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Manual Vs Automatic Watch: Which is Better?

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Manual Vs Automatic

Stepping into the world of mechanical watches is like entering a realm where time dances to the rhythm of gears and springs. 

In this arena, the age-old debate of manual movement versus automatic movement watches takes center stage. 

It’s a tale of two timekeepers: the manual watch movement, demanding the personal touch of its wearer for winding, and the automatic watch, a marvel of self-sufficiency, drawing energy from the wearer’s movements. This piece isn’t just about gears and springs; it’s about the stories these watches tell and the statement they make on the wrists of those who wear them.

Manual Vs. Automatic Watch

FeatureManual WatchAutomatic Watch
Winding MechanismRequires manual winding by turning the crown or using a winding key.Self-winding through the wearer’s natural wrist movements.
Power ReserveTypically 36-48 hours after winding.Generally 24-48 hours, can run indefinitely with regular wear.
Maintenance and DurabilityRegular winding needed; may be less durable due to more frequent winding.More durable as less frequent winding reduces wear and tear.
AccuracyCan be highly accurate, but may vary if not wound consistently.Generally more consistent in accuracy due to constant winding.
AvailabilityLess common, with fewer options in the market.Widely available with a variety of choices.
Aesthetic and DesignSleeker and slimmer designs without a rotor; often classic or vintage style.May be heavier and thicker due to the rotor; modern design.
User InteractionHigh, as it requires regular manual winding.Low, as it operates independently with minimal user intervention.
Price RangeVaries, but can include more affordable options.Often more expensive due to complex self-winding mechanism.

Manual and automatic watches are both powered by a mainspring, a tightly wound spring inside the watch that releases tension gradually, powering the watch’s timekeeping functions. Manual wind watches require regular winding by the crown, reflecting a traditional approach to watchmaking. In contrast, automatic watches have a rotor in their movement, which winds the mainspring through wrist motion, offering greater convenience.

The mainspring functions like a tape measure’s spring, with its tension transferred through gears and components. Automatic watches occasionally need manual winding but generally require less daily attention than manual ones.

The difference lies in their winding mechanisms: 

  • Manual watches provide a more hands-on experience, while automatic watches utilize motion for power, catering to ease of use. 
  • Style-wise, manual watches often have a classic design, whereas automatics tend to be modern and bulkier due to the rotor. 
  • Price-wise, manual watches are typically more affordable, while automatics, with their complex self-winding mechanisms, are pricier.

Manual Watch

Historically, manual watches have been at the forefront of horological development. The earliest models, such as those with the verge escapement mechanism, were as much about artistic expression as they were about timekeeping. These early watches weren’t the most accurate, but they represented a significant step in mechanical innovation. Over centuries, watchmaking has evolved, with each new design improving upon the last manually wound. These manual watches laid the groundwork for the future of watchmaking, including the development of automatic watches.

As highlighted in a New York Times article titled “The Return of Manual-Wind Watches,” one industry executive eloquently describes the act of winding a manual watch as “a moment of contemplation, a moment to take for yourself.” This sentiment captures the essence of what makes manual watches special in the modern age – they offer a pause, a deliberate slowing down in a fast-paced world.

  • At their core, these watches operate without a rotor, distinguishing them from their automatic counterparts. 
  • The magic happens when the wearer manually winds the watch, a process that involves turning the crown to build up energy in the mainspring. 
  • This direct engagement isn’t just functional; it’s a tangible connection to the watch’s inner workings.

The ritual of winding a manual watch daily might seem cumbersome to some, but for enthusiasts, it’s a meaningful interaction. It’s more than just keeping the watch running; it’s about engaging with a piece of engineering history. This tactile relationship with their watch is something cherished by many collectors and watch lovers.

Pros and Cons of Manual Watch 


  • Visible Mechanics: Hand-wound watches often feature a transparent case back, offering a fascinating view of the intricate mechanics at work, ideal for those who appreciate the fine art of watchmaking.
  • Slimmer Design: Lacking the weighted rotor found in automatic watches, manual watches can be made thinner and lighter, providing a more comfortable and elegant wear on the wrist.
  • Enhanced Connection: The act of winding a manual watch creates a unique, personal connection between the watch and its wearer, turning the daily winding ritual into a moment of appreciation for the craftsmanship.
  • Simpler Mechanism: With fewer moving parts compared to automatic watches, manual watches are often more straightforward in their design, which can lead to fewer mechanical complications.
  • Heritage Appeal: Manual watches carry a sense of tradition and history, appealing to those who value the original form of mechanical timekeeping and the nostalgia associated with it.


  • Winding Can Be Tedious: For those not interested in the mechanics, the daily necessity of winding the watch can become a monotonous chore.
  • Wear on Crown Seal: Frequent winding can accelerate wear on the crown seal, potentially leading to more frequent maintenance needs compared to automatic watches.
  • Risk of Over-Winding: There’s always a risk of over-winding with manual watches, which can damage the mainspring and other delicate internal components.
  • Regular Attention Needed: Unlike automatic watches that wind themselves with wrist movement, manual watches require constant attention to keep them running, which might not be ideal for those with a busy lifestyle.
  • Limited Power Reserve: Manual watches typically have a shorter power reserve compared to automatic watches, meaning they will stop sooner if not wound regularly, which can be inconvenient for infrequent wearers.

