One of the first things every new watch enthusiast learns about is the different types of movements. There are quartz movements that utilize a quartz crystal and an electronic oscillator to keep time with unparalleled accuracy.
There are also mechanical movements that sacrifice some precision but provide the spectacle of dozens of small parts that work in unison to create a mechanical masterpiece. Even among mechanical timepieces, there are manually wound ones and automatic ones.
So, what exactly is an automatic watch? Is it better than its manual-wind counterpart? And, what are the best luxury automatic watches currently in the market? If you want the answers to these questions, keep on reading!
What Is an Automatic Watch?
Essentially, an automatic watch is a timepiece with an automatic movement. An automatic or self-winding movement is a type of mechanical movement that draws power from the wearer’s natural wrist movement.
To achieve this, an oscillating weight spins a rotor according to the wearer’s movement to create the necessary energy to power the watch. A mainspring then utilizes this energy to turn the watch’s gears in order to move the watch hands and keep time. The mainspring also has a mechanism to avoid breakage due to overwinding.
Are Automatic Watches Better?
When it comes to the different types of mechanical movements, one is not remarkably better than the others, and all of them come with their pros and cons.
Most notably, automatic watches are easier to wear since they don’t require you to constantly wind them manually. However, the additional parts of the self-winding mechanism can make these movements thicker and heavier than manual-wind ones.
Consequently, automatic movements aren’t ideal for certain watch types, such as dress watches, that need to be slender and lightweight.
Additionally, automatic movements may require more frequent and costly services due to their extra moving parts. But, since most of them are very common, spare parts are often available.
What to Look For In an Automatic Watch
Even though automatic watches are prevalent these days, there are still a few things you should look for when you shop for one:
It’s always important to know the origin and manufacturer of an automatic movement, especially if it’s not the same as the watch brand. After all, most entry-level watch brands and microbrands can’t afford to produce their own calibers.
Most watch enthusiasts agree that Swiss automatic watches are superior thanks to the craftsmanship and heritage of Swiss watch brands. Still, there are some great automatic movements from other parts of the world, such as Germany, Japan, and the United States.
Most modern automatic watches come with large power reserves that allow the timepiece to tick for hours, even if it’s not on your wrist. This is very convenient if you switch around your watches every few days.
Ideally, you want an automatic watch that can last a few days without wearing it. Some of the best automatic watches for men are capable of over 100 hours of power reserve, with the largest one able to run for a whole month on a full wind.
Most modern automatic timepieces will come with an additional date complication, and some might even display the day of the week. While any extra complications might make the watch seem unique, they can be costly to maintain.
You can find several striking complications in high-end luxury automatic watches, including perpetual calendars, moon phases, and power reserve indicators, among others.
Best Automatic Watches
Here are some of the best automatic watches for men you can buy today:
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona
The Rolex Daytona is one of the most well-respected and highly-coveted watches in the market. Its rich history, along with Rolex’s unparalleled quality, makes it one of the best luxury automatic watches with a chronograph complication.
The latest iteration of the Daytona (ref. 116500LN) features Rolex’s newest in-house automatic chronograph movement, the caliber 4130. This is a modern self-winding movement with fewer components than traditional chronographs for better reliability and a respectable 72-hour power reserve.
Patek Philippe Aquanaut
With the Nautilus so expensive and hard to find these days, the Aquanaut provides a great sporty alternative to the most iconic Patek Philippe watch. Naturally, you’ll still need to get very lucky to find one, and you can expect to pay a huge premium over its retail price.
Still, the Aquanaut will provide you with everything Patek Philippe has to offer at a much lower price point. The most popular version (ref. 5167A) comes with the impressive self-winding caliber 26-330 S C and a dual time zone version. There are even a few excellent ladies' options, which makes this one of the best automatic watches for women.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is one of the most recognizable watches out there. Its distinct octagon-shaped design and integrated stainless steel bracelet set the trend for sports watches during the 1970s.
Other than impressive designs, Audemars Piguet is also very technically proficient when it comes to movements. The brand holds many records and innovations in the world of automatic watches, including the thinnest automatic caliber with a perpetual calendar complication (Royal Oak ref. 26586IP.OO.1240IP.01).
