Whether you are seeking a new Rolex Daytona automatic watch, want to buy a pre-owned Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, or are simply browsing for new self winding watches from brands like Omega and Patek Philippe for your collection, there are thousands of options on the new and pre-owned market.
Before the development of self winding watches, mechanical watches were manual. This meant that the owner was required to regularly wind their watch otherwise it would slow down and eventually stop. Not only was this inconvenient but it also led to many people over-winding their watches and damaging the movement. The answer to this problem was the development of an automatic watch movement that did not need to be manually wound by turning the crown. Instead, the mechanism is powered by kinetic energy that is harnessed as the wearer moves. Today, most mechanical watches from brands such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Breitling, Omega and Cartier are self winding, though manual wind watches are still available for those who prefer that option.
The price of automatic watches for men and women has a wide range and depends on the brand, model and materials used in the timepiece. A luxury self winding watch set with diamonds in gold or platinum could have a price tag of tens of thousands of dollars. Those which also feature elaborate complications, such as those of the Grandmaster Chime Ref 6300G by Patek Philippe, can run into the millions. However, high-end automatic watches made from more accessible materials, such as stainless steel, and with more simple features have a more affordable price. Another option for those looking to buy automatic watches without spending a fortune is to consider the pre-owned market. It's a great way to get your hands on contemporary and retro watch models from brands like Rolex, Breitling, Panerai and Cartier.
Some of the most expensive self winding watches in the world come from famous brands such as Audemars Piguet with prices averaging around 30,000€ (40,000 US$). If you aren't looking to spend so much, you could buy automatic watch models from TAG Heuer and Omega, which have prices from just over 1,000€ (1200 US$).
| Average Prices for Automatic Watches
|Watch Brand||Watch Model||Average price (starting from, €/$US|
|TAG Heuer||Formula 1||1,780€/2,095$|
|Cartier||Calibre de Cartier
|Audemars Piguet||Royal Oak
Jaeger-LeCoultre, Omega, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Cartier and Patek Philippe are just a few of the brands that have emerged as leaders and innovators in watch-making since the advent of the automatic movement. Each of these top names is renown worldwide for their unique, iconic contributions to the world of horology and style.
Though many people now instantly associate the Omega Seamaster with 007 James Bond, the waterproof diver's watch has been around since long before the 1990s, when it was first sported by the movie spy. Before the Seamaster, in 1932, Omega released one of the world's first automatic diver's watches – the Marine. Over the years, their experience and knowledge grew and allowed them to make design improvements, eventually leading to the release of the 1948 Omega Seamaster. Durable and water-resistant up to 60m due to the addition of an O-ring seal, the watch was sporty yet smart enough to wear with a suit. For the 70th anniversary of the 1948 Seamaster, Omega released two edition models in 18K white gold with Master Chronometer movements. The 1957 Seamaster 300 was part of Omega's Professional collection and featured enhancements including water-resistance up to 200m and thicker glass to withstand water pressure. Over the years, many variations of the Seamaster 300 have been produced including the Seamaster 300 Spectre to celebrate the brand's partnership with the Bond movies.
The Rolex Submariner wristwatch was introduced in 1954. Its design aimed to serve the dual purpose of providing accurate underwater time-keeping and presenting an attractive appearance. Features included an Oyster case to prevent water from entering the workings, rotating bezel, water-tight crown, clear numerals for easy reading and a date window. It was powered by the Calibre 3130 self winding movement. Rolex's diving watch quickly became popular amongst professional divers, but also earned famous fans including Steve McQueen, as well as Roger Moore and Sean Connery in the role of James Bond.
Louis Cartier designed the Cartier Tank in 1917, inspired by the rectangular shape of Renault tanks used in battle during World War I. He gifted the original model to General John Pershing, an American military leader who had played an important role in the liberation of France. The wristwatch had clean lines that gave it an instant and classic appeal and ensured its status as an iconic Cartier design. Other Tank wristwatch models include the Tank Americaine , Tank Francaise and Tank Anglaise, each offering a fresh variation on the original.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was born of a desire to create a new luxury sports watch that was very different from those available at the time. An Audemars Piguet marketing director approached the well-known watch-maker Gerald Genta and challenged him to come up with a design overnight, before the 1971 Swiss Annual Watch Show in Basel. Genta, who had previously worked on the Omega Constellation and Patek Phillipe Golden Ellipse, decided to draw inspiration from the design of a traditional brass diver's helmet.