Who’s the Ideal Match for a Manual Wind Watch?

Manual wind watches are ideal for those who value tradition in watchmaking and enjoy the daily ritual of winding their watch. This type of watch appeals to enthusiasts who appreciate its craftsmanship and historical significance, offering a tactile and intimate connection with the timepiece.

Practically, these watches require a commitment to daily winding for consistent timekeeping and longevity. This routine, while essential, is often a source of enjoyment for aficionados. However, it may not suit those who prefer low-maintenance, ‘set-and-forget’ watches.

This type of watch resonates with individuals like Prince Charles, reflecting a preference for meticulous detail and mechanical artistry. It’s best for those who cherish hands-on interaction with their timepieces and the historical significance behind them.

5 Best Manual Watch 

1. F.P. Journe Chronomètre Bleu

F.P. Journe Chronomètre Bleu

Market Price

  • Retail Price: N/A
  • Pre-Owned Price: SGD $131,331

Notable for its 39mm tantalum case, a durable metal often used in high-end applications. The watch exudes a classic and timeless look, with a bold, mirror-like blue dial and vintage-inspired hands and indices.

2. Patek Philippe Ref. 5204G

Patek Philippe 5204G-001

Market Price

  • Retail Price: N/A
  • Pre-Owned Price: SGD $348,000

Part of the Grand Complications collection, this watch is highly complex and includes features like a split-seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar with day/night indications, and moonphase. Fashioned from white gold with a 40mm case, it has an olive green sunburst dial that manages to display a wealth of information in a balanced manner.

3. Omega Speedmaster Professional Ref. 310.

Omega Speedmaster 310.

Market Price

  • Retail Price: SGD $10,700
  • Pre-Owned Price: SGD $8,145

A favorite among watch collectors and enthusiasts, the Speedmaster Professional is notable for its historical significance and robustness. It features a METAS-certified calibre 3861 movement with a co-axial escapement and a 50-hour power reserve. 

4. Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked Ref. 26600OR

Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 Tourbillon Openworked Ref. 26600OR

Market Price

  • Retail Price: N/A
  • Pre-Owned Price: SGD $211,330

This watch from Audemars Piguet’s Code 11.59 collection showcases the brand’s legacy of innovation and style. It features a precise tourbillon, chronograph mechanism, and manual winding movement, making it a symbol of horological excellence. 

5. Lange & Sohne Lange 191.032

Lange & Sohne Lange 191.032

Market Price

  • Retail Price: SGD $59,600
  • Pre-Owned Price: SGD $42,339

This luxury timepiece from A. Lange & Sohne features an 18k rose gold case and an alligator leather strap. The watch has a silvered grey dial with rose gold hands and markers, two subdials, and a date display. 

Automatic Watch

The story of the automatic watch is a journey through time itself. Invented by Abraham-Louis Perrelet in 1770, it wasn’t until the 20th century that this technology took the watch world by storm. Today, top-tier luxury brands like Rolex and Tag Heuer, along with accessible brands like Seiko and Citizen, all offer stunning automatic models, blending prestige with accessibility.

These self-winding marvels are powered by the everyday movements of your body. Imagine this: as you move throughout the day, the rotor inside the watch is also in motion, winding the mainspring automatically. It’s a seamless fusion of wearer’s wrist motion and timekeeping, making automatic watches a favorite for those who appreciate a blend of ease and mechanical ingenuity.

  • But remember, these mechanical beauties do need a bit of TLC.
  • Factors like temperature and magnetism can affect their accuracy, so a little care goes a long way. 
  • And don’t forget about regular servicing – every 3-5 years to keep them ticking accurately for generations to come. It’s not just a watch; it’s a legacy on your wrist.

However, it’s worth noting that if an automatic watch isn’t worn regularly, it may take a little nap. The rotor relies on motion to generate energy, so without it, the watch will eventually wind down. This unique feature adds an interesting dimension to the relationship between the watch and its wearer – it’s almost as if the watch comes to life with your every move.

Pros and Cons


  • Convenience: Automatic watches wind themselves using the wearer’s natural wrist movements, eliminating the need for manual winding.
  • Craftsmanship: These watches showcase intricate mechanical craftsmanship, appealing to those who appreciate the art of watchmaking.
  • Longevity: With proper maintenance, automatic watches can last for generations, making them a valuable heirloom.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: Many automatic watches feature sophisticated designs, with some having a transparent back to view the mechanics, appealing to those who value style and functionality.
  • Eco-Friendly: Since they don’t require batteries, automatic watches are a more environmentally friendly option compared to quartz watches.


