How Automatic Watches Work | Everything You Need To Know

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There have been a lot of debates on the subject of how automatic watches work amongst various people around the world. While some believe that these wristwatches have been built to work without batteries, others are of the opinion that they make use of batteries. The truth is that not having an in-depth understanding of how mechanical watches work can deprive you of their benefits. 

Are you confused about how watches work without batteries? Do you know that this process is not complicated in any way? There is absolutely no need trying to rack your brains about how non-battery timepieces work. This post will be explaining in detail everything you need to know about them today. With such knowledge, you will definitely see reasons why a self-winding watch is the most preferred option as compared to traditional wristwatches. 

How automatic watches work?

Most people believe that mechanical wristwatches function in a mysterious way since they don’t use a battery. This isn’t true as they have been built to work in a way that anyone can understand. For instance, self-winding watches make use of a rotor. This can also be called metal weight and is very crucial when it comes to how a timepiece functions without a battery. The rotor undergoes a process known as oscillation. This is the movement of the hands back and forth on a consistent and regular basis.

An automatic wristwatch has been built to work based on the motion of your arm. In other words, it works based on how your arm is moved once it has been worn. The rotor will spin as your arm is swinging back and forth. This is how such a timepiece is powered. Through the process of swinging your arm, there is transfer and storage of energy, which will enable the mainspring to function without the use of any battery.

Under normal circumstances, automatic watches don’t require winding to function accurately. However, there are times you may have to wind yours. This becomes necessary when it hasn’t been worn for a long period of time. In such a case, your timepiece can’t power itself. Therefore, it will need some adjustments.

In case you still don’t understand this process clearly, here is a clear explanation. You just bought an automatic timepiece. Its functioning will be dependent on how your arm moves. As your arm is being swung in different directions, that is how it will function. This is made possible through the rotor, which is a component that transfers energy to such watch’s mainspring. This happens through tension being created.

Therefore, there is no need to bother how your self-winding watch works since the process takes place automatically. For things to be ticking continuously in these watches, components like mainsprings, rotor, knobs, and gears will play their roles, respectively. Always remember that an automatic watch movement depends on the motion of the user’s arm instead of the battery. 

Read next: Why Automatic Watches are Better

Why do automatic watches stop working?

Having explained in detail how non-battery watches work, there is no doubt that you must be very eager to know why yours must have stopped working in the past. There is no need to worry as this complete automatic watch guide will be explaining the factors responsible for such a timepiece not working.  


Do you store your watch in a place that is very dusty? Are you aware that such action is capable of making the timepiece to stop working? It has been discovered that dust can block the internal mechanisms of a watch. This is the reason why it has been recommended that self-winding timepieces should be stored in places that are dust-free.

When your mechanical wristwatch is affected by dust, the rotor won’t function as expected. This will lead to its time being inaccurate. The only way to solve this problem is by having such a watch serviced by a professional. It is a process that will involve the dismantling of the components and cleaning them properly.

Lack of usage

Although it has been explained in this automatic watch guide that a battery is not needed when it comes to powering mechanical wristwatches, their functioning is highly dependent on constant usage. Don’t forget that energy is created through how the rotor spins. The spinning is based on how your arm swings or moves once it has been worn.

This means not using such a timepiece for some time will cause lots of problems. Due to the fact that energy isn’t created again through the rotor spinning continuously as your arm is moving, it can stop functioning at any time.

This problem is usually experienced when you haven’t used the watch for some time. Most self-winding watches will still work for about 48 – 72hours when not worn. However, they will stop working after that time. Always wear your watch if you want it to function as expected.

Lack of regular servicing

Non-battery watches have been built in a way that they require regular servicing in order to deliver accurate time for users. The required time for servicing usually varies with brands. However, most companies suggest that such a timepiece should be serviced after 5years of usage.

This usually depends on the frequency of usage, though. In other words, a watch that you don’t wear frequently needs to be serviced more often as compared to a timepiece that you wear on a regular basis.

Please note that when it comes to servicing your timepiece, there are lots of factors that usually determine the price you will be expected to pay. For instance, if your wristwatch is expensive, expect to pay high for such services and vice versa. It is worth it, though since your watch will be in perfect shape.

Unfavorable temperature

In case you don’t know, every self-winding watch can be easily affected by temperature. Apart from storing your timepiece in a place where there is no dust as explained above, always ensure to take the temperature of such place into serious consideration. The components of an automatic wristwatch are made with metal.

Therefore, an unfavorable temperature can lead to expansion and contraction. When these happen, your wristwatch will either stop working or become inaccurate. Always avoid temperatures that are extremely high or low. It shouldn’t be lesser than 50C or greater than 300C.

Broken mainspring

In every timepiece, the importance of the mainspring component can hardly be overemphasized. There are various factors that can be responsible for a broken mainspring. For instance, there is a cause of wear and tear. Excessive clamping pressure is another reason.

Mechanical watches have an in-built mechanism which prevents the rotor from becoming too tight. However, maximum tension can be reached, especially when the timepiece has been used for a long period. Such can lead to a problem of the broken mainspring.

How long do automatic watches last for?

When it comes to an automatic timepiece, there is every reason to believe that it can last forever, given that no battery is required to make it work. However, it may interest you to know that these wristwatches will not work forever. This section will be looking at two aspects, such as:

  • How long they are expected to work before stopping
  • Their level of durability (lifespan)

Mechanical wristwatches store energy through the spinning of their rotors. However, there is a maximum storage point. At such a stage, the watch is expected to work for around 48-72 hours even when not worn.

This is why you have to wear it in order to ensure your arm is regularly swinging. When energy has been fully generated and stored through such a process, it will work for some days before stopping.

It is also important to note that depending on the brand of self-winding watch you are using, the duration will always vary. For instance, there are some timepieces that will last longer than others. Take this factor into consideration when planning to purchase any mechanical watch.

There are some that can function for 18-24 hours before stopping. At such a point, you are expected to wear them again in order to have more energy stored. On the other hand, some timepieces will work for longer hours.   

On the subject of durability, automatic watches of a lower quality are likely to experience wear and tear factors easily as compared to those of very high quality. This factor can make the former group of watches last for maximum period of 10years. Although most of them can cope with the various conditions of wear and tear, it is possible for them to be damaged easily. They will require extensive regular repairs to stay in good shape.

For high quality mechanical watches, it will interest you to know that some can last up to 70years before breaking down finally. As a matter of fact, there are some that have been running since 50s till today. They are still very reliable in terms of producing accurate timing.

It all basically depends on the size of your budget. However, note that watches below $100 don’t last as long as their more expensive counterparts. They are very durable and reliable though. People are preferring to make use of these wristwatches due to their longevity. Some of them have been built to have indefinite lifespan which is quite impressive. 

Wrapping up

There is no doubt that this post must have revealed a lot about how watches work without using batteries. In case you want to purchase a timepiece that will stand the test of time while performing optimally, ensure to take the tips shared into serious considerations. They will help you get a self-winding wristwatch that will prove to be very reliable.

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