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Mechanical vs. Automatic Watch: Movement Types Explained

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mechanical vs automatic watch

When choosing a timepiece, one of the critical decisions is whether to go for a mechanical or an automatic watch. Both options share some similarities but have a few unique features that must be considered before deciding. 

While any watch with a mechanical or automatic movement can tell accurate time, how they work within the watch case reveals the special intricacies many watch enthusiasts love. 

Yet why exactly is it important to know the difference between mechanical and automatic watches? This guide will cover their essence, time precision, function, durability, and the top recommendations for mechanical and automatic watches. 

What Is a Mechanical Watch?

Mechanical watches originated in the 15th century as an evolution from spring-driven clocks. Initially large and cumbersome, they gradually evolved into more compact, wearable forms. 

Key advancements over time transformed these timepieces into highly accurate, sophisticated items, powered by a complex mechanism involving a manually wound mainspring, gears, a balance wheel, and an escapement. When wound, the mainspring releases energy gradually through the gears, regulated by the escapement and balance wheel, to move the watch hands steadily. 

Although less precise than quartz watches, often gaining or losing a few seconds per day, their accuracy is influenced by temperature, gravity, and craftsmanship. Also, manually-wound watches require regular winding and maintenance for optimal performance. 

Renowned for their intricate design and craftsmanship, these watches can last generations, making them more than mere timekeepers but also symbols of heritage and artistry.


  • Craftsmanship: Mechanical watches feature numerous tiny components, such as the mainspring, crown, escapement, and oscillator, skillfully hand-assembled by expert watchmakers.
  • Longevity: A mechanical watch can be passed down through generations with regular maintenance. They don’t rely on batteries, so you don’t have to worry about replacing them.
  • Smooth movement: The second hand on a mechanical watch moves smoothly, displaying a subtle, elegant sweep, as opposed to the ticking motion of quartz watches.


  • Accuracy: Watches with a mechanical movement are generally less accurate than their quartz counterparts. They can gain or lose a few seconds a day due to environmental influences and the variability of their manual assembly. This can add up over time if not regularly adjusted. 
  • Maintenance: Mechanical watches require regular cleaning, lubrication, and servicing by a professional watchmaker. This can be expensive and time-consuming.
  • Price: Due to their intricate craftsmanship and the labor required to produce mechanical timepieces, they often carry a higher price tag than quartz or automatic watches.

What Is an Automatic Watch?

Automatic watches, patented in 1780, marked a significant advancement in horology. The invention of the self-winding mechanism by Abraham-Louis Perrelet revolutionized watchmaking by harnessing the wearer’s motion to power the watch. This innovation, built upon the existing mechanical watch technology, offered a new level of convenience and efficiency. 

As technology evolved and improved through the 19th and 20th centuries, automatic watches became a staple in the world of luxury timepieces, combining the elegance of traditional watchmaking with the practicality of modern ingenuity.

In terms of time precision, automatic watches are similar to mechanical ones, generally less accurate than quartz watch movements, with slight variations due to the wearer’s activity level. 

Functionally, they offer the standard timekeeping features and sometimes additional complications like date displays or chronographs. As for their durability, these watches are robust but require regular maintenance and servicing to ensure their longevity, just like their manual mechanical counterparts.


  • Self-Winding: Harnesses the wearer’s natural wrist movement to wind itself, eliminating the need for daily manual winding.
  • Convenience: Ideal for daily wear as they stay wound and operational when worn regularly.
  • Craftsmanship and Aesthetics: Often features highly intricate and visually appealing designs, showcasing traditional watchmaking artistry.


  • Maintenance Requirements: Needs regular servicing to ensure optimal performance and longevity.
  • Sensitivity to Activity: Performance can be affected by the wearer’s level of physical activity; it may require manual winding if not worn regularly.
  • Vulnerability to External Factors: Sensitive to extreme temperatures, shocks, and magnetic fields, which can affect their functioning.
mechanical vs automatic movement

Side-by-Side Comparison: Mechanical vs. Automatic Watch

In this section, we will take a closer look at the differences between automatic and mechanical watches by comparing their history, function & accuracy, watch’s movement & power, and practical considerations.

