Automatic Watch Definition: How, Who, Why?

September 4th, 2011 | 15 Comments

Looking for a great watch and don’t know what kind to get? Automatic watches are very popular, unique, and stylish. Not sure what exactly an automatic watch is? Just like the name implies, an automatic watch is great and easy, because the watch “automatically” winds itself when worn. The mainspring in an automatic watch ( i.e. a self-winding watch) is wound as a result of the watch wearer’s arm motion.

Want to learn more?This article will tell you:

  • How does an automatic watch work?
  • Who invented the automatic watch?
  • Why you should buy an automatic watch?

HOW exactly do they work?

A watch that winds itself by your wrist’s motion? It may sound a little confusing.

The movement of your wrist and body causes the rotor (a metal weight attached to a winding mechanism) to pivot freely on its staff in the center of the movement.

The rotor rotates back and forth in a circular motion at the slightest action of your wrist. The rotor’s movement then winds the mainspring.

A mainspring is a flat coiled spring that provides power to automatic watches.


In order to provide a comparison, check out a hand-wound watch. These type of watches take more effort because the wearer must wind the watch by turning the crown.

WHO invented them?

The rotor system seen in automatic watches today was both developed and patented by Rolex. It was first introduced into the Oyster line as early as 1931. Rolex’s technical chief at this time, Emile Borer is credited with inventing the modern rotor system.


However, while Borer is credited with today’s technology in the automatic watch, the first person to develop a rotor was Abraham-Louis Perrelet (1729-1826). Perrelet was one of Switzerland’s greatest watchmakers and even commonly referred to as the “father of the automatic watch.” He first introduced his idea in 1770, but it did not perform too well because pocket watches (the popular watch during this time) did not move much while in people’s pockets. In other words, this initial rotor system did not move around enough to wind the mainspring adequately.

Other famous watchmakers are attributed with working on and improving this initial rotor system as well. In fact, many great watchmakers in the 19th century enhanced the rotor system. However, it was not until after World War I that Rolex made significant improvements and automatic watches truly became a popular watch style.

WHY should I buy one?

Although they temporarily fell out of style during the 1970s, automatic watches have become increasingly popular since the mid-1980s, and today are more popular than ever. In the past 10 years, fine mechanical watches have staged a comeback on world markets. Automatics have rebounded as part of the mechanical counter-revolution.

So why buy one? Why are they all the rage?

There is just something so unique about an automatic watch. The time and skill involved in making a watch like this is very much appreciated, especially by watch collectors.

The technology of an automatic watch is hundreds of years old. It involves a myriad of parts, yet it still keeps accurate time. There is a human element involved in these types of watches, quite unlike any other. Indeed, the movement of the watch is assembled by hand.

Another great feature and reason to purchase an automatic watch is because of its clean and natural ability. Automatics run on “clean” energy; there are no batteries needed—just simple wrist power.

For a classic and stylish look, consider the Classic Collection of automatic watches by Orient. While the most up-to-date technology is used in its making, the design is a more classic style. This style of an automatic watch is suited for numerous occasions, formal or casual.

  1. 15 Comments | Tell us what you think!

  2. By Frank In Miami on Sep 22, 2009

    Amanda, great article, thanks for sharing.

  3. By Halberth Monteza on Nov 21, 2009

    This page gives a basic information every watch lover should know. The technology first used by Perrelet is almost unchanged and being used today by watchmakers all over the world. Just imagine, the legacy of time right on your own wrist!
    Thanks for sharing this article, it makes my appreciate the beauty of low technology still being applied in this modern world!

  4. By Hla Htay Oo on Nov 21, 2009

    Thank you Amanda, very good article, thanks for sharing the history and development of automatic watch and also the reasonable about, to get one.

  5. By Ed Nawotka on Nov 28, 2009

    Too true.

  6. By Dave H on Nov 28, 2009

    Nice work Amanda, good info.
    I always liked automatic watches, and fascinated by them.A time honored tradition thats some what being lost by technological advances. Its so hard to find a real old school, skilled watchmaker these days.
    Timepieces, are a work of art. ;)
    Cheers,
    Dave.

  7. By Watch Winders on Mar 18, 2011

    Thank you for the great article Amanda. I now know a little of automatic watches. It is to a point. Timepieces are a work of art = little bit more expensive for that protect your investment. :)

  8. By Rhonda Endriss on Sep 5, 2011

    What a cool idea, never having to wind your watch!! I know they have been around for a while but I never really gave it much thought til now. I would love to win an automatic watch. Very interesting article.

  9. By Danny Graves on Sep 29, 2011

    Great article, i’m fascinated by the automatic watches,since I was a little boy, I will go to the best watch stores and see the best of the best.I have a modest collection, from different countries it includes about 12 Orient,some Seiko and a few Swiss. Never care for the quartz or battery operated watches. To me the only real watch is the automatic.
    Dan.

  10. By Prakash on Jan 7, 2012

    Thanks for sharing the information. I have recently been gifted an automatic watch and is still boxed. Two or three times I took it out and was wandering why it is not working? Excellent article..

  11. By rizvi humayun on Aug 29, 2012

    What Amazes me is that battery operated watches have failed to UnInvent Automatic watches .
    Thank you Perrelet and Borer .
    There is no way to lose out with an Automatic watch .

  12. By atul dhamdhere on Sep 17, 2012

    amezing look and style.

  13. By Karen on Oct 23, 2012

    Last Saturday i was so sad because my watch, after being with the watchmaker for 3 weeks, didnt walk..I went one more time with him and he told me that my watch was AUTOMATIC…
    Man!!…This article is so amazing, i really love to read all this information…I was worried about my automatic watch, cause its incredible how the people can wear something without knowing exactly the origins…Thank you for share!

  14. By RS Hiremath on Apr 25, 2013

    Automatic watches are a big joy to own ! I own a Mont Blanc and a Omega Constellation and they are truly master pieces ! Your article threw more light unto this !

  15. By CometHunter on May 30, 2013

    Why buy an automatic watch?
    I would like to say that while every Tom,Dick,and Harry knows quartz gives superior accuracy, and accuracy is not the main reason we buy mechanical watches, automatics are in theory more accurate than manually wound watches. Your constant activity while wearing an auto keeps the rotor moving which keeps the mainspring fully wound. A fully wound mainspring always exerts maximum power to the gear train of the movement and this is what makes the auto movement inherently more accurate.

  16. By Albert on Mar 3, 2014

    Automatic technology is a thing of the past. Its popularity is all driven by marketing. If you think logically, why should you pay such a high price for such an old technology when a quartz watch will do so much better and more.

    If I follow some of the irrational logics for auto watches, we all should drive model T today. Only fools will buy auto watches.

15 comments | Tell us what you think!