In South Africa automatic watches were very popular between 1993 and 1995, S.A. imports of Swiss automatics jumped 95%. Just what are automatics? How do they work? How accurate are they? How often should they be serviced? For answers to these and other questions, read on…

An automatic watch is a mechanical watch, the mainspring of which is wound as a result of the wearers’ arm motion.

No. Hand-wound is a mechanical watch that the wearer winds by turning the crown by hand.

Because instead of the wearer having to wind the watch to generate power, the watch winds itself “automatically” when worn.

Nothing. The terms are synonymous. Self-wind means that the watch winds itself.

Correct. Rolex refers to its automatic watches as “perpetual.” Automatic. Self-winding and perpetual l mean the same: the watch winds itself. (A perpetual Calendar, however, is something else.)

The movement of the wrist and the body cause 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 fourth in a circular motion at the slightest motion of the wrist. The rotor’s movement winds the mainspring, a flat coiled spring that powers mechanical watches.

The modern rotor system was developed and patented by Rolex and introduced into the Oyster line as the Oyster Perpetual in 1931. Emile Borer, Rolex’s technical chief at the time, is credited with inventing the modern rotor system. The person who first developed a rotor, however, was Abraham-Louis Perrelet(1729-1826), one of Switzerland’s greatest watchmakers. Perrelet is considered the father of the automatic watch. He introduced the concept in 1770 and was way ahead of his time since the invention was better suited to wristwatches. Perrelet lived in the pocket watch era and, because the watches did not move much in pockets, the rotor system did not perform so well. The rotor did not move around enough to wind the mainspring sufficiently. Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) improved “self-winding watches”, he called them “perpetuelles”(like source of Rolex’s term). Other watchmaking greats of the 19th century advanced the concept. But it was not until wristwatches became popular after World War 1 and Rolex perfected its system that automatics came into their own.

Like all mechanical watches, automatics lost favour during the Quartz Watch Revolution of the 1970’s. Electronic watches were the rage then and were far more accurate than mechanicals. In the mid-1980’s, however, as quartz watch production soared to hundreds of millions of pieces each year, some people, mostly watch collectors, began to appreciate the value of a fine mechanical watch. In the past 10 years, fine mechanical watches have staged a comeback on the world markets. Automatics have rebounded as part of the mechanical counter-revolution.

Very popular between 1993 and 1995, South Africa imports of Swiss luxury mechanical watches increased by 95% in units and 87% in value.

Many people appreciate the craft involved in making a mechanical automatic movement. They like the fact that this technology is hundreds of years old, involves many moving parts, and yet keeps very accurate time. (Many automatics come with glass backs, which enable the wearer to view the action of the rotor and, other moving parts.) They appreciate the human element involved in an automatic watch, that the movement is assembled by hand. Others like the fact that automatics run on so-called” clean,” natural energy-wrist power- and that there are no pollution batteries to dispose of.

Mechanical. Technology, by definition, is inferior to the extreme accuracy or an electronic watch. Automatics are accurate enough for normal daily timekeeping. A normal automatic is accurate to within +30/ -5 seconds a day, depending on the quality of the movement.

They can be, but not necessarily. Automatics are availeble in every price range, starting with Swatch automatics.

A person’s normal arm and wrist motion will keep an automatic watch properly wound. People who are inactive- the elderly or patients confined to beds-may need to wind their watch to keep it powered.

Absolutely. Winding the watch will not hurt it at all. If you have not worn an automatic for a while, it is best to wind the stopped watch before putting it on. Ten to 15 turns of the crown is usually enough to start the mainspring winding. But, be aware that the barrel in an automatic movement does not have a hook so that you could feel any resistance when he mainspring is fully wound. Do not worry; you cannot over wind a automatic watch.

A normal, fully wound automatic watch will keep running from 30- 48 hours.

Most companies recommend the watch be checked and reduplicated every three to five years. If the wearer regularly subjects a water-resistant automatic to water, the seals should be checked annually.