Automatic Mechanical Watches – Going Old School

Automatic Watchs

The second old school thing that struck me was wrist watches. Having been introduced to the horological world at a tender age of about six or seven, when my dad bought me my very first watch, a mechanical hand-wind watch. Yup, the kind that you have to wind-up every morning, before putting them on, and then hurriedly ushered off to school. Back then, that’s the only kind of watch that I know of.

This article is part of the Going Old School series. If you landed here out of nowhere, then click here to go to the beginning. Otherwise, please continue reading.

But within the next year or two, in the early 1980’s, when the tsunami of digital watches brought the next worldwide craze. It started with the LED watches, the kind with dark screen that doesn’t display anything until you pressed a button, and the time will light up, and then off again within two seconds. Saving battery power perhaps?

LED watch craze didn’t last very long. Soon after, LCD watches came, with it’s signature “always on” display. Now you can simply flick your wrist towards your eyes to tell the time, and not need to use the free hand to press any buttons.

Again, the LCD watch, the modern representation of a digital watch, didn’t last very long either. They didn’t completely go away though. They just simply lost its lustre that went with the new watch buying crowd.

Before the end of the 20th century, mechanical-looking dial watches are making a fashion come back. They look like the mechanical watch of old, but they sure don’t feel that way. For one thing, they sure weigh very much lighter than the real mechanical watches. Why?… Well, it’s running on the same quartz engine that powers all digital watches. There are no mechanical linkages, springs, or balance wheel inside them. In fact, aside from the few pieces of electrically powered gears to move the hands, they literary come with no moving parts at all.

From the super-low-end “disposable” watches that you buy from roadside stalls all the way up to super-expensive design house branded watches, they all run on the same quartz engine.

Advances in technology?… Perhaps… But why make them look like the watches of old when they don’t even work like the good old mechanical watches?

Anyway, it wasn’t long before I started yearning for the real deal mechanical watches. You don’t buy a watch just because it looks good. You buy one because it runs on the renewable energy. Hmm… Looks like the horologists of old were already centuries ahead of their time.

Renewable energy?… Yup!… Whether it’s hand-wind, or auto-wind, it starts with kinetic energy (hand winding or rotor swaying) winding up the main spring (potential energy), which is slowly released at a fixed pace (back to kinetic energy) by the escapement mechanism, to then turn the hands of the watch.

And the wonderful thing is that there’s no battery to change… Ever… There’s no electrical energy involved in the whole equation. Well, except for maybe a few models of electro-mechanical watches like the Seiko Spring Drive. But otherwise, mechanical watches are completely battery-less.

So why am I so engrossed with mechanical watches? Well, for one thing, there’s the emotional attachment to it. You need to interact with it in order to keep it “alive”. Unlike the quartz watch, you can put in a new battery, and shove it into the abyss of your desk drawer, and it will still work for as long as there’s still juice in the battery. You see, it doesn’t need to interact with you to survive… It doesn’t need you!

Mechanical watches are like pets. They need to have constant interaction with you to survive. They need to be fed (winding or just wearing them), and they need to be cleaned. And that means they need to have close interaction with you. Just like a pet, if you simply shove it into a corner, and forgotten about, it’ll eventually die. And that creates a strong emotional bond.

And besides, I simply love the micro engineering of the delicate parts in my watch. So eat that, you battery eating, landfill contributing, short lived modern watch.

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