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How Do Automatic Watches Work & Why You Need One Apart of Your Wardrobe

How Do Automatic Watches Work?

If you're new to the watch world, you may think an automatic watch runs on its own. Well, we're here to tell you that's partially true.

Here's the thing, the term "automatic movement" can be misleading. Someone who's not familiar with the automatic movement may think it requires no attention to make it work. And to be honest, we wish that were true. But its not.

A watch movement is the main piece for it to work. Sort of like the engine of a car. Without it, nothing is going to work.

There are two types of movements in the watch world, An automatic movement and a quartz movement. But today we're going to show you  how an automatic movement works.

But before we dive deep into specifics, lets first go into the history of an automatic movement.


Automatic Watch- Oceanaut Sport Dive

Automatic Watch Movement 

To power an automatic movement you must use the self winding mechanism to tighten the mainspring. And once wound through a series of gears, called an escapement, the mainspring tightens. The tension is then released incrementally, which powers the automatic movement. This can be seen with the sweeping motion of the second hand. It's a beautiful sight.

Another way an automatic movement keeps its energy is by the motion of the wearer's wrist. The motion turns the rotor on an axial and tightens the mainspring.


 How does an automatic watch movement work?

An automatic watch movement is powered in two ways:

1. Winding the mainspring

The first way to power the automatic movement is by manually winding the mainspring. This is done by twisting the crown 20-30 times in a counterclockwise way. Once it’s fully wound the mechanism will disengage the winding gear from the mainspring & then the crown will move clockwise to indicate it is fully wound & ready to be worn.

2. The motion of the wearer’s wrist

The second way an automatic movement works is by the natural motion of the wearer’s arm. With the motion of the wearer’s wrist the rotor on the movement tightens the mainspring. Once fully wound, the mainspring will incrementally release tension to power the engine of the timepiece. This can be seen with the sweeping motion of the second-hand on the front face of the watch.

Do Automatic watches need to be wound regularly?

This depends on the lifestyle you live. In most cases, if the watch is worn everyday, it will continue to power itself with the leftover energy in the mainspring.

If the watch isn’t worn for 3 days or more then it will need to be manually wound again. Automatic watches typically have a power reserve of 36-42 hours. But we’ll get more on that later in this article.


What is an automatic watch movement?

In today’s watch industry there are two main movement types that watchmakers use: Quartz movement and automatic movement. 

The best way to tell which movement your watch is powered by is by looking at the second-hand on the front face of the watch. Quartz movements typically have a second-hand movement in a tick-tock motion, where it ticks once per second.

Automatic movements on the other hand have the second-hand in a sweeping motion, moving multiple times per second.

Many watch enthusiasts admire this sweeping motion because of the quality craftsmanship that is in the watch to have this sort of movement displayed. Because of this sweeping motion and the labour intensive work required to deliver these complications, automatic movements tend to be more pricey. 

Key Components to an Automatic watch movement

There are many parts that are involved into making an automatic movement. All parts play a major role in making the movement work. Sort of like an engine of a car, there's many components used to make it work. In this section we’ll be going over the different parts & the importance it plays in the automatic movement.


The mainspring is the most important part of an automatic movement. The force of the mainspring, the element that drives the watch, turns the clock’s wheels as it unwinds, until the next winding is needed. As more energy is stored by the mainspring the tighter it gets, saving the energy for later use. 


The crown is almost one of the most important elements of an automatic movement. It’s main purpose is to initially power the automatic movement. This is done by twisting the crown, usually clockwise. If the watch has a screw-down crown, you will first need to unscrew the crown before winding.  The crown is also used for changing the date & time of an automatic movement. 

Balance Wheel

A balance wheel is a weighted wheel that rotates back and forth. It is the main component of the automatic movement that hinders outside disturbances, providing accurate timing throughout your day. 

Gear Train

The dial train and gear train are two components of an automatic movement that go hand in hand. The gear train is responsible for transmitting power from the mainspring and balance wheel to the dial train which powers the hands on the watch. 


The main purpose of jewels in an automatic movement is to prevent wear and tear. Watchmakers now use gemstones or jewels at the point with the most friction as they tend to last longer than metal. 


The rotor is mounted on the back of the movement connected to the mainspring through a series of gears. Through the motion of the wearer’s arm the rotor spins on an axial , tightening the mainspring which then incrementally releases tension to power the automatic movement. 


The mainplate is the foundation of the movement. It is where the entire caliber is constructed. 

Date Disc

The date disc is the component of the movement that indicates the date.


The hands of the watch are used to show the time. 

Important metrics used to measure the quality of an automatic watch

When buying your first automatic timepiece don’t just jump the gun and make an impulsive decision. Always do your due diligence when looking for the perfect timepiece. Majority of automatic movements are durable but sometimes they lack quality. Here we’ll be explaining the different metrics used to measure the overall quality of an automatic watch.


