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THE AUTOMATIC WATCH MOVEMENT: The Ultimate Guide

by Paul Symonds December 16, 2020 9 min read

THE AUTOMATIC WATCH MOVEMENT: The Ultimate Guide | Swiss Watch Trader

THE AUTOMATIC WATCH MOVEMENT

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE:

Here is the ultimate guide to the automatic watch movement. You will read about what makes an automatic watch movement tick, what powers an automatic watch movement and how to set the time and date on your automatic watch. Our popular automatic watches include the Rolex Daytona and Rolex Submariner. Don't forget to check out our mens automatic watches for sale after reading this article.

 

WHAT IS AN AUTOMATIC WATCH MOVEMENT?

Rolex Automatic Movement

A watch movement, also known as a “calibre”, is the engine of a watch that enables the watch and all its functions operate. This internal mechanism moves the hands and powers any complications such as a chronograph, moonphase or dual time zone. The movement drives all timekeeping functions and is essential to keeping accurate time. A watch would not function without it.

Automatic movements, also called “self-winding”, harness energy through the natural motion of the wearer’s wrist. Watches with automatic movements such as the Rolex Daytona are very popular because the wearer does not have to worry about winding the watch daily to ensure constant operation. If the automatic timepiece is worn every day, the owner will not have to wind the watch by-hand to keep it operational.

Automatic watches will have a "power reserve". A fully wound automatic watch, such as the Rolex Submariner 16610 with a calibre 3135 movement will have up to 48 hours of energy stored before they need to be powered again. The new Rolex Submariner 126610 with its improved calibre 3235 movement has a 70 hour power reserve.

 

HOW DOES AN AUTOMATIC WATCH MOVEMENT WORK?

HOW AN AUTOMATIC WATCH MOVEMENT WORKS:

An automatic movement works largely the same way as a manual movement. However an automatic watch movement uses a rotor, or metal weight, to power the timepiece. The rotor will oscillate freely within the watch and spin when the wearer moves their wrist. This spinning motion is transferred into energy that winds the mainspring in the watch automatically. The mainspring is where power is stored.

A question we we are often asked is does an automatic watch still require winding? In some instances, yes. Watches with an automatic movement that are worn regularly will mostly power themselves. But if the owner doesn’t wear the watch for some time, or the wearer is generally inactive, they may need to wind it to power the internal mechanisms. So for example a fully wound automatic watch such as a Rolex Daytona 116520 will have a 70 hour power reserve. This means that when fully wound but set down and not worn, it will tick away for a period of 70 hours. If the watch is being worn during this 70 hour period then it will continue to run on the power provided by the wearers wrist. It is this motion that spins the rotor and transfers power to the movement, thus topping up the power reserve and making the watch work indefinitely. An automatic watch will require winding when first worn or the power reserve is depleted, see below.

 

WINDING AN AUTOMATIC WATCH

WINDING INTERVALS:

Watches featuring an automatic movement will still require winding, but far less than a manual watch. If the watch is worn every day, and the wearer is reasonably active, it will maintain timekeeping functions without winding, but if the watch hasn’t been worn for an extended period of time, it will need a quick wind to top up initial power. A great alternative to hand-winding automatic watches is to use a watch winder, which will keep the watch fully wound when it’s not being worn.

 

HOW TO WIND AUTOMATIC WATCH

According to Rolex, before being worn for the first time, or if it has stopped, a Rolex watch must be wound manually in order to function correctly and precisely. To wind the watch manually, unscrew the winding crown completely, then turn it several times clockwise. (Turning in the other direction has no effect.) A minimum of 25 turns is required for adequate partial winding. The watch will then be wound automatically as long as it is worn on the wrist. Carefully screw the crown back down against the case to ensure waterproofness. 

 

SETTING THE TIME AND DATE ON AN AUTOMATIC WATCH

Setting the Time & Date on a Rolex Watch

OPERATING A ROLEX SUBMARINER DATE:

The crown on the new Rolex Submariner 126610, as with many divers watches with a simple automatic movement, has four main positions, we will call them position 0, position 1, position 2 and position 3.

