A watch battery or button cell is a small single button cell battery shaped as a squat cylinder typically 5 to 20 mm in diameter and 1 to 6 mm high—like a button on a garment, hence the name. Button cells are used to power small portable electronics devices such as wrist watches, pocket calculators, and hearing aids. Lithium cells are generally similar but somewhat larger; they tend to be called either lithium cells or batteries or coin cells rather than button cells.
Devices using button cells are usually designed to use a cell giving a long service life, typically well over a year in continuous use in a wristwatch. Most button cells have low self-discharge and hold their charge for a long time if not used. Higher-power devices such as hearing aids, where high capacity is important and low self-discharge less so as the cell will usually be used up before it has time to discharge, may use zinc-air cells which have much higher capacity for a given size, but discharge over a few weeks even if not used.
Button cells are single cells, usually disposable primary cells. Common anode materials are zinc or lithium. Common cathode materials are manganese dioxide, silver oxide, carbon monofluoride, cupric oxide or oxygen from the air. Mercuric oxide button cells were formerly common, but are no longer available due to the toxicity and environmental hazard of mercury. Cells have a metal can forming the bottom body, with a circular insulated top cap. The can is the positive and the top the negative terminal.
Cells of different chemical composition made in the same size are mechanically interchangeable. However, the composition can affect service life and voltage stability. Using the wrong cell may lead to short life or improper operation (for example, light metering on a camera requires a stable voltage, and silver cells are usually specified). Sometimes different cells of the same type and size and specified capacity in mAh are optimised for different loads by using different electrolytes, so that one may have longer service life, than the other if supplying a relatively high current.