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How Automatic Watches Work

To wit: Where Did Winding Go?

There's a chance, depending on how old you are, that you recall your dad winding his watch before bed every night. Otherwise, he would wake up to find that his watch had stopped. Because of the development of the automatic watch, those times are now long past. Why is it so simple? The watch's mechanism hasn't changed, but the manner of its power has forced a shift in watch maintenance.

Every mechanical watch box uses in the same basic way. To "tick" off increments of time, the gears inside the watch must move, and this is reflected in the motion of the hands. The watch's rotor is balanced on a central staff. It spins in a circle to wind the mainspring, which provides energy for mechanical watches. Automatic watches utilize a special spiral spring that is wound whenever the wearer moves their arm or wrist, eliminating the need for manual winding.

Automatic, self-winding watches are convenient for daily wear but require winding by hand roughly twice a week if the watch is rarely worn. Even automated watches benefit from being manually wound roughly once every two weeks; doing so spreads oil throughout the mechanism. A common myth is that automatic watches never need winding because they are powered by the motion of the arm.

The power reserve of your watch's mechanism allows it to keep accurate time for ten to seventy-two hours. The power reserve is the measure of how long an automated watch can stay operating between movements or without being manually wound.

Rolex invented and patented the rotor system, which is still used in modern watches. The Perpetual was introduced in the early 1930s as part of the successful Oyster collection. Rolex technician Emile Borer invented the technology, however, he wasn't the first to use a rotor. Abraham-Louis Perrelet, a Swiss watchmaker, achieved this in the year 1770. Because wristwatches wouldn't become popular until much later in history and pocket watches didn't allow for enough bodily movement to turn the rotor and wind the mainspring, this development was quite the feat.

When compared to quartz watches, which run on batteries rather than being wound by hand or automatically, it is clear that automatic watches are in a class of their own. When a quartz watch is running on a battery, the crystal inside will vibrate at a rate of approximately 33 thousand times per second. The average lifespan of a watch battery is two years, but automatic watches are powered indefinitely by the wearer's motion.

Most watch sales now are of more affordable quartz watches, but watch enthusiasts continue to appreciate the dignity and elegance of a well-made mechanical timepiece. Sales of automatics skyrocketed by 95% between 1993 and 1995 as the industry made up for lost ground to quartz.

Automatic wristwatches require regular lubrication to function properly. You can keep your watch in good working order by winding it by yourself regularly and seeing a jeweler once every three to five years. To wind an automatic watch, simply turn the crown clockwise 30–40 times, or until you feel resistance. Maintaining lubrication in a watch is best done by keeping it in a watch winding box.

Price-wise, automatic watches are among the most accessible options out there. They can be found at any budget level. Brands can range from the very inexpensive, like Invicta and Orient watches, to the extremely pricey, like Patek Philippe and Hublot.