What you need to know about Automatic Watches

What you need to know about Automatic Watches

3 min read
Don Russell



Don Russell



 How long do automatic watches last?

A good quality, automatic movement will last a lifetime and beyond if serviced every five years or so; a few now have ten year service intervals. They are a joy to own and wear; their longevity and accuracy is improving constantly so even the cheaper automatic movements offer year and years of reliable service.

Oris Callibre 400Oris Calibre 400 - Credit WatchGecko

What does it mean when a watch says automatic?

When it says 'Automatic' it means that you don't have to wind the movement manually. Automatic watches have, for the want of a better expression, a lopsided wheel under the caseback called a rotor. This rotor moves by a combination of gravity and inertia; it reacts to the slightest movement of your wrist.

Some movements have rotors that wind in only one direction and spin freely in the other, the Valjoux 7750 is one such movement; movements like the Sellita SW200-1 wind in both directions. Although both arrangements work well, the downside with uni-directional rotor winding is the slight noise when the rotor 'free spins' in the other direction occasionally.

Most automatic movements store enough energy to power the movement for around 38-40 hours when not being worn with a few movements storing much, much more such as the new ORIS calibre 400 that offers 120 hours.

Oris Calibre 400
Oris Calibre 400 - Credit WatchGecko

Are automatic watches good?

Yes! Modern automatic watches are extremely reliable and the vast majority will deliver a lifetime of accurate timekeeping if serviced when required. There's just something about an automatic, but defining that 'something' is almost impossible. An automatic watch becomes a trusted companion in a way that a quartz watch doesn't.

How much does an automatic watch cost?

How long is a piece of string? The automatic movement can't exist on its own, it needs somewhere to safe to live; the remainder of the watch can, and often does, cost more than the movement. The more expensive the movement, the more expensive it is to protect.

Tudor Pelagos

Tudor Pelagos FXD - Credit WatchGecko

An automatic movement with its beating heart has to reside in a low humidity, dust-free, cushioned environment if it's to function at its best, and that involves better engineering if the watch is to withstand everything that life can throw at it! Taking everything into account, you'll get something that's much, much more than acceptable for well under £2000.

What are the best automatic watches?

Some manufacturers such as Rolex, Tudor and ORIS, to name but three, make their own movements but it's a much debated subject whether these movements are actually any better. From a production point of view, if everything is made in-house the production cycle is much more controllable, as is the quality.

Rolex DatejustRolex Datejust - Credit WatchGecko

However, Sellita and ETA are exceptionally good and reliable movements, as are Seiko and Miyota. Omega, Breitling, Bremont, ORIS, Grand Seiko, Rolex, and Tudor are among the most well-known but don't disregard the microbrands! These small companies often produce exceptional watches with high-quality, automatic movements for a very competitive price. 

Is an automatic watch better?

I must have been asked this question a million times! The answer to this question is: No! A quartz watch is much better. My Seiko 'Golden Tuna' with its 7c46 quartz movement gains no more than 4 seconds a year and tells me when the battery is getting low while still keeping perfect time for the next I don't know how many months; however, it's not anywhere near as simple as that! The pleasure of owning and wearing a watch with automatic movement is beyond something that can be explained.

Seiko Golden TunaSeiko 'Golden Tuna' - Credit WatchGecko

A watch with a quartz movement does everything perfectly, but it doesn't have a soul. You can't answer this question logically, indeed, you can't even justify with any credibility the ownership of an automatic watch when the option of quartz is available.

All the same, it has to be automatic! An automatic movement is almost a being in its own right; its beating heart works tirelessly on your behalf. It relies on your movements to keep it alive, and in return, it records the passing of time itself while, in a strange way, offering companionship.

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Don Russell

About the Author: Don Russell

The timepiece of an adventurer serves not only as a trusted companion, but also as a portal to their inner self. My interest in watches goes back more than half a century; my reliance and passion more than half of that time. My hope is that I may inspire others to use their timepiece on their own adventures so that they may share a passion that has enriched my own life and given me so much enjoyment.

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