An automatic watch is about +/- 25 seconds per day. However, some consumers might need their watch to be more accurate depending on their lifestyle. If this is the case they can purchase a chronometer. A chronometer is a more fine tuned watch that is meant to be more accurate on a daily basis. Chronometers lose about 0.1 second per day. Making it the most accurate automatic watch available on the market. 


BHP refers to beats/ticks per minute or hour. Many high quality automatic movements on the market today have a movement that beats 28,800 bhp (8 beats per second). While affordable watches use frequencies of 21,600 bph (six beats per second) and 18,000 bhp (5 beats per second). In rare cases, some of the high end luxury brands use 36,000 bph (10 beats per second). The difference in beats per second can be seen with the smooth motion of the second-hand on the face of the watch. 

Power Reserve 

Automatic watches that are fully wound will have a power reserve from 36-42 hours. Once there is no energy left in the movement, the timepiece will have to be manually wound again via the crown. Some movements on the market today have a power reserve for upto 80 hours. 


Automatic watches are one of the most reliable watches on the market today. The main purpose of their design is to be durable and accurate. What makes the watch durable is the high quality materials that are used. The accuracy comes from the BPH, with 28,800 BPH being the most standard for automatic luxury watches.


The materials an automatic watch uses can make or break it’s reputation. Literally. Majority of automatic watches available on the market today use 316L stainless steel as the case & bracelet. Sapphire crystal as the caseback to view the movement. And the Jewels to protect the movement from any friction that can hinder the precision and durability of the watch. 


Complications are a function of a watch aside from telling time. These complications can be as simple as a date calendar to the more extreme, including a tourbillon. The more complex the complication, the longer it takes to make and the more expensive a mechanical movement can be.

Here are some of the complications that can be found on automatic watches:

Date Complications 

The most simple complication found on watches today is the date display. They are four different date functions you can find on the market today. 

  • Date Window: Has the date appear on the face of the watch. Usually at 3 oclock or 6 oclock.
  • Big Date: Much larger view of the date. This complication is usually seen at 12 oclock, 3 oclock or 6 oclock. 
  • Day-Date: Displays the day of the week and the day of the month. To change the day you use the crown and turn it clockwise. Turn it counter clockwise to change the date. 


Chronograph complication has a stopwatch mechanism added to the movement.

Dual Time Zone

This complication helps determine the time in another time zone. 

Other Complications

  • Power Reserve: This indicates the amount of energy remaining in the timepiece before it needs to be fully wound again. Some automatic movements have a power reserve of more than 7 days, so the power reserve indicator will be in days rather than hours.
  • Moonphase: This complication shows whether it is a full, half quarter or new moon. 
  • Tourbillon: This complication removes any timekeeping errors that can be caused by gravity and changes in movement. It’s very rare to find on watches today and requires numerous hours to construct.  


Oceanaut Sport Dive - Automatic Movement

How to maintain your automatic watch

The best way to care for your automatic watch is by wearing it regularly. But there are measures you can take to prevent any serious damage happening to your watch.

  • Don’t drop it, as the force can make some moving parts fall out of place
  • Keeping it out of moisture
  • Avoid water activities 

These are the few precautions you can take when taking care of your timepiece. However, every automatic watch will need professional servicing every 3 to 5 years. This is the best way to increase its lifespan. 

Quartz vs automatic movement

As a first time watch buyer there are two main movements to choose from: Quartz & automatic movement. Now you may be wondering: which one will best suit your needs. Let’s dive right now.

Before we explain which movement suits your lifestyle. It’s best to understand the key differences between a quartz movement and an automatic movement. 

Simply put, a quartz movement is a battery powered watch that doesn’t require manual winding.

What is a Quartz movement?

Here are the many ways a quartz movement operates:

  • The battery in the watch sends an electrical current to the quartz crystal
  • This results in the crystal to vibrate 32 768 times per second 
  • The circuit then counts the vibrations and generates electric pulses of one per second
  • The pulse drives the motor and moves the watch's hands to accurately display the time on the watch’s face. 

Why choose a quartz movement?

A quartz movement is an excellent choice for beginners. One of the qualities of a quartz watch is it’s accuracy. It is deemed to be the most accurate watch in the world. It’s durability has also made it the most reliable timepiece you can own today. 

Quartz watches were first introduced in the 1960s and forced many swiss watchmakers out of business. The Japanese introduced a creative innovation that was the most accurate timepiece available on the market, required less maintenance, and able to mass produce at a cheaper cost. This time period was known as the Quartz crisis. 

What happened during the Quartz crisis?

During the 1970s, the watch company Seiko introduced the Astron. Which was the first battery-powered watch. This innovation eliminated the use of an automatic and mechanical movement. And in return, this simple addition gained massive appeal from consumers for their cost and durability. Not only were they cheaper than automatic watches, but they were incredibly accurate and durable.

