the jewel bearings

Not only are the jewels used for combating metal-on-metal wear and friction, but they also help absorb shocks. Their role in shock absorption also improves the functionality and durability of the watch.

In some watches, the jewel bearings are spring-mounted for this purpose. The spring-mounted jewel bearings can absorb shock more easily.

Using a jewel inside the movements of the watch can increase the regularity of the watch’s running. It also makes it highly accurate if the friction and wear and tear are reduced significantly, improving its lifetime in the process.

The jewels’ hardness provides a suitable place for the pivots to be attached and gears to work correctly without incurring damage. Since gems like rubies and sapphires were adequately shaped to fit into the watches, they are also ideal for holding lubricating oils. The hole jewels are especially useful for that.

Watches that do not use the appropriate number of jewels required for their movement can suffer from inaccuracy and lack of reliability. They also tend to fall apart more easily and can prove to be extremely difficult to repair.

Jewel bearings are also extremely useful as they make the friction more stable and predictable. In fact, with jewels in the bearings, the friction is reduced to 1/3rd of its total intensity.

Do quartz watches have jewels? 

A quartz watch has some of the moving parts similar to any mechanical watch and can use jewels.

Unlike mechanical watches, though, quartz watches have much less complicated movements and hence don’t need to use jewels as much. Nevertheless, some battery-powered timepieces may use them as a way of diversifying the movement complexity or, as previously mentioned, a marketing trick.

Do quartz watches have jewels?
Watches with quartz movements don’t rely on jewels as much as mechanical/automatic models

Before the 1970s and the industry-shaking Quartz Crisis, most watches had five to seven jewels in their movements.

With the introduction of quartz watches that featured quartz crystals in their electrical circuit, the number of jewels used in the industry became smaller. 

Furthermore, quartz watches can use jewels in the gearing used for hand rotation. With the help of the jewels, when they are placed within the gear bearings, they improve the watch’s accuracy and increase its durability at the same time. Depending on the manufacturer, complications, and the brand, a modern-day quartz watch that contains jewel bearings can have around 5 to 10 jewels.

Most of the budget quartz watches come without any jewel bearings. So do the digital watches that do not have any hand on them as jewels are not essential to improve their movements.

How many jewels are in a Rolex?

The number of jewels in a Rolex differs, depending on the model of the watch and its type.

Most of the Rolex watches have anywhere between 20 to 40 jewels. Some models with additional complications and movements include even more than 70 jewels. There is no standard number of jewels in a Rolex watch; you will get a different number of jewels with different series and models of Rolex. 

How many jewels are in a Rolex?
The number of jewels in Rolex watches differs model by model

You can always check the number of jewels included in its specifications and or check if the number is etched in the watch’s rotor.

Benefits of Watch Jewels: Conclusion

Jewels in watches not only serve to combat friction and damage from the resistance the gears encounter, but they make the construction easy as well.

Since the watch jewels come in specific shapes and sizes to fit the components, they are easy to work with. They prove to be easily manufactured and serve as perfect fits for the right watch parts.

Since they are hard, they provide perfect stability for resistance from the gears and the ensuing friction. With jewels, lubrication is often not needed. This is a significant benefit as some lubrication can corrode and damage the parts of the watch.

Since the jewels themselves are hard and valuable, they lend their longevity to watches. Jewel movements watches are more durable than watches without jewel bearings.

Final Say: Now that you are aware of what does a jewel in a watch means and what do jewels do in a watch, the next time you buy a timepiece, you’ll be able to understand its specs better.

Since they are crucial for better functionality of watch movements and their working, it is safe to say that jewels in a watch play a valuable role. However, these jewels only have value for their function and do not hold any worth otherwise.

If you’re a beginning watch enthusiast, you might want to further boost your knowledge by reading about different kinds of watch clasps, types of watch movements, or watch batteries.

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