FeaturesMechanical WatchAutomatic Watch
HistoryOriginated after the 15th century.Developed and patented in 1780 as an upgrade to the mechanical watch design.
Function & AccuracyMechanical watches require regular winding to function and can lose time over the years.Automatic watches maintain accuracy as long as worn or stored in a watch winder.
Movement & PowerPowered by a wound spring, the mechanical watch movement relies on gears and an escapement.A rotor powers the watch by harnessing energy from the natural motion of your wrist.
Practical ConsiderationsNeeds regular winding and may require more maintenance than an automatic watch.Requires less regular intervention, but it may still need occasional winding if not worn for an extended period.

In all sense, mechanical watches require manual winding, done via the crown, to power the mainspring. Also, their movement is typically governed by an escapement mechanism involving a balance wheel and hairspring. On the other hand, automatic watches utilize a rotor that moves along with the wearer’s movements, which automatically winds the mainspring. 

This added rotor results in greater complexity and often a slightly heavier and thicker design in watches. Both types of watches can achieve similar levels of precision, but the self-winding movement in automatic watches offers more consistent timekeeping and convenience, as it doesn’t require daily manual winding. 

Yet, while sounding more convenient, automatic watches are not inherently “better” than manual mechanical ones; it’s a matter of personal preference and lifestyle. Both types, if well-maintained, can last for decades and often become family heirlooms. 

Top 5 Picks for Mechanical Watch

1. Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch 311.

Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Ref. 311.

The Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch is a legendary timepiece with a rich history in space exploration. Featuring a steel case, black dial, and tachymeter bezel, this watch is powered by the durable and reliable Omega 1861 hand-wound movement. 

2. Patek Philippe Calatrava 5196R-001

Patek Philippe Calatrava 5196R-001

The Patek Philippe Calatrava 5196R-001 is a classic dress watch for those who value sophistication and craftsmanship. It features a beautiful 18K rose gold case with a clean, minimalist white dial and a small seconds sub-dial. Powered by Patek Philippe’s caliber 215 PS hand-wound movement, this watch offers exceptional precision and accuracy.

3. Vacheron Constantin Patrimony 81180/000G-9117

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony 81180-000G-9117

For lovers of sleek, understated design, the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony 81180/000G-9117 is an excellent addition to your collection. This ultra-thin watch features a white gold case and a simple white dial. Driven by the manual-winding caliber 1400, this timeless watch is practical and luxurious.

4. Panerai Radiomir 8 Days PAM 00610

Panerai Radiomir 8 Days PAM 00610

Bold and distinctive, the Panerai Radiomir 8 Days PAM 00610 is a standout choice for those who value functionality and aesthetics. With a 45mm stainless steel case, cushion-shape design, and black dial, this watch features Panerai’s P.5000 hand-wound movement with an impressive 192-hour power reserve.

5. A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 109.021

Lange & Söhne Lange 1 109.021

Lastly, the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 109.021 is a true masterpiece of design and engineering. Featuring an asymmetrical dial with off-center time display and date indicator, this unique watch is powered by the caliber L121.1 manual wind movement. With its 18K yellow gold case and beautiful champagne dial, this watch is a conversation starter for any serious watch connoisseur.

Top 5 Picks for Automatic Watch

1. Rolex GMT-Master II 126710BLRO

Rolex Pepsi 126710BLRO

The Rolex Pepsi GMT-Master II is a classic choice for globetrotting enthusiasts and collectors. It features a highly accurate GMT function, which allows you to keep track of two time zones simultaneously. The striking blue and red “Pepsi” bezel adds to its appeal, and the durable stainless steel construction ensures it will last for years.

2. Patek Philippe Calatrava 5524G-001

Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref No. 5524G-001

Another exceptional model worth considering is the Patek Philippe Calatrava 5524G-001. This timepiece is elegant in design and embodies the essence of the Calatrava collection. Along with its precise automatic movement, it features a dual-time function and a modern, oversized case that catches the eye.

3. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding 15450ST.OO.1256ST.03

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding 15450ST.OO.1256ST.03

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding offers a timeless, iconic design. Known for the octagonal bezel and “Grande Tapisserie” dial, these timepieces have been a staple in watchmaking. The durable stainless steel case, integrated bracelet, and automatic movement make this watch an ideal choice for those who like their watches different in aesthetics.

4. Omega Globemaster Constellation Globemaster

Omega Constellation Globemaster

If you’re a fan of classic design with a modern twist, the Omega Globemaster is worth your attention. The pie-pan-styled dial and fluted bezel create a distinct look. The watch is equipped with an anti-magnetic Master Chronometer movement for extraordinary performance.

5. Richard Mille RM07-01

Richard Mille RM07-01

Finally, the Richard Mille RM07-01 represents cutting-edge innovation with its slender shape and extravagant ergonomics. Its design and use of unconventional materials like carbon make it attractive for those seeking something unique. Further, the watch’s skeletonized movement showcases the intricate craftsmanship behind the piece.

So Which Watch Movement Is Better for You?

When deciding between a mechanical and an automatic watch movement, considering your lifestyle and what you value in a timepiece is vital.

If you’re eyeing mechanical watches, take the Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 5196 as an example. This watch showcases the artistry of mechanical precision with its manually-wound caliber 215 PS. If you are more into interacting your watch on a daily basis, this or other mechanical watch alternatives, is your perfect pair.

On the automatic side, consider the Rolex Submariner Ref. 116610LV. This iconic dive watch is powered by Rolex’s automatic caliber 3135 with a power reserve of approximately 48 hours and needs no manual winding. However, to ensure that your watch stays accurate, you’d have to wear it daily since automatics feed from your wrist’s movements. 

Practically, your choice for your watch movement should boil down to the kind of mechanism that runs your timepiece along with other considerations, such as the brand, price, aesthetics, features, and materials. 

The Patek Philippe Calatrava 5196 and Rolex Submariner Hulk 116610LV are just two of the best representations of watches in mechanical and automatic timepiece categories. Their offerings are nothing short of immaculate, but you must determine which satisfies your needs better. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are Mechanical Watches More Expensive Than Automatic Watches? 

The pricing of mechanical versus automatic watches is not strictly determined by their winding mechanism but rather by a combination of factors such as brand reputation, craftsmanship, materials, complexity, and collectibility. 

High-end brands, intricate designs, premium materials, and additional features can drive up the cost of both types. Furthermore, regardless of type, limited edition or vintage models often command higher prices. 

2. When Are Automatic or Mechanical Watches Suitable?

When selecting a watch type, consider the following factors:

  • Lifestyle: If you have an active lifestyle and wear your watch daily, an automatic watch could be the right choice. The constant movements of your wrist will help keep the watch powered.
  • Maintenance: Mechanical watches can require more frequent maintenance than automatic watches. If you prefer a lower-maintenance option, an automatic watch may be preferable.
  • Accuracy: Mechanical watches can be more accurate, as they are less affected by environmental factors like temperature and magnetism.
  • Budget: If you don’t mind a higher price tag for a more sophisticated timepiece, an automatic watch might be the better option, while mechanical watches can be more budget-friendly.

Read Also: Quartz vs. Automatic Watches & Analog vs Automatic Watches

Final Word

Understanding the difference between mechanical and automatic movements is crucial in the world of watches. Mechanical watches require manual winding of the mainspring, which provides power to the watch by gradually unwinding. They offer a vintage charm, and many watch enthusiasts appreciate the sensation of winding a watch by hand.

On the other hand, automatic watches do not need manual winding, as they are powered by the natural movements of your arm source. Both types of watch movements have their benefits and drawbacks, and the choice depends on your preferences and the features you value most in a timepiece.

Key Takeaways

  • Mechanical watches require manual winding, while automatic watches use the wearer’s motion to self-wind.
  • Mechanical watches often have a longer power reserve (up to 72 hours or more) than the shorter reserve (24-48 hours) of automatic watches.
  • Automatic watches provide convenience with their self-winding mechanism, powered by an oscillating weight that moves with the wearer.

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