What Is an Automatic Watch? (A Dive into Self-Winding Watches)
For all intents and purposes, what is an automatic watch?
Since all watches tell the time automatically, are they all automatic watches?
In this case, these kinds of watches are defined by their kind of movement rather than what they look like on the outside.
Automatic watches work by transferring energy gained from the natural motion of the wearer's hand into a rotor/ oscillating weight. The rotor spins, sending the energy to the mainspring, where a power reserve is created to keep running the watch.
Since it is a kind of mechanical watch, the automatic movements are separated from the manual watches in that they don't need to be wound by hand to work.
How does an automatic watch work?
According to the name prefix, the "automatic" movement takes the mechanical watch movement to a new level.
Instead of requiring manual winding, the self-winding nature of the watch makes it automatic.
That doesn't answer the question of how the self-winding timepiece works, though. But here goes:
When the wearer moves their hand while wearing the automatic watch on their wrist, the inner rotor/ oscillating weight spins, transferring energy to the mainspring of the watch. The mainspring stores the energy and gently redistributes it to power the seconds, minutes and hour hand of the watch.
This energy release from the watch's mainspring is also responsible for running other complications that might feature on the watch.
Do automatic movement watches have a battery?
The older mechanical watches were hand-wound and would only work with how much energy you had stored inside the mainspring.
With an automatic movement, though, you don't have to wind them to get them working at all.
It is, thus, easy to think that these automatic watches share something in common with quartz watches – the battery. That would be wrong.
Depending on the quality of the automatic watch movement, a power reserve is created when the self-winding watch is worn to ensure continuous operation. The energy stored in the mainspring is slowly released to power the watch over time, even when the watch is not being worn, or the wearer's hand is stationary.
The power reserve that comes with automatic timepieces differ from one another, so be on the lookout for that.
While a good automatic watch can last for a few days, some will only keep ticking for a few hours when left idle. The same is true for the manual winding watch, which also has a power reserve based on how much you wind it, and how much energy the mainspring is willing to store in the first place.
How to wind an automatic watch
Since the watch is self-winding, you don't have to worry about manually winding it by yourself many times.
A good automatic movement watch should have a decent power reserve that lasts between the last time you wore the watch and the next time you wear it.
For people who like to wear different watches on different days, you can invest in a quality watch winder to keep the watch powered.
In the instance where the self-winding mechanism has not been started yet, the watch is not fully wound, or the power reserve is empty, here's a video guide to winding the watch.
If you didn't watch the video, or you'd just like some fast and quick tips, do these:
- Step 1 – unscrew the crown of the watch, making sure that you don't pull it past the first position. Following positions would most likely be for setting the time and other complications on the watch.
- Step 2 – turn the watch crown about 20 – 40 times which will wind the mainspring and ensure a power reserve is generated. This part should be wound by hand.
- Step 3 – stop winding the watch when you start feeling some resistance. This tells you that the gears in the mainspring are fully wound, and you cannot store any more energy inside the watch at that point.
- Step 4 – screw the crown back into the working position. Otherwise, the watch might stay dormant and not work at all. You also risk damage to the crown if you don't return it to the safe position.
As a rule, we don't recommend winding the watch more than 20 turns if you plan on wearing it immediately. After all, the rotor inside the watch takes over and starts generating energy to run the watch for you from the movement when you wear it.
Should you allow an automatic watch to stop?
There is a growing debate among users about the automatic watch and how they use it.
Should you let this watch sit to the point where it fully unwinds, or should you always ensure it is running?
Older automatic watches were at a higher risk of sitting idle for too long.
The ball bearings inside the automatic watch are not as hardened as those that you would find in the manual movement. Thus, they are more likely to be damaged by excessive winding – which will only occur when the watch has been allowed to stop too many times.
Likewise, the gears in the automatic watch movement need lubrication to work. When sitting idle for too long, these lubricating oils coagulate and could damage the internal system. In some cases, you might need a trip to a licensed repair shop to salvage the watch at all.
With that in mind, it is not bad to let the automatic watch stop but don't make that a habit.
Otherwise, a watch winder is a wise investment to protect the automatic watch and keep it running longer.
How much should automatic watches cost?
Before anything else, you should know this:
The automatic watch movement is a kind of mechanical movement requiring intricate parts, delicate engineering and a high level of precision to work. These watches have many moving parts that have to be carefully placed by hand, resulting in the high level of craftsmanship that they offer.
Now that you know this, it is easy to see how automatic watches can cost more than the average quartz watch.
When you go to Rolex's version, as well as other makers of luxury watches, the prices might scare you off. Those are not typical automatic watch prices either.
While they are not cheap, you will find affordable options that are made with quality materials and from reputable brands too.
Knowing that automatic watches are a good investment into quality timepieces that can end up becoming a family heirloom for you, they are worth every penny that you spend on them.