The concept of the automatic watch movement was discovered by a Swiss watchmaker, Abraham Louis Perrelet, in the late eighteenth century and then developed by Breguet, when French watches were the reference in horology. Still, it could have been more successful then, as watches were mainly pocket watches, and their adjustment and winding happened daily, so the concept of automatic watches for men remained in the drawer of useless tech for a long time.
But then, around 1920, when the watches migrated from the pocket to the wrist, it was rediscovered by a British watchmaker, John Harwood; he created the first modern automatic wristwatch, a type that has since spread to modern watches. As a result, most of the mechanical watches we use on a daily basis are automatic watches. So let’s explore these timepieces together and find out about them in different price ranges!
What does automatic watch mean?
Automatic watches are those mechanical watches that wind themselves with the movement of our arm. There are two main types of automatic watches: those that use a bumper winding mechanism (which derives from the concept used in Harwood’s watches) and others that rely on a rotor mechanism, which can be either central, such as the Perpetual, made famous by Rolex in its Oyster Perpetual, or micro-rotor, of which one of the earliest examples was the Universal Geneve Polerouter designed by the ingenious Gerald Genta.
The main feature of ladies and mens automatic watches is that they do not depend on a battery to run continuously. In fact, they are mechanical-based. However, there are exceptions, such as self-winding hybrid watch calibers like the Seiko Kinetic system.
Are automatic watches a good buy?
To date, most watches for sale are automatic, and only very few remain manual winding. The main reason hand-wound watches continue to exist is simple; in fact, an automatic watch is always thicker than its hand-wound counterpart precisely because of the space required to accommodate the rotor or bumper. Hand-wound calibers such as the Peseux 6100 were born to be slim; this was the main feature of dress watches, which had to be easily tucked under shirt cuffs.
By their nature, automatic calibers are thicker, encouraging their popularity in sportier watches, such as diver watches. In addition, the impossibility of winding the watch through the crown was an added guarantee to prevent water infiltration into the timepiece, which favored its robustness and reliability.
Thus, we can conclude that, mainly due to the evolution of materials and technologies, which have made it possible to obtain accurate, efficient, and reasonably compact watches, the modern use of automatic watches has become prevalent in the field of mechanical watches. This is why they represent an excellent purchase choice, if not the only one possible: most technical timepieces, like the divers and the GMT watches, are indeed automatic.
The Best automatic watches
Choosing the best automatic mechanical watch today is certainly not easy since the market consists of 90% automatic watches. However, it is important to give our readers some general guidelines to avoid making wrong choices, especially at the beginning, when you are approaching the world of mechanical watches and do not yet have the skills to decide which is the best choice for a cool automatic watch with your investment, whether small or large.
Best value for money automatic watch
Combining the absolute best value for money depends very much on personal judgment. Moreover, being able to range in all price ranges becomes even more complicated, given the vast number of models offered by the different Maisons; especially when we consider the offerings of the new microbrands popping up globally, which have given us watch lovers a huge choice.
Farer is a British microbrand reviving the glories of British watchmaking. It offers watches with outstanding design, excellent quality, finish, and technical specifications. Its Pembroke model represents the quintessential daily beater: a perfect 38.5 mm watch at home in more formal situations as it is in leisure. It features a marine steel case, a water resistance of as much as 300 meters, and is driven by one of the most reliable calibers on the market, namely the Sellita SW200. In addition, it offers as many as three different straps-a steel bracelet, a technical NATO strap, and a more formal Horween leather strap-that allows it to change its look in minutes.
Best automatic sports watch
The sports watch excels in less formal situations, echoing its characteristics as a measuring instrument that must remain reliable even in borderline cases, such as in water. The divers represent the most common case in the sports watch category, although others exist.
Davosa Military 161 511 84
It has a simple name that communicates its origins well: an inspiration that lies somewhere between a military field watch and a pilot’s watch for uncompromising portability. The Davosa Military offers, in its 42 mm size, perfect legibility and a character that lends authority; it isenhanced by its leather strap with contrasting stitching and large, clearly visible numerals with antiqued lumens. Its steel case, with black PVD coating, features 200-meter water resistance; it also encloses a precise Sellita SW200 movement with a 38-hour power reserve.
Best automatic watch under X
In addition to these two main categories, we know that our readers are interested in budget indications to buy the automatic watches they crave. That is why we will include increasing price categories that will take us from simple casual beater watches to high-class models of haute horology to help them buy the best budget automatic watch.
Best automatic watch under $200 – Invicta Pro Diver 1953
If you are interested in watches, you cannot have heard of Invicta. This American watch company could be better-regarded in the enthusiast world, but we must admit that this vintage-style version of its classic, the Pro Diver, hits the mark. The 1953 is a handsome automatic sports watch that echoes the lines of the skin divers of yesteryear yet offers modern features, such as its sturdy Seiko NH35 movement (visible from the transparent case-back, with its nice yellow rotor) that ensures highly reliable performance. Two hundred meters of water resistance allows even challenging dives. Its steel case and bracelet are well executed, especially considering the price at which you can find it for sale.