Vacheron Constantin Overseas
Often in the shadow of brands like Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin has still managed to establish itself as one of the most highly respected watch brands. The Vacheron Constantin Overseas is the brand’s offering in the sports luxury watch category, and it’s one of the best Swiss automatic watches.
The standard reference 4500V/110A-B128 is a simple three-handed timepiece that features all of Vacheron’s elegance and technical prowess. It comes with the caliber 5100, an in-house automatic movement with a 60-hour power reserve, and a date complication.
Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional Co-Axial
The Speedmaster is undoubtedly the most iconic watch Omega has ever created. The Moonwatch pushed humankind's boundaries by being the astronauts' trusted partner during the first-ever moon landing. Since then, it has established itself as one of the most desirable chronographs in the market.
What makes the Speedmaster one of the best luxury automatic watches is Omega’s Co-Axial movement. This unique self-winding movement features a different escapement mechanism that requires much less servicing than conventional automatic calibers but still keeps time with excellent accuracy.
Richard Mille RM 35-03
The RM 35-03 is one of the most innovative automatic watches from Richard Mille. The watch features a sporty design with a baby blue rubber strap and is very lightweight. However, what makes it stand out is its unique caliber, RMAL2.
The RMAL2 is a skeletonized self-winding movement with a patented rotor system. The rotor can change into a butterfly shape with the push of a button in order to spin around less and cause less strain on the movement. This is particularly helpful to those with more active lifestyles.
Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight
Over the past few years, Tudor has established itself as one of the best affordable luxury watch brands. It provides excellent materials, high build quality, and competent in-house movements for its timepieces. One of the most popular watches from the brand’s catalog is the Black Bay Fifty-Eight.
The Black Bay Fifty-Eight is a retro-inspired dive watch with great aesthetics and all the technical specifications you expect from a luxury timepiece. Inside the watch beats Tudor’s caliber MT5402, a COSC-certified automatic movement with a bidirectional rotor and a large 70-hour power reserve.
Panerai Luminor GMT 10 Days
The Panerai Luminor has always been one of the most recognizable watches thanks to its eccentric crown protector and cushion-shaped case. The Luminor GMT 10 Days (ref. PAM00533) combines all of the above with a top-grade automatic movement, the Panerai P.2003 caliber.
This self-winding movement has a 24-hour GMT complication and a whopping 10-day power reserve, which is one of the largest ever created. To ensure accurate timekeeping throughout ten days, the watch maintains a constant force on the mainspring, which also aids in its durability.
Back when pilots used their watches for flight calculations, Breitling created the ultimate pilot’s watch that would become an icon in the aviation world. The Navitimer has been around for almost 70 years and has been the go-to pilot chronograph ever since.
The watch features a large dial with a slide rule bezel that can still make certain calculations, although you’d be better off with a computer in this day and age. Breitling recently released its first in-house automatic movement, the caliber B01. While simple in design, it shows the brand’s dedication to creating some of the best automatic watches in the future.
IWC Mark XX
Another familiar name in the world of aviation is IWC. IWC has always produced some of the most durable and precise military-grade watches for pilots. Its “Mark” series became particularly popular with the Marx XII, the first fully commercial “Mark” timepiece.
Since then, the design philosophy of the watches hasn’t changed significantly. The Mark XX is still a no-nonsense pilot’s watch with a very legible dial, which still maintains great wearability. The watch features the caliber 32111, a very slim movement that still manages to output 120 hours of power reserve.
Watches In The Age Of Automation
We may live in the digital age of automation, but mechanical watches with automatic movements are still prevalent. Watch enthusiasts enjoy them as a status symbol that displays immense prestige and craftsmanship.
We’re driven by a similar passion for craftsmanship and attention to detail of at Operandi Firenze. It’s why we worked so hard to develop and produce the best watch roll in the market: To protect quality timepieces through impeccable engineering. Each one of our watch rolls goes through several meticulous tests to ensure its reliability, with elegant flare thanks to premium Italian leather.
Consider purchasing one of our premium watch rolls to keep your automatic watches secure while they’re not on your wrist.
So, go out there, purchase your very own luxury automatic watch, and don’t forget to keep an eye on the time!