Jan 31, 2019 by Chrono24
What is an automatic watch and how does it work?
Most mechanical watches sold today feature an automatic movement. These watches require nothing more than regular wear to keep them running. But how does an automatic watch self-wind? Do you need a watch winder if you only wear your watch from time to time? Is there anything else you should know?
What is an automatic watch?
An automatic watch winds “automatically” or by itself. Of course, this isn’t meant in a literal sense since the energy has to come from somewhere. Automatic watches get their energy from the movement of the wearer.
Even though the first automatic watches appeared as early as the 18th century, they remained a niche product until the rise of the wristwatch in the early 20th century. This new way of wearing a watch took it from the serenity of the pocket to the constant movement of the wrist. The time had finally come for automatic-winding technology to have its breakthrough.
Image: Bert Buijsrogge
Manual watches are wound by twisting the crown. Then there are automatic watches. Every automatic watch has a rotor made of a heavy material like tungsten, gold, or platinum so that they are powerful enough to wind the movement. As the wearer moves their arm, the rotor swings, thus setting the gears in motion and winding the spring. If your watch has a glass case back, simply flip it over to see this process in real time.
Whether regularly winding your automatic watch by hand is advisable also depends on the movement. There is no universal answer. Manufacturers usually provide this information. Generally speaking, however, the less you rely on winding your automatic watch manually, the slower the components will wear down.
How to Avoid Damaging the Mainspring
It’s likely that anyone who has their own small collection has at least thought about whether they should buy a watch winder. If the answer is yes, the question then becomes whether you should get the affordable winder that does the job or go straight for the more sophisticated model.
Unfortunately, there’s always a catch. If your winder isn’t set to wind your watch the proper amount every day and instead winds it for too long, this can put added strain on the movement. This comes down to the quality of the winder. Any winder worth its weight should at least allow you to program how many times it rotates per day. You may have to use a socket timer to achieve the same result with the simplest models.
There is still a rumor floating around that watch winders prevent a movement’s lubricants from “gumming up.”. However, we’ve been using synthetic lubricants for over half a century now. These modern materials no longer come with the gummy disadvantage found in their natural predecessors. That being said, if you want to limit wear on the movement, lengthen time between services, and you don’t have a problem with resetting the time and date, you don’t really need a winder.
The potential “pitfalls” listed above are just possibilities. No watch will suddenly break down from one day to the next because you didn’t follow each instruction to a “t.” It’s more important that you enjoy your automatic watch without any worries, perhaps keeping what you’ve learned in the back of your mind. That is the best way to appreciate this technological marvel. At the end of the day, appreciating watches is what the passion’s all about anyway, isn’t it?