Everything you need to know about automatic watches by Extropian

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Echo Neutra
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Everything you need to know about automatic watches by Extropian

What exactly is an automatic watch we hear you ask. Well, we’re here to give you the lowdown. Not just on what they are and their main characteristics, but all the pros and cons you need to be aware of before you consider adding one to your watch collection. A collection we have no doubt is already fabulous because, hey, we’re here to guide you!

With their combination of intricate workings and timeless elegance, there’s no doubt that automatics simply ooze style and shout ‘luxury’ like nothing else can. They have an old school magic that sets them apart from any other timepiece combined with the very best in modern engineering. Quite frankly, if you want a watch that instantly signals the highest quality, an automatic is the way to go. But we don’t want to get you too excited (or have we already done that? Oops!), as there are a few downsides that need to be considered too. Read on and we’ll tell you everything you need to know!

So, what exactly is an automatic watch?

It may seem too obvious for words, but the name pretty much says it all! An automatic, or “self-winding” watch is quite simply one that doesn’t need regular winding. Unlike a manual, or “hand-wound”, watch, an automatic movement uses an ingenious little device called a rotor (basically a small metal weight inside the watch case) to harness energy via the everyday movement of your wrist. Whether you’re taking a stroll, tapping away at a keyboard in the office (or on your kitchen table - we know how it is these days), or being a little more active down at the gym, the regular movement of your arm will cause the rotor to swing, automatically setting the gears in motion and winding the spring. If you wear it regularly, a fully wound automatic watch can function for days without any additional winding. And when it does run out of power you can just give it a few quick shakes, the rotor starts moving, and it’s up and running again. Clever, huh?

Circula Classic - Sapphire case back 

Classic Automatic Caseback

So, as we can see, automatic watches are complex, incredibly intricate machines, but they also need a little input from you in order to work properly. Let’s be honest, you’re unlikely to have such a personal relationship with any other type of watch! 

And how long have they been around?

Believe it or not, automatic movements were first developed way back in the late 18th Century, but they didn’t really take off in a big way until the 1920s with the arrival of the modern wristwatch. For obvious reasons they tended to work better when worn on a constantly moving wrist, than when stashed away in someone’s pocket, hardly moving at all! They’ve continued to evolve ever since, with the guys at Rolex, Glycine, Eterna, and Carl F. Bucherer developing new technologies which have made them the super-efficient machines they are today. In fact, some modern automatic watches don’t even have a manual winding option – they just need a little shake to restart them! But don’t worry, if you like the old school approach, most can still be wound by hand.

Why do I need an automatic watch?

Ooh, so many reasons! Let’s have a look at some of the main ones…


We already know that automatic watches, in comparison to manual movements, don’t need regular winding. This is obviously a major bonus if you have a million and one things to consider every day and don’t need winding your watch to be another. Or if you’re simply the forgetful type. On top of that, unlike a Quartz or Digital model, they don’t require batteries, so you never need to worry that they’ll run out of power just when you need them most. Another big tick for the ‘pro’ side of the column is that, unlike manual movements, it’s impossible to damage automatics by over-winding the crown. This is thanks to a handy little contraption known as a Slipping Spring (or Clutch), situated at the end of the mainspring, which allows it to simply slide round and round once it’s fully wound. So, you don’t have to worry about damaging that aesthetically gorgeous thing you have adorning your no doubt equally gorgeous wrist.

A hand winding movement (no rotor) for comparaison : Dufrane Aviator Horizon

Capture D’écran 2022 11 24 À 15.21.16


The Power Reserve

Yet another nifty innovation in automatic watches is their Power Reserve, which stores excess energy when the rotor is stationary (i.e., whenever you aren’t moving or have taken the watch off). This little device is great news if you don’t like re-setting your watch on a regular basis, especially if it has a date window or other complications. The Power Reserve in most automatic watches will last anywhere between 35 and 50 hours, which means many models can run for two full days or more without winding. That’s great news if you’re spending a super lazy weekend in bed (hey, we all need to from time to time) and only want to move your watch from the bedside table to check how much lazy time you have left! And if you’re willing to pay a little more, then something like the Zelos Mirage 8 Days Skeleton has a power reserve which lasts for more than a week. There are even luxury brands making watches which will run for up to 50 days – but you’d probably need to refinance your house to buy one!

