Automatic watches have seen its popularity surge thanks to its novelty, though the real fact is its origin can be traced to centuries old technology that just came back in fashion. But then, it does have a higher price tag compared to the normal and cheaper quartz watch that have been the standard watch type nowadays.
So, are automatic watches worth buying? Depending on how you look at it, automatic watches are definitely worth buying as it has special characteristics that are not found in our increasingly electronic world nowadays.
However, bear in mind that automatic watches have its own properties that might be confusing to people. In this article, I’ll try to cover the main things that you should know prior to getting one so that you’re clear about these important stuffs.
Is Automatic Watch Worth The Money?
If you have the money and are interested in automatic watch, I’d say just buy it because it’s definitely worth it. Now, I’d like to clarify my recommendation to buy is for the general automatic watch, and not for the very expensive brands costing more thousands of dollars per piece – without a doubt, purchasing those watches would be very debatable….
So why did I say automatic watches are worth it?
It’s because of two things: it’s special mechanical movement and higher quality material, fit and finish in the watches.
The watch movement, or the mechanism that ensures the watch is ticking/running uses purely mechanical parts without any electric/electronic parts. The automatic movement have been around for more than a century and is actually the original type of watch.
(If you want to learn how automatic/mechanical movement works, check out my previous article here)
The currently normal watch (or quartz watch to be more specific) was only invented some decades ago. Seiko invented the first quartz wristwatch in 1969 with the quartz movement invented few decades prior to that (in 1927 to be exact).
While quartz watch have many benefits and considered novel at that time, the manufacturing boom that we had in recent times made electronic items cheaper and accessible, quartz watch included. Because of this, it became a commonplace item despite its technical advantages. The widespread use of laptops and smartphones in recent years just further increases the amount of digital stuffs surrounding our lives.
And that’s why automatic watch is becoming sought after: its mechanical construction and timekeeping is very different from all the electronic stuffs around us. Thus, if you have the money and are interested in it, it’s definitely something that is worth to get.
However, they are more expensive to buy….
Why Are Automatic Watches Expensive?
Currently, automatic watches are more expensive than quartz watches. If you can get a good quartz for $10 to $50, a good automatic watch can only be had upwards of $150-$200.
So why are automatic watches expensive? Automatic watches are expensive because of higher manufacturing costs (material and parts) as well as the labor costs involved in it.
Well, it’s not always been like this. Although currently the quartz watch is much cheaper than the automatic watch, back then when it was first invented, quartz watch is much more expensive!
So what happened then?
Mass production happened. Industries managed to come up with ingenious ways to accelerate production of things, making costs lower than ever. And in the case of quartz watch, its much lower parts count makes it very easy to mass produce, hence the much lower cost nowadays.
In the case of automatic watch, it usually has over 100 different parts inside it, all require manufacturing and assembly. Now imagine the work needed to manufacture 100 small parts, and then assembly them into a small 42-44 mm diameter case. So yeah, that’s the reason why automatic watch is expensive: it’s needs more parts and require more labor to assembly.
Also, automatic watches do uses higher quality materials.
The watchmakers know that they will not be able to compete with quartz watches in terms of pricing. No matter how you cut costs, automatic watches will cost more to make.
So what most brands do is to employ a different strategy: to market automatic watches to more affluent customers. By doing this, they will position their watches outside the territory of the cheap quartzs and will be able to carve a niche market for them.
That’s, why most automatic watches uses higher quality materials. You’ll usually see stainless steel (casings, bracelet, most of the parts), sapphire crystal (for the glass) and leather (for straps). For those with see-through casebacks, there’s also beautiful engravings on the rotor that can be seen from behind.
Compare this with the cheaper quartz watch where plastic is the main components and you’ll see how different in quality it is. Hold both watches side by side and you’ll be able to feel the vast difference in the fit and finish of both watches =)
All of this enables the brands to market their watches at a higher price point, and ensuring the survivability of automatic watches in this current modern era.
The Lifespan of Automatic Watches
With such higher price, what about its lifespan? How long do automatic watches last? Fortunately, automatic watch do have a high lifespan, with some vintage watches were still able to function after decades!
