For our next installment in our weekly history of watch types series, we will be covering the very popular automatic watch. If you missed our last few posts on other watch types go check them out here. These watches are designed to not require daily winding, unlike fully mechanical watches. Like manual watches, the automatic timepiece does not require a battery to keep time, instead relying on the wearer’s motion to power the mainspring. The main distinction between automatic and fully mechanical watches is a rotor – a partial circular piece of metal on the back of the movement that swings back and forth, storing energy for the watch to use later.
Manual watches had been used for centuries before the invention of the auto watch. There was a clear advantage to being able to create an automatic timepiece, the ability to not have to wind a watch each morning for daily use. The first breakthroughs came in the late 1700s. Many watchmakers in the 1770s sought a way for a timekeeper to keep its own time without the need for winding. Abraham-Louis Perelette, a swiss watchmaker had a breakthrough in the late 1770s. Perelette created a pocket watch that it was claimed with 15 minutes of walking the watch spring can be fully wound without the need to manually wound the watch. It is important to note that the original inventor is disputed by a french watchmaker Hubert Sarton, though it is unclear whether this account is correct. Nevertheless, by the early 19th century there were a few watchmakers who had automatic pocket watches for sale.
The Automatic Wrist Watch
The next developments in the automatic world did not happen for over a century. In the early 1920s, following the first world war, the automatic wristwatch began to take shape. In 1923 John Hardwood invented a system similar to the system the automatic pocket watches used for winding the watch. He filed for a patent and began to produce his automatic wristwatches, a first of their kind. Hardwood’s watch reportedly ran for 12 hours on kinetic movement. This began a revolution of advancement for the watch world. Other watch companies, Rolex included, began to experiment with different weights in their wristwatches to try to come out with their own automatic wristwatches.
Continued Development and Modern Day
In 1948, Eterna came out with an automatic watch that included ball bearings. This allowed for better timekeeping and reduced stress on the internals of the watch. Automatic timekeepers still dominate a lot of the watch market today, though they have lost some ground to the more recent quartz watches, that use a battery. These watches also pushed the manual watch out of the watch market spotlight, and both are very popular with collectors today.
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