Depending on your age, you may or may not remember seeing your father wind his watch each night before going to bed. If he did not, he would surely wake to a watch that had stopped. Those days became history with the advent of the automatic watch. What makes it automatic? It still has the same basic mechanism to keep the watch working, but how that mechanism is powered changed the way we cared for our watches.
All mechanical watches work in a similar manner. They require a movement of a series of gears to “tick” of increments of time, which in turn registers as movements of the hands on the face of the watch baby g. A rotor in the watch sits on a staff in the middle of the watch’s movement. It rotates in a circular motion and winds the mainspring which is the source of power in mechanical watches. With an automatic watch the winding of this spiral spring is done automatically with any arm or wrist movement.
Self-winding, automatic watches work great for people who wear the watch each day, but if you do not wear the watch frequently, it needs manual winding about twice a week. Even automatic watches will stay working better if they are wound manually about once every two weeks because this helps keep the watch lubricated. It is a misconception that automatic watches never need any winding, since it all depends on the movement of the arm to keep it functioning well.
Rolex was the first watch manufacturer to devise and patent the rotor system that is still used today. They called it the Perpetual and it was part of the popular Oyster line created in the early 1930s. Emile Borer was the Rolex technician who came up with the system, but he was not the first to develop a rotor. That distinction goes to Swiss watchmaker, Abraham-Louis Perrelet as long ago as 1770.
Automatic watches differ from quartz watches which are powered by batteries and not by either a manual or automatic winding system. Powered by a battery, the quartz crystal inside a quartz watch vibrates nearly 33, 000 times per. Watch batteries last about two years, where automatic watches have a never ending source of power: movement or motion.
Quartz watches account for most moderately priced watch sales today, but connoisseurs of watches still like the prestige and elegance of a finely crafted mechanical watch. Automatics have started to regain some of the quartz market in recent years accounting for huge increases (95%) in sales between 1993 and 1995.