Now, I need to emphasize that not all automatic watches are this robust as it will depend on the watch itself i.e if the high quality watch will definitely last longer than the lower quality watch and vice versa.
But there’s another important thing that need to be addressed, and that is the need for properly taking care of the watch and regular servicing it.
Automatic watches are made of various small parts, parts that are quite sensitive to sudden jolt. So if you don’t take good care of it i.e throwing it around at the end of the day, wearing it for sports etc., then the internal movement in the watch could get screwed up which will cause problems with it. At worst, you could cause severe damage that will cost thousands to repair!
So you should always take care of your watches by being delicate and treat it as a fragile item. Another important tip is to always keep it in a dry and cool place (not cold, just room temperature would be good) to ensure the watch won’t get rusty or exposed to extreme temperatures.
But that’s not all. While the above tips will protect the watch, all automatic watches need to be serviced regularly (around once every 3 to 5 years), like all the other mechanical things that we have such as cars, motorbikes, etc.
Service is important as it will keep the watch’s internal squeaky clean after all the wear and tear that it had to endure to run. Servicing the watch is done by a watchmaker which will also inspect the watch for any damaged parts and get it replaced. He/she will then re-oil the parts for it to have enough lubrication.
Just like a car, a watch will just go on and on without you knowing there’s something wrong under the hood. Thus, if you’d like to keep your expensive automatic watch running for decades, then don’t be a cheapskate and send it for a service =)
(If you’d like to learn about how to keep your watch lasts long, check out my article here for more tips)
Does Automatic Watch Keep Good Time?
Now, do automatic watches keep a good time? Well, it does keep an acceptable time but not as accurate as a quartz watch.
Automatic watches usually have few seconds of inaccuracies per day, depending on the movement and grade. From what I’ve seen a basic automatic watch will usually have a published inaccuracy of +/-25 seconds per day, with the actual accuracy usually being lesser than that.
Do bear in mind that this will widely vary depending on the movement models used, and not the brand. For instance, Seiko have many movement models and most of them have varying accuracy (read my article on the accuracy of my 4 Seiko automatic watches here).
There’s also the higher grade movement chronometer watches that have the best accuracy at -4/+6 seconds per day. Chronometers can only be called as such if it’s certified after tested by the COSC institute in Switzerland.
As I’ve mentioned, this is still worse than the inaccuracy of a quartz watch which is usually rated to +/-15 seconds per MONTH (so you can see how
Now, even if we take the +/-25 seconds per day inaccuracy as our benchmark for automatic watches, I still feel that is acceptable. With a +/-25 seconds per day, we’re getting about one and a half minute per week, which is truthfully not that much. You can then reset the time again on the next Monday.
Things will be more natural for those with few automatic watches as you can rotate them before it lose or gain to many minutes.
For example, I’d usually rotate my watches after about 3-4 days of using and prior to wearing the next one, I’ll reset its time. Hence, even after the end of the 4 days, the inaccuracy of my watches will be about one minute maximum – definitely something that I can live with.
Are Automatic Watches Durable?
Without a doubt, automatic watches are durable, provided that you don’t use them incorrectly. This also extends to quartz watches as most of the watches made nowadays are designed only for normal wear.
There are some watches that are designed for extreme cases (e.g diving watches, sports watches etc.) but these are considered special watches which of course will have greater durability.
But for the typical and normal automatic watches, I’ve own few of them and I do think they are durable provided you don’t treat them harshly.
But there is one thing that makes automatic watch quite durable and that is the stainless steel case which comes standard for most of automatic watches.
With the cheaper quartz watch, it will usually be fitted with a plastic case as it’s the cheaper option. But automatic watch brands have known for some time that if they want to sell their watches, they have to market it properly to the more affluent customers.
Thus, with a higher price range ( more than $200), the watch itself needs to be made using higher quality material. Nowadays, stainless steel is usually used for automatic watch casings and it has the good ability to be durable – it’s steel after all!
The watch’s casing will hold up far longer than any plastic-made watch can and that’s another reason why automatic watch can last longer.
Conclusion: Should You Buy Automatic Watch?