Position 0: This is the screwed-down position. The crown is completely screwed down against the case. When the crown is in this position, the Rolex Submariner 126610 is guaranteed waterproof to a depth of 300 metres (1,000 feet).

Position 1: This is the position to manually wind the movement. The crown is unscrewed anti-clockwise to the point when it springs out. To wind the watch manually, turn the crown clockwise; turning in the other direction has no effect. When setting the watch for the first time or after the watch has stopped, complete a minimum of 25 turns for partial winding.

Position 2: This is the position to set the date. The crown is unscrewed and pulled out to the first notch. To set the date, turn the crown clockwise; turning in the other direction has no effect. During this operation, the watch continues to function.

Position 3: This is the position to set the time. The crown is unscrewed and pulled out to the second notch. The seconds hand is stopped, allowing you to set the time to the precise second. To set the hour and minute, turn the crown in either direction. To avoid confusion between a.m. and p.m. hours, move the hour hand to 12 o’clock. If the date changes, it is midnight.

After every use, carefully screw the crown back down against the case to guarantee the waterproofness. Return the crown to position 1 and apply light pressure on it while screwing it down clockwise against the case. The crown should never be unscrewed underwater.

 

AUTOMATIC WATCH MOVEMENT: A BRIEF HISTORY

Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Perrelet is believed to have invented the first automatic watch movements in the 1770s. Perrelet invented mechanical watch devices that transferred the movement of the wearer into energy, powering the timepiece for up to eight hours a day. But it wasn’t until the French inventor, Hubert Sarton, created his automatic watch movement design in 1778 that these types of timepieces became popular with everyday wearers. Sarton published his designs in Paris and claimed that Perrelet was inspired by his automatic watch designs.

The public purchased and wore the first automatic watches in 1780. These watches weren’t the popular wristwatches that we all know today. Instead, they were pocket watches that were made by a different Abraham - Abraham-Louis Breguet. Breguet bought Abraham-Louis Perrelet’s designs but made a few changes. Unfortunately, these designs were not considered reliable, and European consumers stopped purchasing the watches around 1800. It wasn’t until WWI that advances in technology and watch manufacturing revived and refined the automatic watch movement.

 

MODERN AUTOMATIC WATCH MOVEMENTS

During WWI, pocket watches also fell out of favour, in exchange for convenient wristwatches that people still enjoy wearing today. The first generation of wristwatches made during WWI used automatic winding that was much more reliable than their Rococo ancestors. By placing the timepiece on the wearer’s wrist instead of their pocket, the energy was easily and efficiently transferred into the timepiece, powering the intricate mechanisms, and ensuring an accurate watch. John Harwood, a watch repairer from England, is the first person credited with inventing automatic wristwatch movements.

Harwood patented the automatic wristwatch in 1923. In 1928, Harwood began mass-producing these watches in a factory in Switzerland. This gave him the chance to market automatic watches to the public. When fully charged, these watches had power that could last for up to twelve hours.

While Harwood is responsible for the first mass-produced automatic watch, other watchmakers capitalized on his success. They began to improve upon his original designs. Rolex added additional weights to the timepiece, allowing it to capture even more energy when worn. The Rolex timepieces could be powered for up to 35 hours with the new proprietary designs.

In the late 1940s, Eterna Watch put ball bearings inside its automatic watches. This gave the internal components of the watch more controlled movements, allowing for a more accurate and precise timepiece. The watches were also marketed as more structurally sound and durable. What about automatic wristwatches today? The most popular watches with modern consumers use automatic movements, and only a few still employ manual winding.

 

THE MAIN COMPONENTS OF AN AUTOMATIC WATCH MOVEMENT

Mainspring: The mainspring is the power source of automatic watch movements. When the crown of an automatic watch is wound, kinetic energy is transferred to the coil mainspring. As more energy is stored, the mainspring becomes tighter and tighter, storing more energy for later use.

Crown: On the side of the watch is a small wheel, called a crown. The crown is turned, which winds the watch and enables it to run.

Gear Train: The energy stored within the mainspring is allowed to pass through the gear train, which is a small series of internal gears that make the watch hands and other parts of the watch face move.

Escapement: The escapement is like an internal braking system within the timepiece. The energy that’s transferred from the mainspring to the gear train is expelled in equal parts, called escapement.