Once introduced, the swiss watchmaking market started to see a decrease in sales. Simply because they couldn’t keep up with the price, precision and production of the quartz watches.

The quartz crisis has helped shape the watch industry to what it is today and encourages watch makers to implement more creative and innovative technology into their timepieces to best serve their community. 

Why choose quartz over automatic?

  • Quartz movements are cheaper than automatic movements. Quartz watches are less labour intensive and can be mass produced at a cheaper rate.
  • Quartz watches require less maintenance. They only require a battery change every 2-5 years. 
  • Quartz watches are extremely accurate and reliable. A good quartz watch will only run a few seconds off per month. While an automatic movement may be a few minutes off per month. 

Why choose automatic over quartz?

Man of you may be wondering? If quartz watches are cheaper, more accurate and require less maintenance over the years, why choose an automatic watch???

For many reasons:

  • Mechanical movements have a deep history and heritage
  • Majority of automatic watches have a sapphire crystal case back. This shows the movement gently oscillating when the gears are fully wound. It’s a beautiful sight. 
  • Many people admire the sweeping second hand on automatic watches. The second-hand on an automatic movement ticks multiple times per second giving it the illusion of a sweeping motion. While on the quartz watch, the second-hand moves ticks per second. 


Leberti's Classic Edition - Automatic watch on wrist

Automatic watches FAQ’s

Now that we’ve went over everything that you need to know when it comes to an automatic movement. Its time to answer some of the questions that we may have not covered in the article above. 

Can automatic watches last a lifetime?

The short answer is yes. Automatic watches can last a lifetime with proper care. If worn regularly and taking precaution when wearing the watch can make it last a lifetime. Also, servicnig it professionally can every 3-5 years can make it last forever.

What are Jewels?

Jewels, aka gemstones, are used in automatic movements to prevent wear and tear. They are used on the heaviest point of friction to reduce the chances of extreme wear and tear. 

How do you wind an automatic watch?

The only way to wind an automatic watch is via the crown. You will need to wind the crown clockwise for about 20-40 times before the movement is fully wound and ready to wear. Some watches have screw-down crowns. In this case, you must unscrew the crown before winding the watch. 

Do automatic watches stop if not worn?

Short answer is yes. Majority of automatic watches have a power reserve for up to 42 hours. Once the 42 hours is over you will need to manually wind your automatic movement. However, some watches on the market today have a power reserve for up to 8 days. Usually these watches also have a power reserve indicator on the dial of the watch. So you will always know when your timepiece is almost out of energy.

Are kinetic and automatic watch movements the same?

These two movements have some similarities but are powered in different ways. The automatic movement stores its energy in the mainspring. The kinetic movement stores the energy in the capacitor. 

How much time does an automatic watch lose per day?

The general rule is automatic movements lose about 10 seconds per day on average. And this is considered to be a high quality piece. While other automatic movements with lower bph can lose a couple minutes per day. 

Automatic watch price?

The price of an automatic watch can range widely. The low end automatic watches can start at $250-300 dollars. The Mid tier watches range from $300-$800 dollars. The high tier watches range from $800-$12,000. There really is no limit when buying a high quality automatic watch.

Are automatic watches less accurate than quartz watches?

The short answer is yes. Automatic watches are less accurate than quartz watches. This is mainly due to the fact that the change in environment can affect the movement of an automatic timepiece making it less accurate. And the elimination of all moving parts make the quartz watch more accurate. 

Should I buy a watch winder?

This really depends on the persons lifestyle. If you’re an active individual that always moving around while wearing your watch, theres no need for a watch winder since the movement of your arm will continue to power the automatic movement. But if you’re a person who works a desk job and doesn’t move quite often while working, then yes, a watch winder can be very beneficial since you’ll never have to worry about rewinding your watch again.

Can you overwind an automatic watch?

No, the design of these modern day movements are engineering carefully. Once the movement is fully wound, there is a mechanism in place that disengages the winding gear from the mainspring. 

What is the difference between a manual watch movement and an automatic watch movement?

Manual watches require winding of the crown to power the movement every single time - there is no power reserve. Automatic watches have the ability to store energy in the mainspring and can power the watch upto 42 hours after it is taken off. 

Why are automatic watches more expensive than quartz watches?

Here is a list of reasons why automatic movements are more expensive than quartz movements:

  • Quality of materials
  • Labour
  • Testing and quality control
  • Marketing 

Automatic Watch Movements Conclusion

Well after going through everything there is to know about automatic watch movements, we hope you’re ready to make the best decision before buying one. And making the best decisions to keep it in peak condition. Because the truth is, both have big responsibilities. You want to ensure you’re buying the best quality automatic watch & that you’re doing the best to take care of it so it can last you a lifetime. Be sure to check out our collection of high quality Swiss automatic watches. Until next time, friend.