Automatic Vs Mechanical Watch Movement: What’s The Difference?

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For simple watch wearers, all watches may seem similar but for a watch enthusiast, no two watches are the same. In fact, they can tell you the types of watch you are wearing just by looking at it. A watch can be categorized based on its looks, movement, power source, and various other factors.

And, two of the many types of watches that are available in the market are automatic and mechanical watches. However, except for watch enthusiasts, not a lot of people know much about them and whenever someone casually stumbles upon them they wonder which one is the right watch for them.

What is the difference between automatic and mechanical watches? Are mechanical watches better than automatic watches? To answer these questions we decided to write an in-depth automatic vs mechanical watch comparison.

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Automatic Vs Mechanical Watch: Introduction To Both Watches

Mechanical watch movement

Mechanical Watches

Smartwatches might be all the rage right now but mechanical watches have still stood the test of time. From being used on the tall building in major cities to our living room. And eventually to our wrist, mechanical watches have gone through an entire evolution. Instead of modern watches or smartwatches that run on batteries, mechanical watches use a winding mechanism.

To put it simply all mechanical watches have a mainspring that is either wounded by a separate key or using the crown of the watch. Once the watch is wounded it would store the tension and then slowly distribute that tension to gears inside the watch. It powers the watch using the energy stored and slowly unwinds itself doing that. Therefore all mechanical watches require periodic winding from time to time.

Also, mechanical watches usually come with sweeping second hands but they aren’t entirely silent either as gears inside the watch can make some audible ticking sounds.

During the initial days of the mechanical watch, users faced the issue of their watches getting jammed or not running smoothly at all due to friction. To remedy this problem watchmakers started using jewels inside the mechanical watch instead of using metal plates. Incorporating jewels inside mechanical watches made them run smoother and also decreased aftercare required to maintain mechanical watches.

Fast forward to today, in a world where smartwatches whose batteries can’t be changed and if it does not support the latest software is instantaneously outdated mechanical watches provide a fresh breath of air. And, that’s why mechanical watches are expensive and are mostly found in high-end watches.

Automatic Watches

Automatic watches are almost identical to mechanical watches with one major difference that they can automatically wind themselves. Unlike a mechanical watch where you have to every day manually wind the watch, an automatic watch can wind itself simply using your wrist movements.

The automatic watch comes with an inbuilt rotator that is free to move and whenever the wearer moves his/her hand rotator oscillates. It produces energy which is used to automatically wind the mainspring which powers the watch.

However, if you won’t wear the watch for 2-3 days watch would automatically stop working if that happens you would have to manually wind the watch. And different automatic watches have different power reserves some can store energy for only 1 day, some for 2-3 days depending on the watch.

That’s why with proper maintenance automatic watches can last for a really long time, unlike other watches. For instance, a quartz watch upon being opened may lose its waterproofing capabilities, or worst batteries can leak inside if the watch is not used for a long time.

What Is The Difference Between An Automatic And Mechanical Watch Movement?

There is one major difference between an automatic and mechanical watch that is the lack of a self-winding mechanism in mechanical watches. Automatic watches come with a built-in rotator that winds the watch from the wearer’s movement of the wrist. That energy generated is used to wind the watch so as long as the user wears the watch he/she won’t have to manually wind the watch.

Whereas a mechanical watch doesn’t feature any built-in gear that can be used to wind the watch automatically. Therefore you would have to wind the watch in every day or two.

Is Automatic Watch Better Than Mechanical Watch?

When it comes to accuracy and reliability automatic and mechanical watches are similar to each other as one is not better than the other. However, when it comes to the longevity of the watches then automatic watches are better than mechanical watches.

And, the reason for that is mechanical watches are wind up using a crown which is very delicate and can get damaged easily whereas automatic watches wind themselves. And you can also manually wind your automatic watches if you are not wearing the watch. So if you are looking to choose then we would recommend going with automatic watch over mechanical watch.

Things To Know About Both Automatic Or Mechanical Watches

Automatic Vs mechanical watch

1. Wear And Tear Of The Watch’s Mechanism

Mechanical watches are wounded using the crown on the watch which makes the winding mechanism a single point of failure. Hence if the winding mechanism or crown breaks down the watch can be rendered useless. And if you plan to wear the watch regularly then the winding mechanism will go through wear and tear quite early. This can result in decreased life of your mechanical watch.

However, if you go with an automatic watch then you won’t have to manually wind your watch every day. It helps you avoid strain on the crown as it can be fragile and easy to break. And also save some potential wear and tear of the manual winding mechanism. That’s why we recommend going with an automatic watch if you intend to wear one every day.

2. Power Reserve

Expensive mechanical watches can last up to 1-2 days depending on the watch you have selected. However, most watches have one day of power reserve so a full wind would last you 1 day. And, some enthusiasts enjoy winding their mechanical watches first thing in the day while some people don’t. So choose the watch that comes with a battery reserve that meets your expectations.

3. Jewel Movement

Jewel movement is one of the metrics that you can use to assess whether mechanical or automatic watch that your buying is worth it. The more jewel movement your watch has better it is. There are four grades of jewel movements: standard, elabore, top, and chronometer.

Standard grade watches have at least 25 jewel movements and only lose or gain 12 to 30 seconds in a day. However, watches with 24+ jewel movement are usually quite expensive and can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the brand. Therefore, we would recommend using the number of jewel movements in the watch as the yardstick to assess the quality of the watch you are getting.

You can check our list of best automatic mechanical watches for finding the best watch that will fit your budget.

Which Watch Movement Is Right For You?

So if you are looking for a watch for your husband, wife, or someone who is passionate about watches then you can go with automatic mechanical watches. With proper aftercare, the watch can even last a lifetime making it the perfect gift for anyone you cherish.

However, if you are looking for a watch that is stylish and also comes with a unique movement then you can go with kinetic watches from Seiko, skeleton watches, chronograph watches, or Swiss watches.


Are Mechanical Watches Better Than Automatic Watches?

The only benefit automatic watches have over mechanical watches is that they can automatically wind themselves otherwise there is no difference when it comes to reliability, movement, or accuracy of the watch.

Is Automatic Watch Less Accurate?

Yes, automatic watches are less accurate when compared to quartz watches. As watches with a quartz movement don't lose time throughout the day whereas automatic watches can lose or gain up to 24 seconds every day.

Is It Okay To Manually Wind An Automatic Watch?

It is okay to do it every once in a while but if your watch comes with a screw-down crown then extra care may be required as the winding mechanism may succumb to wear and tear faster.

How Long Do Mechanical Watches Last?

With proper servicing and care, mechanical watches can last for a lifetime. Therefore it is recommended to get your mechanical watch serviced every 3-4 years as gears go through wear and tear with usage.

Is It Bad To Leave Your Automatic Watch Unwound?

It depends on the automatic watch you have selected as most automatic watches won't have any problem if you don't wear them for weeks. However, if the watch has a perpetual calendar or other complications then you can also consider investing in an automatic watch winder.

Tom Nielson

Tom's love for watches started when his grandfather gifted him his Rolex watch when he turned 18! Being a teenager it was a big deal for him. Later when he got his first job he bought Fossil Palm Pilot back in 2003 which was a smartwatch. Since then smartwatches have come a long way and so is Tom's love for them. His experience with watches inspired him to start Wearholic and share his knowledge of wearables including watches, smartwatches, smart glasses, & smart clothing.

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