If you’re looking for an automatic (meaning self-winding) mechanical watch, it’s probably not just so that you’ll be able to tell the time.
Think about it. All of your mobile devices already tell time accurately and automatically update the time regularly. Even a good battery-powered quartz watch will be much more accurate, durable, and low-maintenance than any mechanical watch.
But the word “romantic” is often used to describe mechanical watches.
No, that doesn’t (necessarily) mean falling in love with your watch, but rather the other definition of the word, the one that means igniting your imagination and stirring your emotions.
So, if you know that you want an automatic watch, would the most accurate automatic watch necessarily be the best one for you? Is it that simple?
Whatever it is that captures your imagination about these watches, first we’ll look at a few different ones to help you get a feel for which types would be the best automatic watches for you. Then, we’ll do a deep dive into what automatic watches are all about.
A Few of the Best Automatic Watches
One thing you’ll notice is that watchmakers understand that these watches are nostalgic and romantic, and because of that, it’s not unusual for brands to release retro pieces based on watches from the 1960s and 70s.
You likely want one of these old-school watches because of how stylish and prestigious they can be. Or because they represent nostalgia for a bygone era. Or you’re just fascinated with how intricate, ingenious, and precision-crafted they are (in that case, definitely look at skeleton watches).
At the same time, there are plenty of modern and even casual/practical models for those that are into automatic watches, but not necessarily for nostalgic reasons.
We’ll look at a range of different watches to give you a feel for what your options are, what appeals to you, and hopefully what you want in an automatic watch.
For one thing, it just looks like the 70s — which is no surprise because it’s based on a classic Tissot case shape from 1978. It’s loaded with all the features you would expect in a modern Swiss-made watch.
Its Powermatic 80 self-winding movement with the Nivachron hairspring keeps excellent time and gives you a whopping 80 hours of reserve time! That’s around twice as much as most mechanical watches. You’ll be able to go three days without wearing it, and it’ll still be keeping accurate time and ready to go.
The crystal is sapphire, the hardest material after diamond, and has superior shock and scratch resistance. In addition, the sapphire crystal affords excellent hand and screen readability due to its exceptional transparency, which also lets the beautiful blue dial shine through.
The entire watch has been tested for liquid, gas, and dust penetration, as well as impact and pressure resistance, using conditions simulating real-life situations the watch may encounter. Its case is water-resistant up to a pressure of 10 bar (330 ft/100 m), so it’s fine for showering and even recreational swimming (not to include scuba or snorkeling).
How they managed to pack all of these features into a 10.93 mm thick 316L stainless steel case is unknown, but the end result is astounding.
- Beautiful and eye-catching design
- Extended reserve time
- A great value for your money
- Masculine and attractive on the wrist, with a hint of retro
- Those likely to go from the office to the dive boat may prefer a more rough-and-tumble watch rated for scuba or other sports
This is a more fashion-forward, modern-looking piece than the Tissot or Rado, but still very classic, with a subtle Greek flair from the key motif of the two-tone bracelet. It’s also extremely versatile and is just as perfect for a formal occasion with your suit and tie at the office or a casual night out with friends.
As you also might expect, this stunning watch is a work of Swiss craftsmanship.
Its handsome, mesh-pattern, royal-blue dial is set in a stainless steel two-tone 42 mm cushion-shaped case. The case is durable and water-resistant up to 50 meters/165 ft. and perfectly accents the two-tone bracelet with its Greek key-themed inserts.
Wearing this watch on any occasion should get you some interesting and approving looks.
- A real eye-catcher on the wrist
- All the cache of the house of Versace
- Dependable Swiss manufacturer
- If your patented look is more hippie than hipster, more khaki than catwalk, this watch may feel like a bit much to you
The Rado DiaStar is a legendary classic for many reasons, not the least of which is that it was the first scratch-resistant watch, which became a required standard feature for all fine watches.
Just by looking at this piece, you can see that another reason is the distinctive look of its beautiful bold unisex design. Its dial is a golden mesh of faceted clear crystals with blue diamonds set in the indices, and it shines through an anti-reflective sapphire crystal.