Best automatic watch under $300 – Orient Bambino 38 RA-AC0M03S
When quality rhymes with affordability, we find ourselves looking at the production of companies such as Orient. The brand belonging to the Seiko galaxy has always offered excellent entry-level automatic watches at super-reasonable prices. The Orient Bambino 38 belongs to this category, and the new model, with a more compact case of only 38.4 mm in diameter, achieves perfection in size and portability. The Bambino is a simple three-hand date watch with sleek lines that seem straight out of the 1960s, but its F6724 manufacture movement is modern and functional. Its price has risen slightly since its last edition but remains competitive. Among the different references, we really like the RA-AC0M03S, with a silver dial.
Best automatic watch under $500 – Seiko Presage Cocktail Time SRPB41
The area covered by this line from the Japanese giant offers several attractive watches dubbed “Baby Grand Seiko” by enthusiasts. This Seiko Presage Cocktail Time, with its three-dimensional blue sunburst dial, is a perfect example of a stylish but affordable automatic watch. A diameter of 40.5 mm makes it practically perfect on the wrist and beautifully finished, and with its steel bracelet, this timepiece proves to be the right choice for either occasion. Moreover, it mounts a modern Seiko 4R35 automatic movement with a 41-hour power reserve and offers water resistance of an impressive 200 meters.
Best automatic watch under $1,000 – Alpina Startimer Pilot Automatic
Alpina is one of the small Maisons that made Swiss watchmaking great, and even now that it is part of the Citizen Group, this Startimer pays homage to the timepieces of its origins. Available in two versions, 44 mm and 40 mm, this Startimer is a revised and corrected version of the military fliegers and offers excellent legibility, high-level finishing, and water resistance of 100 meters. It mounts a caliber derived from the Sellita SW200 movement, a standard movement in Swiss watchmaking that offers about 40 hours of power reserve.
Best automatic watch under $2,000 – Tissot PRX Chronograph
This latest launch by Tissot has taken the watchmaking world by storm. Not only the solo-time version, which is already engaging in its own right but also the chronograph version, which offers a beautiful example of 1970s heritage chrono with its distinctive linked bracelet. It is a somewhat sizable watch, at 42 mm, but perfectly legible thanks to its Panda dial with gold accents. It mounts a Valjoux caliber 7753 that offers an impressive 60 hours of power reserve.
Best automatic watch under $5,000 – Grand Seiko SBGA427
Available in several variants, this model from Grand Seiko represents all the better qualities of the Japanese watches. It stands out for its wearability, thanks to its 39 mm diameter, its accuracy of detail, which puts it in a class of its own when it comes to finishing, and its Spring Drive hybrid movement, visible from the display back, a Seiko exclusive that combines the best elements of mechanical and electronic calibers, ensuring exceptional timekeeping. It is not easy to find, but examples on the secondhand market are traded around this figure.
Best automatic watch under $10,000 – Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Tribute – ref. Q3858520
The Reverso is an icon of watchmaking and represents a past when class was unparalleled. This watch, designed to be reversible to protect its dial, represents perhaps the first sports watch in history. Even today, in its infinite variations, it hints at the refined taste of its wearer. This simple automatic single-time version (there are many manual-winding ones) captures us for its respect to the original of the 1930s, and it mounts an automatic caliber JLC822/2 with 45 hours of power reserve.
Best automatic watch under $15,000 – Bulgari Octo Finissimo S
The Bulgari Octo Finissimo S is a watch that embodies all the class and elegance of the Roman Maison and puts it on your wrist. Its case has architectural details that make it unique and inimitable. It has a diameter of 40 mm and an integrated bracelet that make it an extremely comfortable watch, and its height of only 6.4 mm makes it disappear quickly under shirt cuffs. It mounts an in-house BVL138 caliber, visible through the display back, which gives it 60 hours of power reserve and offers a water resistance of 100 meters.
Best automatic watch under $20,000 – A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia ref 380.033
German watches range among the best in the world, and the refined collection of these timepieces made by the refined German brand offers several lines of manual winding and automatic watches, among the most elegant and valuable in the watch market. The Saxonia is the first step into this realm of luxury; available with a white or rose gold case, this watch represents the dress watch in its purest form. It mounts in its 38.5 mm case the in-house caliber L086.1 measuring only 3.7 mm of thickness and offering a power reserve of an impressive 72 hours.
The beauty of automatic watches is that they are effortless to wear, come in many price ranges, from the cheapest to the most sophisticated, and efficiently meet the most diverse usage needs and styles. An automatic watch can be the perfect companion for a night out at a club with friends or an important business meeting. It helps give distinction to the wearer and is practical because of its main feature, which is that it is always on if it is worn.
In summary, whatever your life may be, an automatic watch can become a faithful assistant on your wrist.