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What is a mechanical watch?

Mechanical watches keep time using an intricate system of springs, gears, and cogs, which are powered by a winding spring that stores and slowly releases the energy needed to power the watch. This type of movement does not use a battery or other electrical power source, which means mechanical watches will always have a traditional dial, with a set of hands, rather than a digital display. Manual and automatic watches are classed as mechanical.

Quartz watches are powered by a battery, meaning they are not classed as mechanical watches. They tend to be constructed more simply than mechanical watches, as the battery removes the need for complex clockwork mechanisms. Kinetic watches contain a mechanical movement, but they also use a battery, making them something of a hybrid between the two types.

Because quartz and kinetic watches are electrically powered, they may have a digital display, unlike a mechanical watch, which only ever has a dial. A quartz or kinetic watch might also have electrically powered special features, like lighting or an alarm.

What is a manual watch?

A manual watch — sometimes called a winding watch — is a timepiece that uses a mechanical movement and must be regularly wound by hand in order to keep accurate time. The frequency of this varies between different designs, but most manual watches will require daily winding.

How do manual watches work?

A manual watch is composed of moving parts which are wound up by hand. The movement in a mechanical watch is extremely intricate, comprising 50–300 separate parts. The central component is the mainspring, which is wound up manually and then gradually unwinds, providing the energy needed to power the rest of the movement.

Are manual watches good?

Manual watches are often seen as collectable luxury items, valued for the exquisite craftsmanship behind each design. Unlike automatic watches, they do not need to be worn regularly in order to wind up, meaning they can be left in storage or only worn occasionally. They do require daily winding, which means they may not be for everyone, especially if you are likely to forget to wind up your watch. However, many mechanical watch owners enjoy the opportunity to interact with their timepiece each day, making the daily winding process a draw for many people.

How often the watch requires winding depends on the brand and the individual design of the watch but, for most, it tends to be at least once a day. The watch is wound using the crown at the edge of the watch face, typically taking between 20 and 30 turns to fully wind up the mechanism.

What is an automatic watch?

An automatic watch has a self-winding movement that is powered by the motions of the wearer during use. This means, while it is classed as a mechanical watch, it does not require manual winding. The majority of mechanical watches produced today have automatic movements.

How do automatic watches work?

In an automatic watch, the movement is powered by a mainspring, which slowly releases the energy needed to power the watch as it unwinds. The mainspring is wound up by a specially created set of wheels and a rotor weight. This is moved by the natural motion of the wearer’s wrist during use, spinning the rotor weight and winding up the mainspring. This means that, as long as the watch is worn most days, it will not need to be wound up manually, nor does it require an electrical power source.

Are automatic watches good?

As the mechanism is fully automated, an automatic watch does not require an electrical power source to function, meaning it does not need batteries. It also does not need regular winding, unlike a manual watch. However, an automatic watch will need to be worn almost every day in order to keep accurate time. If the watch is to be left in storage, it should be kept on a watch winder, which will keep the movement ticking.

The component parts of an automatic watch tend to be very high quality, as hard-wearing parts are needed in order to keep the internal mechanisms running smoothly. For instance, synthetic rubies are often used as bearings, because they can withstand the high temperatures caused by friction, preventing the internal mechanisms from wearing down. The quality of the component parts means that automatic watches are usually built to last, and can even function for generations if properly cared for and serviced.

Much like their manual counterparts, the meticulous craftsmanship of an automatic is a major draw for buyers. The labour-intensive crafting process means that automatic watches tend to be more expensive than electrical designs, and so are usually considered luxury items, many of which will be kept for a lifetime and may even become family heirlooms. If you’re looking for a timepiece in a traditional mechanical style, but don’t want to have to wind it up daily, then browse our collection of preowned automatic watches .

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