Zelos Mirage 8 Days Titanium

Capture D’écran 2022 11 24 À 15.25.17

One important thing to remember is that if you’re not wearing it regularly (well, you may have simply too many options to choose from in the fabulous collection of watches we’ve helped you build…) you’ll need to remember to hand wind your automatic in order to reach the maximum power reserve.

Great aesthetics

For many people, however, the best thing about automatic watches is that they simply look so good. The incredible degree of craftsmanship and engineering on display, even in mid-range models, makes them aesthetically stunning objects which are going to look great on any wrist. The smooth gliding movement of the second hand can be seriously satisfying to watch, and a source of genuine pleasure if you’re not a fan of the tick-tick quality of quartz movements. Some models even have glass backs so that you can see the movements working inside the case and spend hours contemplating just how beautiful they really are! Sure, battery-powered watches may be more accurate, but mechanical models (and automatics in particular) will always be the connoisseur’s choice. And who doesn’t want to be thought of as a connoisseur?!


OK, so we’ve had a look at the advantages of automatic watches, and we know just how great they look, and how wonderfully convenient they are. It’s kind of hard to believe that there might be any drawbacks to owning one! But, in the interest of fair play, we should have a look at their disadvantages too so you can make a truly informed choice before deciding to add one to your collection!


While automatic movements are often pretty accurate, it has to be said that they can’t generally compete with quartz watches. As a general rule, automatics will be accurate to within +/- 25 seconds a day, although this can vary widely and it’s not hard to find models which can perform much better. Quartz watches, however, are typically accurate to +/- 1 second per day, so there really is no comparison!

However, Seiko in particular have had a lot of success with Mecha-quartz (or “hybrid”) movements which use quartz technology for the main functions of the watch but have a mechanical module for operating the chronograph. In other words, they offer you the best of both worlds, combining the accuracy of quartz with the intricate craftsmanship of a mechanical movement. And if you want something really special, Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive technology generates energy like other automatic watches but incorporates an electronic regulator to provide a level of accuracy no mechanical watch can match (although watches in the range cost around $10,000!).

Mecha-quartz movement for illustration - Brew Mastergraph

Capture D’écran 2022 11 24 À 15.31.25

Also, one of the drawbacks of all those intricate moving metal parts, beautiful as they are, is that they can be extra sensitive to the environment. Changes in temperature can make an automatic watch run either fast (in cold weather) or slow (when it’s hot). An automatic movement can also lose accuracy over time, which means it will have to be tuned up once in a while. Nothing comes free in this world so that does, of course, involve an additional cost.

When it comes down to it if you’re working in a field that requires seriously accurate timekeeping – the military, medical, or marine professions – or you just like to be a super-efficient timekeeper – then you’re probably going to want to opt for a quartz watch instead.

They can be expensive to buy and maintain

If price is a factor (and let’s be honest, for many of us it is!), then it’s worth being aware that automatic watches, and mechanical movements in general, are likely to cost significantly more than their quartz equivalents. Although you can pick up a pretty reliable automatic watch for a few hundred dollars, quality models tend to be much more expensive. Depending on the technical specifications and materials used, you can expect to pay anywhere between $300 and $3000 for a mid-range automatic, while luxury brands can be astronomically expensive - for most of us the stuff that dreams are made of!   

We have a wide range of mid-range automatic watches.

This is down to a number of factors, but without getting too technical it’s basically because they are much more complex than quartz watches and therefore cost more to manufacture. They are also produced in much smaller quantities so there is an element of exclusivity involved.

In addition to the purchase price, it’s also important to be aware that automatics require regular maintenance and servicing to keep all those finely calibrated parts in good working order. And that ain’t gonna be done for free. On the bright side there are some mid-range movements that are often a lot cheaper to service than more expensive models, so you shouldn’t necessarily let it put you off!

They are susceptible to damage by electronic devices

Automatics can be sensitive little things. We already know that the weather can affect them, but strong magnets and common household electronic devices can also play havoc with their accuracy. This might not seem like a major issue, but when you stop to think that everything from your laptop, smartphone and TV to your refrigerator, hair-drier, and electric razor all create magnetic fields then it begins to seem like a minefield out there! Don’t worry too much – all that’s required is a little care and common sense. So long as you keep your watch at least 5 cm away from any magnetic products you should be OK. And, even better, several manufacturers are now using different materials (most notably silicon) to make their watch movements resistant to magnetic fields, or even protecting the entire movement with an inner cage made of magnetically permeable material (such as soft iron). If you want to stick with an Old School model, however, it might be an idea to invest in an antimagnetic Watch Box to protect it when it’s not in use.

