Unless you’re a watch aficionado, you may be unaware that there are different types of watches that all have different movements. A watch movement (or caliber as it is also called), is the mechanism that controls how the watch functions and in most cases is mechanical or quartz. Mechanical movements use a spring that needs to be wound up and quartz movements operate using a crystal and battery to create power.

Automatic watches fall into the mechanical category, yet they are different from manual style watches. Many people opt for an automatic movement when purchasing a watch, as they are generally considered lower-maintenance than their manual-style counterparts. The different mechanisms within an automatic caliber ensure that they receive power differently, and with this comes certain benefits.

So, how do automatic watches work? This guide is designed to help watch-buyers understand how their automatic movements work, and how to properly use and maintain their efficiency.

What Is An Automatic Watch?

An automatic watch is basically what it sounds like; a watch that self-regulates power with little involvement from the owner. The mechanism within an automatic watch that allows it to function as such, is a self-winding mainspring. Unlike a regular mechanical watch, where someone has to regularly wind the spring, in an automatic watch, a power reserve is created. This means that you don’t need to constantly wind up your watch. 

This mechanism may sound high-tech and as though it’s a modern innovation, but it was actually invented in the 1700s by a man named Louis Perrelet. His creation allowed other watchmakers to develop it, and in 1923 the first automatic wristwatch was produced by John Harwood.

Since the automatic watch’s first appearance over 100 years ago, it has been transformed and updated. Big watchmaker brands such as Rolex have adapted the original caliber, adding extra weight to its rotor in order for it to have better function. More recent technological advancements have allowed the automatic watch to evolve with the times, and suit the needs of people nowadays.

The Inner Workings Of An Automatic Watch

There are many integral parts to an automatic watch, and they all work together to create a seamless timepiece. The first thing to know about an automatic watch is that it is essentially powered by the natural movements of the wearer’s wrist. However, it is important to understand the functions of the three main mechanisms more closely in order to fully comprehend how an automatic movement works.

The Rotor: A weighted rotor is where the process starts in an automatic movement. When a watch wearer moves his or her wrist, these actions turn the rotor.

The Mainspring: The movement of the rotor winds the mainspring, which essentially self-winds itself. Once fully wound, gears send the energy from the mainspring to the balance wheel.

The Balance Wheel: The balance wheel is the spinning part that you can sometimes see through the back of an automatic watch. The balance wheel uses the energy from the mainspring, in regulated doses, and turns the hands on the clock at an accurate rate.

Since the automatic watch is self-winding, this means that there is a power reserve within the watch which helps to keep it functioning, even as the spring unwinds. However, despite this, the watch does need occasional maintenance. If you own an automatic watch you will need to wind it up every so often using the crown. The crown is on the side of the watch’s face and can be turned to wind up the spring. Don’t worry about overturning it, as the gears will release from the mainspring once the mechanism has been fully wound up.

The Benefits of Owning An Automatic Watch

Quartz watches are considered to have the best calibers in terms of precise timekeeping, and manual mechanical watches are revered for the way they have been excellently crafted. So, you may wonder, what is the benefit of owning an automatic watch? Essentially, the best thing about owning an automatic watch, is that they offer longevity with limited daily maintenance.

Although with a quartz watch, you don’t need to wind up a spring, you’ll need to change the battery every so often. This can be annoying and pricey. With a manual watch, it needs frequent winding of the mainspring so that it can function.

So, an automatic watch is a happy medium. It doesn’t use a battery as it uses the activity of its bearer to create power. As well as this, turning the spring is not something that needs to be a daily occurrence. For these reasons, many people choose automatic calibers as they offer an easier watch-owning experience.

How Long Do Automatic Watches Last For?

When we hear the word automatic, we often assume that this means that there is no upkeep required in the maintenance of the watch. However, this is false. An automatic watch can be a pricey purchase, and just like a quartz or manual watch, it needs to be looked after for it to function properly.

Since an automatic caliber is powered through the movements of the wearer’s arms, it’s important that you keep your automatic watch on for as long as possible. Of course, it’s perfectly fine to remove it during sports or while you’re sleeping, but removing it more than is necessary may mess with the movements of the rotor, which can reduce the overall accuracy of the timepiece.

If for whatever reason, you do need to take the watch off for a longer period, don’t leave it unwound for too long. Even if you aren’t wearing your watch, it is important that you manually wind it up every so often so that the mechanisms in the caliber still run well. When an automatic watch is fully wound, it can last from around 40 to 50 hours.

Since automatic watches are not battery powered, assuming you keep it in a good condition, you should be able to keep your automatic watch for as long as you desire. Of course, small mechanisms may need to be replaced now and then but with some understanding of how your automatic watch works, you can maintain its excellent performance and therefore own it for a long time.

October 21, 2020 by Christopher Day

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