Watches 101: Mechanical vs. Automatic

Many watch enthusiasts have one very basic question “what is the difference between mechanical and automatic watches?” or simply put “mechanical vs. automatic watches?” This question holds a lot of importance because it is a deciding factor in the watch selection process.

Mechanical movements occur in two types: hand wound and self-wound. Automatic watches are categorized under mechanical self-wound movements. Below is a simple definition of both of these movements:

Movements: Mechanical (hand-wound) Movements vs. Mechanical (Automatic /self-wound)

Mechanical hand-wound movement is fueled by a winding spring which has to be manually wound. When the energy of the spring releases, it allows the gears in the watch to turn, thereby moving its hands. The winding can also be accomplished by certain add-on watch winders.

Whereas, in automatic movement, a centrally mounted rotor is activated via the person’s wrist motion. This motion allows the main spring to keep winding thereby providing energy to the timepiece; hence automatic watches don’t need a cell to function. Furthermore, such watches do not need to get wound manually, unless any such watch hasn’t been worn for a long time.

Comparison of Watches: Mechanical vs. Automatic

Appearance

In terms of appearance, mechanical watches are very similar to their automatic counterparts. Although, many mechanical timepieces consist of see-through glass enclosures that show the watch’s complex inner mechanisms, this includes the inner rocking escapement, springs and gears. For example the Grady Starless is a famous mechanical watch that lets viewers have a peek at its inner mechanisms.
Comparing this to automatic watches, only the main spring is usually on display (example Lige Zodiac) but there are some exceptions to this for example, IK Colouring Triumph.

Dependability

In terms of dependability, both mechanical and automatic watches are at-par with each other. Both provide water resistant and scratch resistant capabilities.

Accuracy

In terms of showing accurate time, automatic watches often lag behind. This is due to the fact that they greatly rely on wrist movements of the person wearing the watch. Therefore, it is right to state that the automatic watches better cater the needs of the casual watch wearers and generally not for the occasional wearers.

In conclusion, both mechanical and automatic watches have their own relative strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, none can be categorized above the other. Furthermore, this is evident from the fact that both categories have their own prestigious history of offering some top-quality timepieces that have amazed watch enthusiasts throughout the world.