They are thicker than quartz and hand-wound watches

If your taste tends towards more elegant, slim watches, then you might have a few aesthetic issues with automatics as they are generally thicker than quartz or hand-wound models. That’s down to all those movable parts – most notably the rotor. There are some thinner automatic watches out there, such as those using micro-rotors, but making a mechanical movement slimmer requires a great deal of craftsmanship and attention to detail, so they tend to be more complex and therefore, you guessed it, more expensive. Also, because of their tiny size, micro-rotors don’t generate as much power, so you might have to sacrifice some degree of efficiency if you want a really slender model on your wrist. In other words, if you want an accurate, elegant, and super-slim watch at an affordable price you should probably opt for a quartz movement instead.

Micro Rotor - Baltic MR02

Capture D’écran 2022 11 24 À 15.37.30

Resetting them can be tricky if you have long nails!

If you’re the kind of person who likes their nails long and/or beautifully varnished, then an automatic might not be for you either. As the crown needs to be popped on a regular basis to reset them, that is going to play havoc with your manicure.

Caring for your automatic watch

We’d like to think you now have all the info you could possibly need on automatic watches. If you’ve weighed up all the pros and cons and decided that an automatic is the way to go then you’re probably going to want a few tips on how to keep your cherished timepiece in good working order. Follow these basic rules and you should still be wearing it decades from now!

Simple steps can really help

It may seem obvious, but simple things like avoiding shocks, keeping it away from excessive moisture and extreme heat (don’t wear it in the shower, even if it’s waterproof and have a stainless steel bracelet!), regular cleaning, and care when changing the strap can all help prolong the life of your automatic watch. That “regular cleaning” business might seem like a hassle, but it’s definitely worth wiping your watch every night to remove any dust and other dirt that’s accumulated on the dial, bracelet, or strap over the course of your day (it’s a pretty filthy world out there in case you hadn’t noticed!). If it’s a non-water-resistant model, just use a piece of soft dry cloth. If it’s waterproof, you can also use a mixture of water and mild soap and a cleaning brush with soft bristles. And, of course, don’t forget to dry it afterwards!

And finally, don’t be afraid to wear it regularly! Never forget that your automatic watch relies on the energy it creates and stores via your regular movements to function properly.

Store it carefully when not in use

An anti-magnetic watch box may not be essential, but it’s certainly not a bad idea. You can just use the original packaging box, but make sure to keep it well away from electronic devices and strong magnets.

Watch winders

As a useful alternative to a watch box, you could also consider investing in a Watch Winder, which is a kind of rotating display case designed to simulate the movement of the human wrist, keeping your automatic watch running even when you’re not wearing it. These handy devices slowly spin the watch on a double axis to avoid it turning in the same direction all the time, and come in all manner of shapes and sizes, from basic models holding just one watch to whole cabinets designed to store an entire collection. Of course, this involves yet another additional expense. While you can pick up an entry level watch winder for around $100, luxury models can run into thousands. There’s a lot of debate about whether or not watch winders are really necessary, but they’re certainly worth considering if you want to keep the power reserve topped up permanently. And let’s face it, they do sound (and look) kinda cool.

Regular servicing is a good idea

As mentioned above, getting your automatic watch professionally serviced on a regular basis is advisable. Having it cleaned, oiled, and any worn parts replaced will help keep it running smoothly well into the future. Many brands recommend a service every five years or so, but it’s worth remembering that the movements used on mid-range models such the Seiko NH serie or Miyota 9000 serie are workhorses which can last a lot longer without needing a service, so you don’t necessarily have to follow this rule. Basically, it’s up to you whether you have a regular service as a preventative measure or just wait until you notice that your watch isn’t functioning as well as it should.


There we have it – the complete lowdown on automatic watches. And what have we learned? Well, it’s clear that automatic movements will not be for everyone. They are complex, intricate machines that can be expensive to buy and maintain. They need regular care and attention and should be stored properly when not in use. So, if you want a low-maintenance (and often cheaper) option, then a quartz movement might be the best way to go. Also, if a high degree of accuracy is a priority, then it’s probably best to go for a quartz or chronometer watch. However, if you have a real appreciation for precision craftsmanship, seriously love the aesthetics of watchmaking, and are prepared to go the extra mile to care for your timepiece, then an automatic watch is the option for you. It could be the start of a lifelong relationship!

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Created the 2022-12-05

Modified the 2023-12-20

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