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What is an automatic watch movement?

If you are someone new to the world of watches, then learning about the different types of watch movements can at first seem a little daunting. The easiest way to remember it is to remind yourself that there are two key types of watch movements: quartz and mechanical. Within this, there are then two sub-types of mechanical movements: automatic and manual winding.

Unlike a quartz movement which utilises a battery to power the watch, a mechanical movement is powered by a combination of intricate components including something called a mainspring. The mainspring must be wound up before the movement will work. The spring stores and transfers the energy through a series of gear components including a balance wheel and an escapement, regulating a release of energy to power the watch’s functions.

The two different types of mechanical movements automatic and manual winding – are named after how the mainspring is wound in each.  As the name suggests, a manual winding movement must be physically wound by turning the crown. As you turn the crown, the mainspring is charged up to store energy and then unwinds at a limited speed to power the functions on the dial.

In an automatic movement, there is no need to manually turn the crown at all. Instead, the watch is wound automatically through the movement of your wrist. Every time you move, energy is created by the oscillating rotor which spins around and winds the mainspring which then powers the watch’s functions.

Different components used within an automatic movement:

  • Crown: This is the small knob usually located on the right-hand side of the watch. This can be used to set the time as well as winding up the movement
  • Rotor: Sometimes seen through an exhibition case back, the rotor is a semi-circle shaped weight which swings around as your move your wrist. The rotor, like the crown, is used to wind the movement in an automatic watch.
  • Mainspring: This is one of the most important components in an automatic movement and is the main source of power. When the watch is being wound, kinetic energy is transferred to the mainspring which stores the energy as it gets tighter and tighter.
  • Gear Train: This component sends the energy stored within the mainspring to the escapement through a series of gears.
  • Escapement: Once the gear train has sent the energy through to the escapement, the energy is then regulated and released in equal segments.
  • Balance Wheel: As the energy is released regularly into the balance wheel, it begins to turn in a circular motion between five or ten times a second. The faster a balance wheel oscillates, the faster the watch will run.
  • Jewels: These are synthetic rubies and sapphire found within the movement which reduce friction between each component. The more jewels a movement has, the higher grade the watch is considered.

There are loads of benefits to buying an automatic watch. Since a mechanical movement is not powered by a battery, you do not have to worry about changing the battery every few years. Instead, you just have to keep the watch wound by turning the crown or wearing it regularly on your wrist. A well-built mechanical watch will also last a lifetime with proper care

Automatic watches are also considered to be highly accurate. Some mechanical movements are COSC certified or given the status of ‘chronometer’ which means that the movement has been tested over 15 days against the rules of the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute. These tests measure the accuracy of the watch and ensure the movement remains within +6 and -4 seconds per day.

Many watch collectors choose to only wear automatic watches because of the incredible craftsmanship then goes into them. When you look at the many intricate components within a mechanical movement, it difficult to comprehend how they are all put together to work so effortlessly. Some mechanical watches have glass case backs or skeletonised dials too which allow you to witness the beauty of the mechanical movement through the watch’s design.

At C W Sellors, we have a huge range of automatic watches to discover. Feel free to get in touch with our helpful team of watch specialists on 01335 216004 or at sales@cwsellors.com with any questions about our range of luxury automatic watches.