But beauty isn’t enough on its own. This piece has Swiss movement at its heart, is water-resistant to 30 meters/100 ft., and, of course, scratch-resistant since 1962.
- A ticking piece of history on your wrist
- Distinctive design speaks to the flair of your personality
- Swiss precision and water resistance
- Safe for use during water activities (to a certain point)
- Watch design probably isn’t for everyone, as it’s unapologetically retro with a real 1960s look that some may find overly dramatic
This Seiko watch is all about practicality, function, and ruggedness, and the Japanese movement gives the Swiss a run for their money.
Unlike the fashion watches on this list, this watch is water-resistant to 200 meters/660 ft., so it’s perfectly suitable for snorkeling or even deep-diving like scuba (ISO rating 6425). Its large black dial with big, high-contrast luminescent markers makes for good visibility underwater, even in poor or low light conditions.
And it’s tough. Instead of the highly scratch-resistant sapphire crystal used by fashion watches, Seiko opted for Hardlex crystal on its stainless steel case, which is slightly less scratch-resistant, but much tougher for hard usage.
While it won’t win any high-fashion shows, this watch punches above its weight for what it offers to people who want a functional watch for scuba and other recreational water activities.
- Easily among the coolest automatic sports watches around
- Perfect for diving deep, flying high, punching hard, and breaking a sweat
- Japanese mechanism with exceptional precision
- High visibility in whatever murky situation you may find yourself
- Won’t match every outfit
This watch is made for the sky. It has luminous accents on a black dial like the Seiko, but it has less common, more specific features (in horology, called “complications”) useful to flyboys, like a tachymeter to measure distance traveled and the first-ever drift angle calculator to help compensate for crosswinds.
In case you ever have to ditch your plane in the ocean, it’s resistant up to 100 m/330 feet, and it has the sapphire crystal and Swiss movement we’re used to from the fashion watches.
Liam Hemsworth even wore it in Independence Day: Resurgence (2016).
- Aviation watches are just the coolest
- Unique and stunning tachymeter feature
- Rugged, water-resistant, easy to read
- Perfect for everyday wear, regardless of your activities
- Not tuxedo-appropriate
The Deep Dive: What Exactly Is an Automatic Watch?
An automatic watch is one of the three main types of watches. Each one of these was invented as a clock first, then later made into carryable watches, and over time adapted into the wristwatches we’re used to today.
Self-winding automatic watches hold the middle position in the history of watchmaking. They were invented before electronic watches, but after manually-wound mechanical watches had already been used for over 200 years.
3 Kinds of Watches
The art of making watches and clocks is called horology, containing entire menus of special terms for every single part of your watch. The inner workings that make watches and clocks tick are referred to as the “movement.”
There are three main kinds of internal movement. In the order they were invented, they are:
- Mechanical movement: uses only gears, springs, and wheels and must be wound
- Automatic movement: a self-winding type of mechanical movement
- Quartz movement: battery-powered electronic movement
So, manually-wound mechanical watches came first and had a very long history. Then automatic watches were invented as a new type of self-winding mechanical watch. Finally, quartz watches were invented in relatively modern times as a new type of watch that utilized newly-available batteries and electronics.
The Big Difference: Mechanical Movement vs. Quartz Movement
The big difference between movements in watches is really between mechanical and quartz. These two are very different types of watches.
Mechanical movement uses a mechanically-wound mainspring to power the springs, gears, and wheels that keep the time and run the watch. Contrast this with quartz watches, which use a battery to electronically power the watch and produce a current that causes regular vibrations in a quartz crystal to keep the time.
Since the quartz movement was specifically invented to be an improvement over previous mechanical watches by using newer electronic technology, it does have some advantages. Even so, mechanical watches, and especially automatic mechanical watches, are in high demand worldwide and on the rise in popularity.
Though quartz is the more modern type of watch, each watch has its advantages.