Named the Royal Oak in honour of a British Royal Navy battleship, the steel watch had a distinctive octagonal bezel, adjustable bracelet, visible screws and a patterned dial. It was powered by a self-winding Calibre 2121 movement. This shock resistant movement was the successor to the Calibre 2120, which was designed as a collaboration between Audemars Piguet, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe. Although the initial reception of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak wasn't overly warm when in launched in 1972, the design soon won favour amongst those seeking exclusive timepieces with luxurious personality. Variations produced over the years include 1981 Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, the 2010 Royal Oak Equation of Time and the 20th anniversary Royal Oak Offshore , designed by Emmanuele Gueit.
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is instantly recognisable with its clever hinged design that allows the face to be reversed. The original Reverso wristwatch was designed in the 1930s by Jacques-David LeCoultre. He had been challenged to create a piece that would be suitable for wearing while playing polo and came up with the sleek, sporty Art Deco styled timepiece. Over the years, this old-favourite from Jaeger-LeCoultre has been produced with many variations including moon-phases, tourbillon and dual-faces.
First launched in 1932, the Calatrava has become one of the most iconic Patek Philippe designs and for many is the ultimate men's dress watch. The original Calatrava Reference 96 was designed by David Penney and sought to channel the Bauhaus School concept of form following function. The essence of elegant simplicity, Ref. 96 had a round case with integrated lugs tapered for comfort in wear, and a clean, unfussy dial, with the 12”120 Calibre. The Ref. 96 Calatrava model was produced from 1932 to 1973 and gained a great following over the years. Patek Philippe have offered dozens of variations on the Calatrava including ladies watches and models with diverse complications.
The Zenith El Primero is claimed to be the first automatic chronograph. It was introduced in 1969 after many years of research and development. The 6.5mm thick and 29.33mm diameter calibre produced 36,000 vibrations per hour, beating all existing chronographs for accuracy. Zenith tested El Primero by attaching it to a Boeing 707 for a flight from France over the Atlantic to New York. Despite the extreme changes in temperature and atmospheric pressure, as well as harsh movements, the chronograph still kept perfect time and needed no adjustments.
Ask any group of watch aficionados whether an automatic watch movement or quartz watch movement is better and you'll likely to spark quite a debate. Both types of watch movement have their advantages and which one a person prefers tends to come down to what they are looking for in a watch. In general, a watch with a self winding movement will appeal to those looking for a timepiece which displays elaborate craftsmanship and precise design. Watches with quartz movements tend to be produced in higher numbers and therefore tend to be a more affordable option. They will appeal to those who want to own a high-end mechanical watch but aren't so concerned about its workings showing such masterful and intricate engineering.
Unlike a quartz watch , which is powered by a battery and tiny quartz crystal, automatic watches use kinetic energy. The watch movement contains a spring which gathers energy as the wearer moves and uses it to make the complex components move and keep accurate time. Modern automatic watches have exceptional power reserves, with some models from brands like Hublot and IWC Schaffhausen offering more than 60 hours of power from a full charge.
However, horologists recommend that owners wear their self winding timepieces regularly to keep them in tip-top condition. When an automatic watch runs out of power and is left unworn, problems may develop within the movement that can affect its accuracy. Many watch-collectors avoid this issue by storing any automatic watches that are not worn regularly in an automatic watch winder. This is a handy device which rotates the watch to prevent it from ever running out of power and stopping.
The earliest design for an automatic watch is attributed to Swiss watchmaker Abraham Louis Perrelet. In 1778, Perrelet developed a mechanical device which used an oscillating weight to harness energy to power a pocket watch. The design, which is known as the Leroy watch movement, took around 15 minutes of walking to fully charge.
Although Perrelet is considered by many to be the “father of the automatic watch”, he was not the only one to come up with such innovations. Around the same time, Hubert Sarton, a Belgian horologist developed a similar rotor-mechanism for timepieces. There is much disagreement amongst historians as to whose self-winding mechanism came first, however, it is safe to say that both were important in the development of the automatic watch as we know it today.
In 1770, Abraham Louis Breguet bought Perrelet's design and made some changes. He sold the resulting watches for a number of years but took them off the market in 1800 after customer complaints that they were not reliable at keeping time.
Throughout the 1800s and until after the First World War, automatic watches were produced in limited numbers. In the post-war period, the industry boomed as improved technology and manufacture techniques allowed for the production of self-winding watches. In 1923 John Harwood, a British watch-repairer, was one of the first to acquire patents for an automated watch, in both Switzerland and England.
Production of his designs began in 1928 in Switzerland and the “Bumper” watch soon gained popularity. These watches had a 12-hour capacity when fully charged.
The next major development in self-winding watches came with the Rolex Oyster Perpetual . Their innovative free weight system allowed the weights to rotate 360º to improve performance, resulting in a watch that boasted 35 hours reserve when fully charged. After this came the Eterna Watch, which incorporated ball-bearings into the movement to minimise wear and tear on the working parts.