Ultimate Guide to Automatic Watch Movements (2023)


Have you ever looked at your luxury watch and wondered how it works? What drives those tiny movements and helps you stay on schedule? Movements, also called calibers, are the power that drives a watch's motor.

A caliber is the main internal mechanism that moves the hands of the watch. Calendar, two time zones andchronographsare all powered by tiny clockworks within the mechanism.

But how do calibers work in automatic watches? We'll go into more detail below in our ultimate guide to automatic watch movements.

Movements, also called calibers, are the power that drives a watch's motor.


Watch manufacturers make many different types of movements, often using proprietary mechanisms. However,Movements fall into two main categories – mechanical movements and quartz movements.

One easy way to tell if a movement is quartz or mechanical has to do with the way the second hand moves on the watch. Quartz watch movements display a tick-tick motion, with the second hand moving once per second. With a mechanical movement, the second hand moves smoothly and energetically to indicate the passing seconds. Both quartz and auto-quartz movements require a battery to power and operate an internal circuit.

Mechanical movements are further divided into two categories - manual and automatic movements.Mechanical calibers consist of many tiny gears and springs inside the watch. In general, a mechanical watch is more expensive than a watch that runs on battery power, simply because mechanical watches require a more labor-intensive manufacturing process. A battery-powered watch may be more accurate, but watch enthusiasts and connoisseurs prefer automatic or hand-wound watches. These unique timepieces represent hundreds of years of precision, craftsmanship and innovation in the watchmaking industry.

Automatic movements are also known as "self-winding" movements. These calibers use the natural movements of the wearer's wrist to power the watch. Automatic watches are comfortable to wear, use and care for as they do not require daily winding to ensure watch operation and accuracy. If the watch is worn every day, the owner does not need to wind the watch by hand to keep it operational.

AA battery-powered watch may be more accurate, but watch enthusiasts and connoisseurs prefer automatic or hand-wound watches.


An automatic movement uses a rotor or metal weight to power the watch. The rotor oscillates freely inside the watch. Every time the wearer moves their wrist, the rotor spins. This intrinsic rotary motion is converted into energy that automatically winds the mainspring in the watch. The power is stored in the tension spring.

Does an automatic watch still have to be wound? In some cases yes. Watches with an automatic function that are worn regularly usually supply themselves with electricity. But if the owner doesn't wear the watch for some time, he has to wind it up to power the internal mechanisms.

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Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Perrelet is believed to have done thisinvented the first automaticClockworks in the 1770s. Perrelet invented mechanical watches that converted the wearer's movement into energy, powering the watch for up to eight hours a day. But it wasn't until French inventor Hubert Sarton created his design for automatic watch movements in 1778 that these types of timepieces became popular with everyday wearers. Sarton published his designs in Paris and claimed that Perrelet was inspired by his automatic watch designs.

The public bought and wore the first automatic watches in 1780. These watches were not the popular wristwatches we are all familiar with today. Instead, they were pocket watches made by another Abraham - Abraham-Louis Breguet. Breguet bought Abraham-Louis Perrelet's designs but made some changes. Unfortunately, these designs were not considered reliable, and European consumers stopped buying the watches by the 1800s. It was not until World War I that advances in technology and watchmaking revived and refined the automatic movement.

Ultimate Guide to Automatic Watch Movements (1)

Abraham-Louis Breguet


Pocket watches also fell out of favor during World War I, in exchange for comfy wristwatches that people still love to wear today. The first generation of wristwatches made during World War I used an automatic winding mechanism that was much more reliable than their Rococo ancestors. By placing the watch on the wearer's wrist rather than in their pocket, energy was easily and efficiently transferred into the watch, powering the intricate mechanisms and ensuring a precise watch.John Harwood, a watchmaker from England, is the first credited with inventing automatic wristwatch movements.

Harwood patented the automatic wristwatch in 1923. In 1928, Harwood began mass-producing these watches in a factory in Switzerland. This gave him the chance to bring automatic watches to the public. When fully charged, these watches had an energy that could last up to twelve hours.

While Harwood is responsible for the first mass-produced automatic watch, other watchmakers have benefited from his success. They began improving his original designs. Rolex added additional weights to the watch, allowing it to capture even more energy when worn. The Rolex watches could be powered for up to 35 hours with the new proprietary designs.

In the late 1940s, Eterna Watch incorporated ball bearings into its automatic watches. This gave the watch's internal components more controlled movements and allowed for a more accurate and precise watch. The watches were also marketed as being more structurally sound and durable. What about automatic wristwatches today? The most popular watches among modern consumers use automatic movements, and few still use manual winding.

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The mainspring is the energy source of automatic movements. When winding the crown of an automatic watch, kinetic energy is transferred to the coil spring. As more energy is stored, the mainspring tightens, storing more energy for later use.

On the side of the watch is a small wheel called a crown. The crown is turned, which winds the watch and makes it run.

gear train
The energy stored in the mainspring is channeled through the gear train, which is a small series of internal gears that move the watch hands and other parts of the dial.

The escapement is like an internal braking system within the watch. The energy transferred from the mainspring to the gear train is released in equal parts, called the escapement.

The balance wheel is an internal component that beats in a circular motion five to ten times per second.

Choose the train
The dial is another set of gears similar to the gear train. The dial transfers energy from the balance wheel to the watch hands in equal parts, which allows the hands to move.

