What is an Automatic Watch?

Men's automatic skeleton watch

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Have you ever wondered what an automatic watch is? Is it different from a wind-up watch? Will you still need to replace the battery in it every few years? 

Just why do people love automatic watches so much? 

In this article we hope to answer as many questions as you can think of on these fabulous watches.

What is An Automatic Watch? 

An automatic watch, known as a self-winding watch, is a mechanical watch in which the movement of the watch is powered by kinetic energy, from the movement of your wrist – hence it is powered automatically.

In other words, instead of the power to run the watch being made available via a battery (called a Quartz movement) or by manual winding (known as a manual watch), or even via solar energy simply wearing your automatic watch will keep it working.  

All mechanical watches work via a mainspring which is just like a coiled spring. The mainspring needs to store energy within it to keep it turning the gears within the watch and this is done via winding it up by the crown on the side of the watch.

With a self-winding watch, simply moving the watch causes an oscillating weight to move a pivot within the movement.  This metal weight is made to spin through movement.  This spinning transfers energy to the mainspring automatically – hence its name. 

What is an Automatic Watch?

Why do People Love Automatic Watches?

Watch enthusiasts love mechanical watches! So much so, once you’ve owned one you’ll want another which often becomes a collection!

Most of the finest watches in the world are mechanical watches.

They are an item which contains a vast amount of engineering and many men are both fascinated and appreciate the engineering and design that goes into these intricate timepieces. Many ladies, myself included, also love and appreciate these aspects too.

They are highly functional pieces as well as being beautiful to look at and will continue to work indefinitely if cared for.

Looking at a mechanical watch whilst it is moving can be quite fascinating and this makes skeleton watches so beautiful. Skeleton watches have a window through which the wearer can see the inside of the watch moving.

As with all watches, automatic watches come in all shapes, sizes and often there is no scrimping with the materials used. There is a large choice of rubber or leather straps and metal bracelets available. Some cases are made in lightweight and strong titanium or high-quality stainless steel.

Depth Charge Automatic Divers Watch - Watch Shop

Which Watch Companies Make the Best Automatic Watches?

The most well known and respected watch makers are Rolex, Patek Phillipe, Audemars Piguet and Omega – and there are many more. 

In the case of luxury brands like Rolex, whilst they had a brief stint at making quartz watches, they now only make mechanical watches.

Seiko, an exception in that they are not Swiss-made, make a highly respected and very well-priced automatic range as do Citizen. Tissot, Breitling and Rado also have a good selection of mechanical watches.

Nowadays, most watch brands, new and old, have at least one mechanical watch in their collection. Even more fashion watch brands, like Emporio Armani, Festina and Bulova.

Men's Rotary Skeleton Automatic Watch - Watch Shop

Advantages of an Automatic Watch

The advantage of an automatic watch is that there are no batteries to need replacing and you also won’t need to manually wind your watch.

Automatic watches can have a very long life-span and there is no reason, with care of your watch, why it won’t last indefinitely.

Many people love and appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into their automatic watch and love how the watch feel on their wrist. Self-winding watches also need very little upkeep apart from being used!

Emporio Armani Automatic Watch - Watch Shop

Disadvantages of An Automatic Watch

If you haven’t used your automatic watch for a while and go to wear it, you will find it will have stopped and will need to reset the watch to the correct time before wearing it.   

Often watch enthusiasts will have a collection of automatic watches and this then becomes harder to keep them wound.

A watch winder could be a good idea if you find it frustrating to have re-set your watch after it has wound down from lack of use. They also make great gifts for those who own a self-winding watch.

Men's automatic skeleton watch
Men's Skeleton Automatic Watch

How long do automatic watches run for before losing power?

The stored power in your watch will, over time, run down and, after a few days, will stop. This normally occurs between 38-50 hours of the watch not being moved. 

This time period enables the self-winding watch to keep going when removed overnight and, once being picked up and worn the next day, will ensure it is powered again. 

Tissot Traditional Automatic Watch - Watch Shop

Is it safe to shake an automatic watch?

If you pick up an automatic watch which isn’t working and gently shake it back and forth, you’ll notice it will start moving again. It is quite safe to shake an automatic watch to start the movement working again once it’s wound down.

Tissot Visodate Automatic Watch - Watch Shop

How can you tell if a Watch is Automatic or Battery-Operated (Quartz)?

In answering the question, “What is an automatic watch?”, we have to mention how you can tell if you’re looking at an automatic or quart watch. There is one, simple giveaway … if you look at the second-hand on the dial of the watch, notice if the hand “sweeps” around the dial – this will indicate it is an automatic watch – or does it “jump” a second at a time – which will mean it is a battery-powered (quartz) movement. 

Can You Manually Wind An Automatic Watch?

You can also manually wind most automatic watches. You will know if you can do so but feeling the resistance of the spring when you wind the crown in one direction. 

Seiko Presage Automatic Watch - Watch Shop

Are Automatic Watches More Expensive?

Yes, automatic watches generally cost more than quartz (battery) watches and they are a considered purchase for most people. 

Why are Automatic Watches More Expensive Than Quartz Watches?

Automatic watches are more expensive because of the manufacturing and labour costs involved in every stage of the making of the watch. The design of some watches take years, sometimes even decades. 

They consist of hundreds of small parts which, at least partially, are put together by hand. They may have many other specifications like increased water resistance, or are tested to conform to certain standardisations, like a Dive watch, which incurs further charges for the manufacturer.

A quartz watch has fewer parts which are often machine assembled or can be assembled by most people with the know-how.

A watchmaker assembles and mends mechanical watches and he or she often needs years of training, therefore it is not something that anyone can assemble or put together. 

There are also less people going into watchmaking and so this leads to long lead-times in servicing and repairs and pushes the costs up.

Maurice Lacroix Aikon Automatic Watch - Watch Shop

Is it Expensive to Service an Automatic Watch?

The price of servicing mechanical watches are more costly due to the small parts needing to be taken apart, cleaned and lubricated and then re-assembled.

As mentioned above, there are also less watchmakers available to do this and so this pushes the costs up.

Many watch companies, like Omega amongst others, protect their brand by not allowing their parts to go to anyone. Some will only supply spare parts to authorised workshops.

In a worst case scenario, it is relatively cheap to replace the whole movement in a quartz watch, even a Swiss-made one like Ronda.

Is an Automatic Watch a Good Buy?

It obviously depends on the brand, and some mechanical watch brands produce watches that are excellent investments. Whilst some quartz watches can keep going for many years and just need a battery change every year or two, most battery-operated watches will depreciate over time.

An automatic watch can keep going, as long as it is worn, for many, many years and are often handed down from one generation to the next. 

Automatic Watch Power Indicator

Frederique Constant Automatic Watch with Power Reserve Indicator - Watch Shop

Some automatic watches (like the Frederique Constant above) have a Power Indicator sign, displaying the remaining power left before the watch will stop.

Are Automatic Watches Accurate As Quartz Watches?

Mechanical watches aren’t quite as accurate as a quartz watch, which are exceptionally accurate. This is often barely noticeable and is acceptable. The degree of inaccuracy is often within a range of +/- 3 seconds day. 

Do Automatic Watches Tick? 

All mechanical watches will tick, although often the tick is very quiet and you may need to hold the watch to your ear to hear the ticking sound.

To Sum Up ...

We hope this has helped answered the question about what an automatic watch is,  as well as some of your other burning questions about these watches.

We also hope it has given you an appreciation for these marvellous timepieces which are such a feat of workmanship. 

If there are any questions we haven’t answered, please do pop a comment in the space below. 

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