Watch Guru: Manual vs. Automatic Watches - What's the Difference?

Watch Guru: Manual vs. Automatic Watches - What's the Difference?

As an avid consumer of affordable watches with amazing quality, our Watch Guru Joshua Clare-Flagg from the popular watch blog Watch It All About is giving an insight into his thoughts on the watch world.

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Are you ready for a battle of mechanical proportions? In this article we’re going to put automatic and hand wind watch movements up against each other, to see which is right for you.

But first, something needs clearing up. Some people mistakenly associate “mechanical” movements as hand wind only. The fact is, both hand-wind and automatic movements are mechanical. All mechanical means is that it’s driven by cogs and gears, and powered by a main spring.

Now that’s cleared up, let’s get to it!



The difference between Manual and Automatic watches



What’s the actual difference between these two movements? It’s the way the mainspring is wound, giving the movement power.

Hand wind is pretty self explanatory - you manually wind it with your hand, by rotating the crown. Usually about 40 full turns will fully wind a movement, the average power reserve lasting around the 40 hour mark.

Automatic movements are wound by an oscillating weight at the back of the watch, called a rotor. When you wear the watch, your day to day movements spin the rotor, thus winding the watch automatically- hence the name. The added bonus of an automatic is that they tend to be hand windable too.

Let’s now discuss some pros and cons.



Pros and Cons



You may be thinking, what’s the point of hand-wind watches? You may as well just go for automatics if they do both. That’s a very valid point. However, hand wind movements, for the most part, are a lot slimmer as they don’t have the rotor and automatic winding mechanism, usually resulting in a thinner watch. This is why they are often found in beautifully slender dress watches, where the thinner the better, for slipping under a shirt cuff.

They also have a beautiful tactile nature to them. It might sound corny, but as you have to wind them every other day, you develop a great attachment and relationship with the watch. If you are a traditional watch lover, then there’s the added bonus of the heritage too - watches were hand wind first.

But, for anyone who can be a bit forgetful - myself included - you must remember to wind them, otherwise they’re going to stop. Because of the regularity of having to wind them, hand wind watches don’t tend to have a screw-in crown either, and therefore usually have lower water resistance.





Moving on to automatic movements . The plus here is clearly the fact that you don’t have to manually wind it. But you still have to wear it! You also have to move a fair amount to keep it fully charged - for instance, if you just sit at a desk all day and barely move (like I do) - there’s not enough movement to actually wind the movement up fully. As they’re more complicated in comparison to a hand-wind movement, they can be more difficult to repair should something go wrong. There’s also more to go wrong, so that needs to be taken into consideration. Unless going for a very expensive luxury watch, they do tend to be thicker too - so you’re less likely to get a lovely slender watch. But, as long as you wear it regularly, you can set and forget it, which means more chance of a screw-in crown and higher water resistance.



Conclusion - Which is best for you?



So which is best for you? It depends on the situation. If you are after an elegant dress watch, the traditionalists would say that a hand wind movement is the only way to go. However, you really can’t go wrong with an automatic movement. They’re more popular for a reason - and convenience is a key factor.

Let’s be honest, we all love watches - especially mechanical ones - and you can’t go wrong with either one. Whether you go for heritage in the form of a hand-wind, or the convenience of an automatic, just get a watch you love and you’ll be on to a winner.