Jewels are synthetic rubies set in the center of a gear to keep it in constant motion and prevent wear from heat and friction.

The rotor is a metal weight that looks like a semicircle. The rotor is attached to the movement and is free to oscillate as the wearer's wrist moves. When the carrier moves and thus moves the rotor, the rotor transmits power to the mainspring and rotates it, where the energy is then stored. When the mainspring is fully wound, a clutch attached to the rotor is engaged. The clutch prevents the rotor from further winding up the mainspring.

LIV P51 Automatic Pilot Watch

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Automatic watches are extraordinary inventions that have stood the test of time. When purchasing an automatic watch, many important metrics are used to measure the quality of the watch's movements.
How accurate an automatic watch needs to be varies from wearer to wearer. Some people need their watches to be extremely accurate. For example, professional divers or military personnel may need the most accurate watches known as chronometer watches. For those who value style and convenience more, a standard automatic watch is +-25 seconds a day.

This is a general rule of thumb for automatic watch accuracy. This means that an automatic watch should only gain or lose up to 25 seconds between two days. If a watch gains or loses more than 25 seconds in two days, then something is wrong with the watch and it needs to be serviced.

BHP refers to beats or ticks per hour. Watchmakers sometimes use the terms beats per second or Hz. Most watches have a rate of six, eight, or ten beats per second, measured as 21,600, 28,800, and 36,000 BPH, respectively. High-beat clocks have faster ticking clockwork. They are more accurate and precise because they read smaller fractions of a second. The second hand movements of a high-beat watch also appear smoother.

Energy reserve
Fully wound automatic watches store energy for up to 42 hours before they need to be recharged. In some automatic watch designs, they can house a power reserve of up to ten days.

Complications refer to functions of a watch that do something other than tell the time. In many automatic watch designs, the watch can display and also enable the calendar date, phases of the moon, power reserve indicatorsalarm functions.

Automatic watches are reliable watch designs and are manufactured with precision and accuracy. Certain functions can increase the reliability and accuracy of the watch, e.g. B. a higher BPH.

Automatic watches usually have glass on the back so you can see the movement. Well-made movements keep time reliably, while poorly-made movements have ticks that are measured inconsistently. Watches made from inferior materials can lose minutes in a day. Watches from Swiss, Japanese and German movement manufacturers are known for using the highest quality materials for accuracy, precision and reliability.


At some point you will need to wind your automatic watch.In general, however, wearing an automatic watch regularly is one of the easiest ways to take care of it.

Ultimate Guide to Automatic Watch Movements (2)

These types of watches work best when worn continuously. If the watch has stopped due to lack of wear, gently shake it face up until the hands start moving again. Or put it on and wiggle your wrist a few times. When the hands start moving, you can set the date and time.

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Always keep the watch dry and clean.Use a soft cloth to wipe your face every night and avoid showering or bathing while wearing the watch. While a watch can be water resistant, watches typically cannot withstand high water temperatures. The seals in the mechanism can expand and contract, reducing the lifespan and accuracy of the watch.

Ultimate Guide to Automatic Watch Movements (3)

Normal wear and tear occurs even with the best maintained watches.To keep your automatic watch accurate and beautiful, it needs to be professionally serviced every three to five years.


Frequently asked questions about the automatic movement

Are you looking for a new automatic watch or did you receive one as a gift? You might have a few questions about these unique timepieces. Below you will find the most frequently asked questions from our customers about automatic watches.

Can an automatic watch last a lifetime?

Yes, with care and regular maintenance, a well-designed automatic watch made by the best craftsman can last a lifetime.

What can cause automatic movements to malfunction?

Dropping an automatic watch can damage the delicate internal mechanisms and cause it to malfunction. Frequent wearing of an automatic watch without regular maintenance can also lead to abnormal wear and tear and prevent the watch from working properly.

Was since Jewelery?

Jewels are used in place of bearings to reduce wear and tear on the watch's internal movements. Synthetic ruby ​​gems are usually set in the gears to reduce friction and absorb heat. These mechanisms also improve the accuracy and performance of the watch. Why rubies? Rubies are ideal for absorbing the heat caused by the movement of gears, and they are hard gems that can reasonably withstand friction.

How do you wind an automatic watch?

There are several ways to wind an automatic watch. You can turn the crown. You can put the watch on and gently wiggle your wrist a few times to power the mainspring. Or you can hold the dial up and gently shake it a few times to power the movements.

Are kinetic and automatic movements the same?

Technically no. Kinetic Clock &automatic movements differin a basic way. A self-winding watch uses a rotor to convert movement into energy, which is stored in the mainspring. In a kinetic watch, movement is converted into electrical energy and stored in a battery.

Automatic movements: a message to take away

The movements, or calibers, are the power behind all of the timekeeping functions in your watch. These intricate and precise movements are critical to the accuracy of the watch. Without these internal movements, the clock would not work. While most watches are bought for their aesthetics, those with attention to detail and an appreciation for craftsmanship and precision will enjoy knowing exactly how the watch works inside. With professional care and service, your beautiful automatic watch can last a lifetime.

Ultimate Guide to Automatic Watch Movements (4)
About the author

Esti Khazanov, co-founder of LIV Watches
Esti's passion for men's watches led her to co-found LIV Watches – a micro-brand dedicated to connecting watch collectors with quality, Swiss-made, limited edition timepieces at affordable prices – and the rest is watch history.

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