What is an automatic watch?

First published: 24-10-2018

Men’s Tissot Visodate automatic watch

Men's watch: Tissot Visodate automatic watch (RRP £395)

A self-winding or automatic watch is a timepiece that, as its name suggests, doesn’t always need to be manually wound. The motion of the wearer creates energy that powers the watch instead.

In this kind of a watch movement (a movement being the mechanism that makes a watch or a clock function), the everyday motions of the wearer cause the rotor within the watch to pivot on its staff. The staff is attached to a ratcheted winding mechanism and everyday motion is thus turned into circular motion, which winds the mainspring of the watch.

The use of self-winding or automatic watches was first documented in the 1770s, when a self-winding mechanism was used in pocket watches.

Do automatic watches need to be wound?

Automatic watches do, indeed, need to be wound after an extended period of low activity from the wearer. It is a common misconception that they do not require any winding at all. However, it is not necessary for the wearer of the watch to manually wind an automatic watch very often because the natural motion of them going about their day winds the mainspring, as described above.

How does an automatic compare to a mechanical watch?

Automatic watches are often mechanical. That is, they are powered by the movement’s mechanical parts and not by a battery as they are in quartz-powered watches.

However, mechanical watches that are not driven by electricity and are not self-winding are called manual watches. Automatic mechanical watches are fitted with an automatic rotor, which allows the watch to automatically wind itself as the wearer moves his or her wrist.

Other types of watch movement

Other types of watch movements include manual, quartz and kinetic. While a manual watch must be periodically wound by its wearer, quartz watches are powered by batteries, and kinetic watches are those that are powered by a battery that is charged by the wearer’s movement.

Watch movements come in a variety of shapes and sizes so that they can fit into different case styles, such as those that are oval or round. There are five different types of watch movements, though some are rarely used in modern watchmaking but can be found more commonly in antique timepieces.

The full plate movement is one of the earliest kinds of movements, found in pocket watches dating back to those made in the 17th century. The three-quarter plate movement came into use in the 18th century and involved the removal of part of the back plate. The bridge movement, named as such because it involves replacing the back plate with bridges, was introduced in Swiss pocket watches in the 1900s because it made watch servicing far easier as the individual parts were removable.

5 fantastic automatic watches

In this handy overview we can provide you with some inspiration for picking out the perfect automatic watch for you, no matter your style.

1. Make a statement

Unisex Gucci G-Timeless watch

Watch: Unisex Gucci G-Timeless watch (RRP £1620)

A high-fashion statement for both men and women alike, this Gucci unisex Gucci G-Timeless watch (RRP £1,620) is as intriguing as it is eye catching. Its classic leather strap provides the perfect backdrop for an unusual silver face, encrusted not with numbers but with tiny metallic symbols, including hearts and stars. Coupled with the charming snake design of its hands, these features really make this watch stand out from the crowd.

Functional as well as attractive, the Gucci G-Timeless also boasts 50 metres water resistancy and a date function. High fashion and flawless functionality - what more could you want in a watch?

2. Go back to basics

Ladies’ Zeppelin Princess Automatik automatic watch

Watch: Ladies’ Zeppelin Princess Automatik automatic watch (RRP £ 319)

Bang on trend in the world of wristwear at the moment, skeleton watches display their inner mechanisms on the dial for all to see. While they are an acquired taste, their bare bones design has heralded a renewed interest for, and appreciation of, the skilled art of watchmaking and they are popular among long-standing watch-wearers and newcomers alike.

This Princess Automatik automatic watch (RRP £319) from Zeppelin demands attention with its unconventional design. Its simple, stylised silver Roman numerals and classic black leather strap make it a versatile accessory no matter the occasion. Practical as well as beautiful, this watch also has 50 metres water resistancy, so you won't need to take it off when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

3. Keep it classic

Certina Watch C0244104408120

Watch: Certina Watch C0244104408120 (RRP £ 420)

Certina sports watches are well-known for their incredible strength, precision, performance, and reliability. Designed to the highest specifications and with fastidious engineering, Certina timepieces are among the best for serious athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

This silver Certina watch (RRP £420) is no exception. Crafted from titanium – one of the toughest metals known to man – this watch has been built to withstand some of the hardest conditions on the planet, and with 100 metres water resistancy it will also keep on ticking even when you hit the waves.

4. Get glamorous

Ladies’ FIYTA Automatic watch

Watch: Ladies’ FIYTA Automatic watch (RRP £ 387)

Truly a statement piece, this ladies’ automatic watch (RRP £387) from FIYTA is as bright as they come. What says glitz and glamour if not a jewel-encrusted dial, PVD rose gold plating, and a beautifully crafted white leather strap? Moreover, the multi-coloured floral design on the face of this timepiece adds an extra touch of elegance to an already magically elegant watch.

Complete with 50 metres water resistancy, this watch would be perfectly paired with a bikini for splashing about poolside or catching rays at the beach.

5. Hit the pool

Unisex Davosa Apnea Diver Automatic watch

Watch: Unisex Davosa Apnea Diver Automatic watch (RRP £ 995)

A watch created specifically for divers who prefer to drop into the water without an oxygen tank, this automatic unisex timepiece is one of the most technologically advanced of its kind. Combining cutting-edge Swiss watchmaking and the latest in dive watch design innovations, the Apnea Diver Automatic watch (RRP £995) made by Davosa has few rivals.

The hands and figures on the dial of this timepiece are coated in Super-LumiNova pigment, making it readable even in poor visibility conditions underwater, and it has a water resistancy of 20 ATM (ATM being a measurement of pressure equal to about 10 metres of depth) to ensure optimal performance in the depths.

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