Some advantages of quartz movement watches are:
- Size: can be made lighter and slimmer than mechanical watches
- Low fuss: you don’t need to wind or wear them for them to keep working
- Low maintenance: just replace the battery every year or two
- Durability: with fewer moving parts, there’s less to break or go wrong
- Accuracy: significantly more accurate and reliable than mechanical watches
- Price: they generally cost quite a bit less than equivalent mechanical watches
But, even though quartz watches were invented to be a modern replacement for the ancient technology of mechanical watches, there are reasons for the modern popularity of mechanical watches.
The advantages of mechanical movement watches are:
- Long-lasting: if not damaged and properly maintained, they can last for generations
- No battery: it works as long as it is kept wound, and if it runs out and stops, you just reset and wind
- Craftsmanship: mechanical movement is a wonder of precision and human ingenuity
- Romance: they represent technology from another time and may capture your imagination
The Difference Between Manual and Automatic Mechanical Movement
Automatic watches are self-winding mechanical watches, while mechanical watches that must be hand-wound can be referred to as “manual.” And herein lies the main difference.
In manual mechanical watches, a knob called the crown must be wound by hand regularly to keep the watch running. Automatic mechanical watches have an ingenious, rotating, weighted mechanism inside that allows the watch to be wound by your natural movement while you’re wearing it.
Even though the automatic movement was invented to improve the manual movement of mechanical watches, each type of watch has its advantages.
Paradoxically, some advantages of manual watches over automatic might look similar to the list of the quartz watches’ advantages over mechanical watches:
- Size: without a rotating weight mechanism, they can be made lighter and slimmer
- Price: usually cost significantly less than equivalent automatic watches
But then again, automatic self-winding watches were invented for a reason, and they have some great advantages:
- Convenience: as long as you’re wearing it, it winds itself
- Craftsmanship: the self-winding automatic watch with its rotating weight mechanism is a marvel of design and precision crafting
- Choices: their craftsmanship and convenience make them so popular that there are tons of options out there
Good Things to Know Before Buying an Automatic Watch
- If you don’t wear your watch every day, it may run out and stop. This is no problem and doesn’t harm the watch in any way. Just reset the time and manually wind it or gently shake it for about 10 seconds to get it running before putting it on for the day.
- If you’re not planning on wearing your watch every day, you can keep your watch running by purchasing a watch winder. This will keep your watch fully wound and ready to go, though you will still need to reset the time once in a while.
- It’s recommended by manufacturers that you service an automatic watch every 3-5 years, which isn’t cheap, but not everyone agrees with this recommendation.
Choosing From the Best Automatic Watches
So as you can see, choosing from the best automatic watches for you is 50% research and 50% soul searching. You have to learn a little and dream a little. And of course, it depends on what type of activities or occasions you want to wear the watch for.
Since this is probably a significant investment for you, and definitely something that, if properly cared for, can be passed down for generations, take your time, do your homework, and get something you’ll enjoy for the rest of your life.
What Is an Automatic Watch?
An automatic watch is a type of mechanical watch that winds itself using your natural movement throughout the day. As a mechanical watch, it has no battery or electronics at all, just springs, wheels, and gears. You can usually hand-wind them, but as long as you wear them daily, you shouldn’t have to wind them, and no batteries are needed.
Who Makes the Best Automatic Watches?
Well, it is obviously debatable as far as what brands or companies make the best watches, but the Swiss are generally considered the heavyweight champions of mechanical watch movements. But there are other countries that are contenders like Germany and England. However, the #1 contender may be Japan.
How Do Automatic Watches Work?
Automatic mechanical watches have an ingenious, rotating, weighted mechanism inside that allows the watch mainspring to be wound by your natural movement while you’re wearing it. Every time you move, the weight spins and winds the watch so you don’t have to hand-wind, but you do have to wear it regularly, usually daily, to keep it running.
It does not damage the watch if it stops, though. You just have to reset it and wind it to get it keeping time again.
How Long Do Automatic Watches Last?
This has two answers, depending on what you mean. Most automatic watches will keep running for about a day and a half after being worn before stopping. But when it comes to how long an automatic watch will keep working, it will last for literally generations if properly cared for. There’s really no set expiration date, and there are very old mechanical watches still working today.
