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History of Automatic Mechanical Watches

The History of Automatic Mechanical Watches

In the world of horology, wristwatches aren’t considered just timekeeping devices but markers of precision and craftsmanship. Among the different types of watches, automatic mechanical watches hold a special place in the history of watches. Designed with intricate movements and powered by the movement of the wearer, they are marvels in horological engineering. In this article, we will discuss the history and other important aspects of an automatic watch.

What is an Automatic Mechanical Watch?

Automatic Oyster Perpetual Watches

An automatic mechanical watch, in simple terms, is a watch that makes use of mechanical movements to tell time. While a quartz watch relies on a battery-powered oscillator, automatic mechanical watches are self-winding. The watches also depend on a complex system of gears, springs and a rotor to help tell time, making it a complex timepiece. It is also noteworthy that a quartz watch features a tick-tick motion in the second hand, while automatic watches have sweeping seconds motion.

Origins of Automatic Mechanical Watches

The origin of automatic mechanical watches dates back to the late 18th century with the introduction of self-winding mechanisms. With watchmakers continuously experimenting and researching, the invention of the automatic watch comes as no surprise.

Automatic movement

The Swiss watchmaker, Abraham-Louis Perrelet, was the first to try out this concept. However, his ideas were seen as expensive and complicated. It was in 1770 that Perrelet developed the pocket watch, which consisted of a rotor that utilized the wearer’s movement to wind the watch.

While Perrelet’s invention was a substantial milestone in the world of automatic watches for men and women, it did not receive the recognition it deserved. However, self-winding watches continued to see developments in the following years, with different horologists contributing to their advancement.

Breakthrough of Automatic Mechanical Watches

Automatic Mechanical Watches

John Harwood was the British watchmaker that patented a self-winding mechanism. His design consisted of a half-moon-shaped rotor that pivoted with the movement of the wearer’s arms. Fortis came together with Harwood to produce wristwatches with the automatic movement.

Rolex, a name synonymous with luxury watches, has had a significant role in establishing the self-winding watch as we know it today. The company introduced the “Perpetual” rotor with English watchmaker Abraham-Louis-Breguet & fils in 1931. The rotor utilized an eccentric weight that winded the mainspring when the wearer moved. This self-winding mechanism led to Rolex’s success in the watch industry.

The Swiss Watch Industry and Automatic Watches

Swiss Watch Industry and Automatic Watches

From Patek Philippe to Jaeger-LeCoultre, many Swiss watchmakers adopted the automatic movement and brought innovations to it. Some of the features introduced include shock resistance systems and longer power reserves. Bringing together exquisite craftsmanship and precision, Swiss watchmakers emerged as critical players in the world of automatic mechanical watches.

While people love the intricacy found in automatic movements, quartz movement is more accurate and stable.

It is also important to understand that all mechanical timepieces feature extraordinary movements. But, all of them are not necessarily automatic. Automatic wristwatches are the ones that come with a self-winding movement. However, you can also get mechanical movements that are supposed to be manually wound.

Modern Innovations in Automatic Mechanical Watches

Automatic watches for men and women have seen several innovations over the years, with different materials and manufacturing techniques playing a role in modifying them. We can find perpetual calendars and moon phase indicators in these watches, as well as tourbillons and minute repeaters. These watches are exemplary examples of innovative and captivating horology.

Here is a list of all the improvements that can now be seen on the newer watches powered by automatic movements:

  • More Complications (Functions): Watches with complications like GMT function, Moonphase Indicators and more can also be powered by automatic movements.
  • Better Power Reserve: Power reserve on older watches was limited to just 48 hours. But today, most of these watches offer up to 72 hours of power reserve.
  • Higher Waterproof Rating: During the earlier days of automatic movements, the water resistance on these watches was limited. With advancements in technology, watch manufacturers can offer a water resistance rating of up to 11,000 meters.
  • Anti-Magnetic Properties: Earlier editions of automatic movements were prone to damage when exposed to magnetic fields. With the newer models, you do not have to worry about that as they come with anti-magnetic technologies.

Difference Between Automatic Watches and Quartz Watches

Feature  Automatic Watches Quartz Watches
Power Source Self-winding mechanism that is powered by the movement of the wearer Battery-powered oscillator
Accuracy Comparatively less accurate Accurate and highly reliable
Maintenance Requires periodic servicing Low maintenance watches
Price Range From luxury watches to affordable ones, a wide range is available More affordable and accessible

Depending on the model of the watch, these features could differ. Make sure to check out the watch you are getting and its unique features. The Patek Phillipe Nautilus, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, and many of the Rolex models are automatic wristwatches with many exciting features worth checking out.

Best Automatic Watches for Men

If you are left impressed by the intricate movements these watches have, you must be looking for a list of the best self-winding watches you can buy. These watches are available for both men and women. While most of these watches are focused towards a rather bigger wrist, even women can wear them essentially making these watches unisex.

When it comes to the best automatic watches for men, you cannot go wrong with the following watches:

  • Rolex Submariner Date
  • Omega Seamaster
  • Tudor Pelagos
  • Tissot PRX
  • Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15510ST
  • Patek Philippe Nautilus 5712
  • Cartier Santos
  • Hublot Classic Fusion

Above mentioned are just some of the options you can explore while hunting for automatic watches for men. However, the list can go on. Today, there are thousands of models available across a hundred different brands.

The Marvel of Automatic Watches

Modern-day watch collectors and enthusiasts find it an exciting experience to learn more about automatic watches and include them in their prized collections. From the discovery of the self-winding mechanism to the various innovations the watch has seen today, watches have come a long way. If you’re looking for a watch that is truly authentic and with a long history, an automatic watch is the perfect choice.

Kevin Ghassemi WatchMaestro
Written By

Kevin Ghassemi

Kevin Ghassemi is WatchMaestro's Operations Manager, responsible for sales and purchases of watches. He engages personally with clients, bonding over their shared passion for timepieces. In his leisure, he shares his expertise on social media and occasionally contributes to blog posts.

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