  • Maintenance: Automatic watches require regular servicing to ensure their longevity and accuracy, which can be costly.
  • Sensitivity to Activity: If not worn regularly, they can stop, necessitating manual winding or a watch winder to keep them running.
  • Accuracy Variability: Factors like temperature, magnetism, and activity level can affect their accuracy.
  • Price: Generally, automatic watches are more expensive than manual and quartz watches due to their complex mechanism.
  • Weight and Size: The inclusion of a rotor mechanism often makes automatic watches heavier and thicker, which might not be comfortable or appealing to all wearers.

Who’s the Ideal Match for an Automatic Watch?

Manual watches, while requiring daily winding, offer a more tactile and engaging experience. They tend to be lighter and less bulky due to the absence of a rotor. However, like automatics, they also require regular maintenance and can be sensitive to external factors. Each type of watch has its unique set of advantages and drawbacks, catering to different preferences and lifestyles.

Automatic watches are best for active, busy individuals who appreciate luxury and convenience. They’re ideal for business professionals and those with dynamic lifestyles, like celebrities and sports figures. The self-winding mechanism suits those always in motion, blending advanced technology with elegance. High-profile personalities, exemplifying this blend, often choose luxury brands like Tag Heuer and Rolex. For a businessperson or anyone valuing sophistication without manual upkeep, an automatic watch is an excellent choice.

5 Best Automatic Watch

1. Rolex Submariner Ref. 116610LN

rolex submariner Date 116610LN

Market Price

  • Retail Price: SGD $11,900
  • Pre-Owned Price: SGD $13,900

A classic among dive watches, known for its robustness, precision, and iconic design. Features a unidirectional rotatable bezel, a 40mm case, and is water-resistant up to 300 meters.

2. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Ref. 15400ST

audemars piguet royal oak ref. 15400st

Market Price

  • Retail Price: SGD $25,900
  • Pre-Owned Price: SGD $45,412

Recognized for its unique octagonal bezel and “Tapisserie” patterned dial. This model has a 41mm stainless steel case and a self-winding manufacture caliber 3120.

3. Longines Master Collection Ref. L2.673.4.78.3

Longines L2.673.4.78.3

Market Price

  • Retail Price: SGD $4,600
  • Pre-Owned Price: SGD $2,630

Known for its elegance and precision, this watch features a complete calendar, moon phase, and a 40mm stainless steel case. It is powered by a self-winding mechanical movement.

4. Omega Seamaster Diver 300M Ref.

Omega Seamaster Diver 300M Ref.

Market Price

  • Retail Price: SGD $7,900
  • Pre-Owned Price: SGD $6,900

A favorite among divers and watch enthusiasts, known for its water resistance, helium-escape valve, and a ceramic bezel. It has a 42mm case and is powered by Omega’s Co-Axial Master Chronometer Calibre 8800.

5. TAG Heuer Carrera Ref. CBG2A91.FT6173

tag heuer carrera ref. CBG2A91.FT6173

Market Price

  • Retail Price: SGD $11,076.71
  • Pre-Owned Price: SGD $7,361

A sports watch with a rich history, known for its chronograph functions and elegant design. Features a 45mm case, skeletonized dial, and is powered by the HEUER 02T self-winding movement.


1. Is manual better than automatic watch?

Whether a manual watch is better than an automatic one largely depends on personal preference. Manual watches require daily winding and offer a traditional, tactile experience, appealing to watch enthusiasts who enjoy the ritual. Automatic watches, on the other hand, wind themselves as you move, offering convenience and ease of use. Both have their unique appeals.

2. Which is better, automatic or mechanical watches?

This question is a bit of a misnomer, as both automatic and manual watches fall under the category of mechanical watches. The difference lies in the winding mechanism. Automatic (self-winding) watches are a type of mechanical watch, as are manual (hand-winding) watches. The choice between them depends on what you value more: the convenience of automatic winding or the hands-on interaction of a manual watch.

3. What are disadvantages of automatic watches?

Disadvantages of automatic watches include their typically higher cost due to complex mechanisms. They can also be thicker and heavier due to the rotor, which might not appeal to those preferring a sleeker watch. Additionally, if not worn regularly, they may need manual winding or a watch winder to keep time accurately.

4. Is a Rolex manual or automatic?

Rolex is renowned for its automatic watches. They specialize in high-quality, luxury automatic (self-winding) timepieces that are known for their precision and durability. While Rolex has produced manual watches in the past, their current lineup is predominantly automatic.

Final Word

Choosing between manual and automatic watches ultimately hinges on personal preference and lifestyle needs. While manual watches exude traditional elegance and mechanical fascination, automatic watches offer convenience and innovative engineering.

Key Takeaways

  • Manual watches often edge out with their classic, refined aesthetics, appealing to those who cherish traditional watchmaking artistry.
  • Automatic watches have the advantage in movement technology, providing ease of use and advanced self-winding mechanisms suitable for active lifestyles.
  • It’s a close call, but automatic watches may edge out overall for their blend of modern convenience and sophisticated design.

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