Do You Have to Wear Automatic Watches Every Day?
You have to wear most automatic watches every day to keep them running unless you put them in a winding machine that moves them regularly to keep them wound.
But it does not harm the watch if it winds down and stops. You just have to reset and wind it. It might make sense to get an automatic watch for daily wear.
Best Brands for Automatic Watches: An Overview
Since 1853, Tissot has manufactured Swiss watches of exceptional quality and design. Known for early innovation in its use of special materials, Tissot has been named the official timekeeper of numerous sports associations and events, including the NBA, the Tour de France, the European Rugby Championship, and the AFL. If you want to know more, their website features a delightful and fascinating history page, as well as more amazing watches than you can shake a stick at (thereby winding your automatic Tissot watch).
One of the most famous fashion houses worldwide, Versace has boasted fearless designs since its inception in 1978. Only the best and most luxurious watches manufactured qualify for the Versace name. Featuring the highest-quality Swiss mechanisms coupled with the Italian eye for beauty and flair, Versace is the source for head-turning timepieces.
Go straight to the source of all things amazing about Swiss watches with the Swiss company Rado. Since the end of World War II (and traceable all the way back to 1917), this company has produced watches of incredible beauty and precision, using innovative materials and designs. Take a look at their website, and make sure you have plenty of time to do it because if you love watches, you’ll lose yourself completely in what they have to offer.
As famous as Switzerland is for producing the best watches, Japan is at least as well-known thanks to Seiko, one of the world’s most recognized and celebrated watchmakers. Since 1881, the story of Seiko has progressed from humble watch repair to cutting-edge invention. Seiko watches run the gamut from imminently affordable to the highest of high-end timepieces.
Check out their Grand Seiko T-0 if you want a look at what may be the world’s most accurate mechanical (manual) watch.
Founded in 1892 in Pennsylvania, American company Hamilton features timepieces both fashionable and sporty, and always iconic, with Swiss mechanisms and American flair. Hamilton takes pride in their close association with Hollywood, with watches featured in numerous movies (Shanghai Express, 1932; The Frogmen, 1951; Blue Hawaii, 1961; The Martian, 2015; and many others!), as well as their multi-functional aviation watches and their work for the military.
Another watchmaker of renown is Tag Heuer, a Swiss company founded in 1860 and well-known for avant-garde, high-quality watches with a close affiliation to the world of sport and racing. If you visit their website, you’ll appreciate, as we did, that they only source conflict-free diamonds.
You’ll also appreciate a collection of multi-functional watches with an arresting appearance. The only reason Tag Heuer wasn’t reviewed in this particular article was the limitations of space and time. Their automatic watches are jaw-dropping.
Citizen is another watchmaking company that regrettably didn’t get reviewed in this article purely due to space and time. This Japanese company has been making exceptional watches for over 100 years, with some truly beautiful automatic watches.
In addition, for the more whimsical among us, there are Disney, Star Wars, and Marvel-themed watches available that we found surprisingly charming. Their website is definitely worth a visit.
So, Which Watch Is the Best?
The best for you? To answer that, you’re going to need to do three things:
- Decide what kind of activities or occasions you want to wear the watch for.
- Do some research to learn what self-winding automatic mechanical watches are all about.
- Sit back and dream. What are you really looking for from owning this marvel of ingenuity and precision that can last for generations to come?
With that being said, our favorite from this list is the Tissot Men’s PRX Swiss Automatic Dress Watch. It’s retro but not outdated, not too flashy to get away with when you’re not going formal, decently rugged, and, wow, double the reserve time of most watches.
The only reason you might not want to look at this watch is if you’re buying a watch mainly for a sport or outdoor activity. It’s plenty tough for a fashion watch, but it’s not meant for scuba, piloting, or other rugged treatment.
So now the best thing to do is look at watches. The more watches you look at, the more you’ll learn, the more they will capture your imagination, and the better idea you’ll get of what you really want.
You can start here!