Manual-Winding vs Self-Winding Automatic Watches

Wait a minute…isn’t all mechanical watches the same?

We all know the difference between a quartz watch and automatic watch, but do you know some mechanical movement works differently?

Today we'll explore why people love self-winding (automatic) watches and hand-wound watches, also known as manual-wind watches.

We'll also give you some insight on how you would use each of these as well as how these different types of watches work so that you'll appreciate these differences.

Manual winding and self-winding are two types of mechanisms used in mechanical watches to wind the mainspring and power the watch.

All watches are powered by a tightly wound spring, which is hidden in the box. This spring is called the mainspring. The watch uses the unwinding movement of the mainspring to tell time.

In order for the watch to function, the mainspring will need to be wound either manually by turning the crown (the little projection on the watch side) or automatically.

How the mainspring is wound gives rise to two different types of wristwatches, the manual wristwatch and the automatic, also known as a self-winding wrist watch.

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Manual-Winding Watch (Hand-Winding)

Manual watches are the earliest types of watches and have seen lots of improvement such that they are now very accurate.

A manual winding watch requires the user to manually turn the crown to wind the mainspring. This must be done periodically to keep the watch running.

Just imagine a music box or you can call it "carillons à musique". Once you winded up and release, the music will play and the coil will turn. Once the coil stopped, the music stopped. This is the same concept as the manual-winding watches.

When you turn the crown, the spring gets loaded with potential energy, and when released, the mainspring unwinds slowly.

The slow movement of the mainspring produces energy which is transmitted using a sophisticated gear system. The movement of the gear system causes the clock hands to move.

Since mechanical watches do not make use of cells, you'll need to periodically wound the mainspring for it to power the watch system.

Depending on the life of the watch, you may need to do this every day before you put on the watch or every two days. If the watch is not wounded, it will stop working.


- Manual watches are built slimmer and are not as heavy as automatic watches since they have fewer parts.

- The impressive movement of manual watches can be exposed to full view by using transparent glasses. This makes Manual watch an excellent choice for most people who love the aesthetic of watch movements.

- You get to wind your watch every day.


- You have to wind your watch every day.

- Wounding the watch every day can become a tedious task.

- The crown wears easily.

Self-Winding Watch

Self-winding watch is the second type of mechanical movements. This type of movement evolved from the manual movement. 

A self-winding, or automatic, watch uses the movement of the wearer's wrist to wind the mainspring. A rotor, which is a weighted component that rotates with the movement of the wrist, winds the mainspring automatically. Self-winding watches don't require manual winding, but may stop if not worn for a prolonged period of time.

Automatic movement works on a similar mechanism as the manual watch. It depends on energy from the mainspring to tell time. However, unlike the manual watch, automatically uses a rotor to wound the mainspring.

Automatic Watch uses a rotor, which is a circular disc to wound up the spring. The rotor turns when you move your body. The turning movement of the rotor automatically wind the spring, so you won't have to wind the spring consciously.

For automatic watches to work continuously, you'll have to use them on a daily basis. When kept on the table for more than two days, an automatic watch will stop working and will need to be manually wounded (by turning the crown) for them to start working again.


- You don't have to worry about winding automatic watches every day before you use them.

- Automatic Watches are the most preferred choice by most watch lovers and the choice movement for most luxury watchmakers.


- Due to the additional weight of the rotor, automatic watches are heavier than manual watches. Though most users describe this weight as “reassuring” to some, it makes the watch inconvenient.

- For those who will like to display their watch movement for all to see, automatic watches may not be suitable as the movement is often obstructed by the rotor.


Both manual winding and self-winding watches are mechanical and do not require a battery, but the difference lies in how the mainspring is wound. It ultimately comes down to personal preference as to which type of winding mechanism is preferred. Deciding on the movements depend on your personal preference- whether you plan to wear the watch every day or you are interested in craftsmanship. No doubt that mechanical movements are durable and have detailed construction, which is why they last for generations!




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