Balance Wheel: The balance wheel is an internal component that beats in a circular motion, at five to ten times per second.

Dial Train: The dial train is another series of gears similar to the gear train. The dial train transfers equal parts of energy from the balance wheel into the watch hands, enabling the hands to move.

Jewels: Jewels are synthetic rubies that are put in the center of a gear to keep it in continuous motion and prevent wear-and-tear from heat and friction.

Rotor: The rotor is a metal weight that looks like a half-circle. The rotor is attached to the movement and can swing freely as the wearer’s wrist moves. As the wearer moves and thus, moves the rotor, the rotor transfers power to the mainspring and twists it, where the energy is then stored. When the mainspring is fully wound, a clutch attached to the rotor is engaged. The clutch prevents the rotor from winding the mainspring further. 

 

HOW TO MEASURE THE QUALITY OF AN AUTOMATIC WATCH MOVEMENT

COSC - Automatic Watches

Automatic watches are exceptional inventions that have stood the test of time. When purchasing an automatic watch, many important metrics are used to measure the quality of the timepiece’s movements.

Accuracy: In the mechanical watch industry, the highest standard of excellence is the COSC Chronometer Certification standard. Simply put, in order to achieve Chronometer Certification from COSC, a mechanical watch movement must vary no more than -4 to +6 seconds per day variance from a constant source in a 24 hour period. While many mechanical watch manufacturers submit some of their watch movements to the COSC institute for Chronometer Certification, Rolex is one of the only manufacturers that submits virtually every mechanical watch movement they make to COSC. Thus, within the constraints of mechanical watch making technology, Rolex is an industry leader in manufacturing accurate movements.

BHP: BHP refers to beats, or ticks, per hour. Sometimes, watchmakers will use the terms beats per second or Hz. Most watches have a rate of six, eight, or ten beats per second, measured out as 21,600, 28,800, or 36,000 BPH, respectively. High-beat watches have a faster ticking movement. They are more accurate and precise since they read out smaller fractions of a second. The second-hand movements on a high beat watch will also appear smoother.

Power Reserve: Fully wound automatic watches will have between 40 and 70 hours of energy stored before they need to be powered again. In some automatic watch designs, they may house up to ten days' worth of power reserves.

Complications: Complications refer to functions on a watch that does something other than telling time. On many automatic watch designs, the timepiece may display the calendar date, moon phases, power reserve indicators, and also allow for alarm functions.

Reliability: Automatic watches are reliable watch designs and are manufactured to be precise and accurate. Certain features can increase the timepiece’s reliability and accuracy, such as having a higher BPH.

Materials: Automatic watches typically have glass in the back so you can view the movement. Well-made movements make the time reliable, while poorly manufactured movements will have ticks that are inconsistently measured. Watches made with inferior materials can lose minutes in a day. Watches from Swiss, Japanese, and German movement makers are renowned for using the highest-quality materials for accuracy, precision, and reliability.

 

BUYING A PRE-OWNED MENS WATCH FROM SWISS WATCH TRADER

Our collection of pre-owned, used & second hand mens watches include Rolex, Omega, Breitling, Tudor, Panerai & TAG Heuer. At Swiss Watch Trader we specialise in selling only the very best mens watches and unless there is a valid reason, ALL our mens watches for sale will include their original boxes and papers. When buying any modern or vintage watch you need to ensure you are getting the very best example with as much of the original paraphernalia as possible. You should always look for a mens watch that is complete with its original inner and outer boxes, warranty certificate or card, manuals, hang tags and if possible original sales receipt. For more information on how to buy a mens watch from Swiss Watch Trader and the the services we offer including buying a mens watch on finance, head over to the information section.

For more information on our mens watches for sale including the Rolex Daytona & Rolex Submariner and reviews on your favourite mens watches and buyers guides, head over to the News & Reviews section. Please get in touch if you have any questions about any of our new, used, pre-owned and second hand mens watches.

 

VIEW OUR MENS WATCHES FOR SALE

Contact Us today if you have a question about any of our mens watches for sale - we will be happy to help!

Paul Symonds
Paul Symonds


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