How Do Automatic Watches Work? In-Depth

Gears and mainspring in the mechanism of automtic watch

Automatic watches are a popular choice of timepiece, but have you ever taken a moment to think and wondered how do automatic watches work?

Watches are often simply taken for granted and simply expected to work. You probably wear your watch all day, and maybe every day while forgetting that it is always moving. You see, your watch is so much more than just another piece of jewellery. It’s not simply an accessory to match your outfit. Instead, your ever-faithful watch contains hard-working mechanisms helping you stay on time wherever you go. But how does your automatic watch keep the time? If you have ever wanted to know a little more about how your watch works, you’ve arrived at the perfect place. 

Let us explain all you need to know to give your knowledge of automatic watches a boost.

What different watch movements are there?

A watch movement is the mechanism that powers a watch. There are three main movement types. These are quartz, hand-wound, and automatic watches.

Each of these watches features a different mechanism to keep the watch accurately on time. The mechanism also powers any other functions the watch may have. This includes features such as a calendar or tachymeter.

Both hand-wound and automatic watches use mechanical movements. But, as you’ve probably already guessed from its name, a hand-wound watch needs to be manually wound up for its mechanism to keep working. An automatic watch has a self-winding mechanism that ensures that the watch keeps time without needing to be wound by hand.

What working parts does an automatic watch contain?

So, what parts are needed for automatic watch movements? Well, an automatic watch contains a mainspring, a rotor, the auto-works, a weight, and gears. The addition of a rotor is the biggest difference between an automatic and hand-wound movement. 

Automatic watches may seem like a pretty recent innovation in horology. But, you may be surprised to know that the history of the automatic movement started centuries ago. 

The advent of the automatic watch began with the invention of a self-winding mechanism by Swiss horologist Abraham-Louis Perrelet. Perrelet created his invention in 1777. However, watchmaker Hubert Sarton is credited with designing a watch with a central motor the following year. These breakthroughs in watchmaking happened hundreds of years ago. But little has changed in the design of automatic watch mechanisms since then.

How does an automatic watch movement work?

As you’ve already seen, an automatic movement watch is dependent on a few vital components to ensure it works correctly. But how do these components come together to make the timepiece work? Well, an automatic watch uses your own arm movements to supply the energy for it to function.

Rather than manually winding the watch, your movement alone is enough to power it. This is thanks to the clever components working together in the automatic watch mechanism. Here’s how the entire process works to power an automatic watch:

Energy is generated when the watch wearer moves their arm. This energy then powers then causes the rotor to start to spin. As the rotor spins it winds the mainspring and triggers tiny gears to move the watch’s hands. 

Automatic watches have different calibres. The calibre of the watch will determine how long the watch can function for after being worn. Most automatic watches will stay on-time for at least a day without being worn, while others can last even longer.

How to tell the difference between a quartz and automatic watch movement

Now you are familiar with how the autoworks of an automatic watch movement function. But you may be wondering how to detect the difference between a quartz and automatic watch. This is extremely helpful to know. Especially if you plan to get serious about investing in a high-quality timepiece or starting a collection of luxury watches. As quartz crystal watches are generally cheaper than their automatic counterparts, you want to be sure you’re buying the correct choice.

Telling a quartz watch apart from an automatic watch is easy when you know how. You simply need to take a look at the way the second hand of the watch moves. This is the easiest way to differentiate between the two watch mechanisms. The second hand on a quartz watch has a tick-tock motion and moves precisely once per second. This is because the movement is triggered by the quartz crystal vibrating. In contrast, an automatic watch features a second hand with a smooth motion. On an automatic watch, the second hand appears to ‘sweep’ rather than tick-tock as it moves. This is due to the movement of the gears in the autoworks mechanism.

What are the benefits of automatic watches?

There is no doubt that automatic watches are the first choice of timepiece for a great many people. But, you may be wondering what the benefits are of owning one. 

We have explained precisely how an automatic watch works and the mechanics that power it. Now it is time to explore automatic watches in more detail and to identify the many benefits that they offer:

Ease of use

One of the most obvious advantages of selecting an automatic watch is that you don’t need to wind it up. While winding a watch may not be the most time-consuming task. It does put the onus on you to remember to do this. When you are dependent on your watch to keep you running to schedule, remembering to wind it up can be an issue. Everyone wants a watch they can rely on to tell the time accurately. Selecting an automatic watch makes this possible. 

So long as you wear your automatic watch frequently, its clever mechanisms will ensure it keeps perfect time. Even if you haven’t worn your automatic watch for a while, and it’s been languishing in your collection, all is not lost. Most automatic watches can get back to keeping perfect time right away. Lots of automatic watches can be manually wound up if necessary. This means you can start wearing it again right away. After initially winding it up, you can go back to relying on your movements to generate the energy it needs to keep working.

No batteries needed

Now, so many of the things we use in the course of our everyday lives require power. With so many gadgets requiring batteries and needing regular charging it comes as a relief not to need them. One of the beauties of using an automatic watch is that you will never need to change a battery. Instead, you can relax safe in the knowledge that you will never be caught out by a drained watch battery ever again.

Considered luxurious

Investing in a watch is a big deal. So it’s crucial to make the perfect choice when you set your mind on the prospect of buying one. If you are serious about owning a luxury watch, or even want to begin to build a luxury watch collection, you need to know this. Plenty of people collect high-end watches, it is something that many take lots of pride in. But lots of people get obsessive about the brands they need to buy and forget about the workings of the watch. 

Did you know that a huge proportion of the luxury watches available are automatic? It’s easy to see why automatic watches are favoured by anyone looking for a high-quality watch. Many watch collectors find the intricate workings of an automatic movement watch especially appealing.  The autoworks mechanics of an automatic watch are certainly mesmerising to behold. The workmanship that goes into creating these intricate mechanisms makes them an attractive choice for anyone that appreciates the traditional skill of watchmaking.

A valuable choice 

A watch is often an investment. Even if you plan to wear it everyday, your watch can be so much more than just a functional item for telling the time. Watches are often selected on their accuracy, extra features, and their looks. But there is so much more to a watch than these elements alone. 

If you select a high-quality automatic watch and do your research, you could be in for a pleasant surprise. Unlike most items you use everyday, watches not only hold their value, but many appreciate in value too. 

A recent report shows that pre-owned watches from top brands have continued to appreciate by as much as 20 percent a year. The report even suggests that watches could be a viable alternative to investments in art and wine.

Final Thoughts on Automatic Watches

As you can see, automatic watches blend a mixture of clever components to produce a timepiece that is both reliable and highly sought after. Choosing an automatic watch also delivers a host of benefits. This makes them a high-quality choice ideal for investors, collectors, and everyday wearers.

It is easy to see why automatic watches have an enduring popularity. As their value continues to increase, these traditional watches are sure to remain the number one choice for most people that are serious about watches.

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