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What is an automatic watch?

An automatic watch (also known as a self-winding watch) is a wholly mechanical watch, which uses a coiled spring known as a mainspring to power the watch. The watch mechanism relies on a weight usually mounted onto the back of the movement (and sometimes visible if the watch has an open caseback), mounted on a central pivot point which allows the weight to turn or spin freely in either direction in a circular motion. This circular motion is linked to series of gears that then wind up the mainspring. The weight is activated by any watch movement, allowing the weight to “fall” due to gravity when the watch is worn or moved, winding the watch.

automatic watch

Why are they called automatic watches?
Automatic watches are called automatic because of the manner in which the mainspring is wound and kept wound within the watch. The mainspring is wound automatically as a result of the natural motion of the wearer’s arm.

How are automatic watches wound?
All automatic watches are wound through the automatic system, by being worn or moved around. They will also always have a manual winding system through the crown of the watch to allow the first setting of the watch and the winding of a watch that has run down or stopped.

What are the components of an automatic watch?
The key components of an automatic watch are the mainspring that powers the watch, the escapement, hair spring and balance wheel that converts energy from the spring into metered time; the ticking of the watch comes from these components. The system works by allowing a lever to act on a gear first in one direction to release a single tooth on a cog, this is pushed by the force from the mainspring, which then forces the balance wheel in one direction. This is then pushed back again by the hair spring to release a second tooth. This oscillation of the balance wheel is the timekeeping element of the watch. This motion is passed through a series of gears to the hands of the watch to indicate hour and minutes and in some cases seconds, date, day and even moonphase.

What are the benefits of an automatic watch?
The main advantage of an automatic watch is that it should not, unless left unworn and stationary for too long, need to be wound. The fully wound mainspring in a typical watch can store enough energy reserve for two days, meaning that the watch will keep running at night whilst stationary.

Why are automatic watches more expensive?
Automatic watches contain many more components than quartz watches and are much more complex to produce and maintain. Many of the steps required in construction and assembly require a human hand rather than a machine to complete, and the care and expertise required to both build and maintain is significantly higher than with a quartz watch.