Although it’s more expensive than normal quartz watches, automatic watches are definitely worth buying. With its high price, you’ll get a watch made out of higher quality material (stainless steel at least) with better fit and finish than any cheap quartz watch.
In addition, you’ll also get a special mechanical movement that is completely different from all the electronic stuffs that we have around us nowadays.
However, the choice to buy it will depend on your financial situation. If you have excess money and are interested in it, I’d say just go for it because you won’t regret it. If this is your first watch purchase, then I’d advise going through my article about how to pick the correct watch and the some of the best affordable automatic watches in the market right now. Do read also about where to buy the watches as it will greatly help you in the hunt.
But if you are not blessed with extra money, then I’d suggest deferring your purchase till you’ve got things sorted out. Watches are certainly not necessary and I highly suggest to not get into a debt just to fund your watch purchases. Try to increase your income first and once you’ve got a good amount of savings, then you can start to dabble with automatic watches (starting with the most affordable ones will be a good idea).
I hope this article has helped you to understand if automatic watches are worth it or not. Do let me know if you have further questions.
8 thoughts on “Are Automatic Watches Still Worth Buying?”
This is an old article, but it’s still relevant to point out that many quartz watches have the same construction quality of mechanical watches. While it it true that many cheap quartz watches are indeed mostly plastic, many luxury brands offer quartz watches with the same fit and finish of their mechanicals. Of course, you will pay luxury watch prices for these battery-powered watches and only you can decide if that is money well spent. For me, expensive quartz watches are not desirable, but to each their own.
I share the same opinion with you on expensive quartz watches. It’s quite baffling why one would want to spend so much money for a quartz.. Of course, there are some special cases that would justify a high price for a quartz (e.g the watch has diamonds, watch need to be able to withstand extreme conditions, etc.) but for most normal quartz watches, something less than $500 would seem appropriate. Again, just my opinion and to each their own =)
If a “new” watch is manufactured in 2016 does the fact that it has been in stock for four years affect the longevity of the movement? Do you think the watch needs to be serviced sooner than a recently manufactured watch due to the aging of the oil? It’s about a diver (300m) with a Selita SW200 movement.
After reading your blogs you seem to be the person with the knowledge to answer this question.
Regards from the Netherlands.
Hi Cees. I’ve already answered your question below. Kindly check it =)
Thanks for visiting by and do let me know if you have further question.
Hello Isaac I have a question for you.
Looking around to buy my second automatic watch, I found a really nice diver with a Selita SW200 movement. Doing some research I found out that the watch must have been manufactured in 2016. Could the fact that this watch is allready four years old (in new condition though) have an effect on the durability? Does it need to be serviced way sooner than a watch which has been manufactured recently?
Btw: Nice informing blogs!
Hi Cees. That’s a good question that I frankly never thought about: if a watch had been on the shelves for 4 years what should you do as soon as you buy it? Some suggests that the oil in the automatic watch parts will degrade every 4-5 years so if you go with this, you should service it now. However, I do feel that it can be quite overkill for us consumers to immediately spend money to service it right after we’ve spend money to buy it.
So what I can recommend (which what I and some others do) is to always be wary of the timekeeping accuracy of the watch. Is it keeping good time +/-10 seconds or is it too far off?
The timekeeping mechanism of an automatic watch is very sensitive and if you’re not getting the published accuracy rate, then something must be wrong inside the watch and that’s the sign for a service.
Hope this helps Cees =)
Excellent writing, as usual, Isaac. I always enjoy reading your blogs!
May I request that you revisit your best watch list and do an update on it? I notice some of the watches on the list are no longer in production, or some have new movements on them and so forth. I think it is a good idea to have the list updated – if you get the chance to do it 🙂
Anyway, keep up the good work!
Hi Michael. Thanks for the kind words!
Yes, I’ve been thinking of doing an update for the lists. I originally thought to revisit it last year but I don’t see any advantage of doing a yearly update as I don’t think the list will be very much different. But after 2 years, I do agree with you that many watches in the list were not there, some were updated with new movements, etc. so there’s a strong reason to update it. Thanks for the suggestion Michael!