How Long Do Automatic Watches Last? Here’s What to Expect

Thinking of getting a new watch? It is always smart to investigate whether your new purchase will be long-lasting. Since automatic watches tend to sell at a premium (and for a good reason), knowing what to expect from the watch is a sign that tells me you will be a good owner of an automatic watch.

Automatic watches last forever with proper maintenance. For an automatic to last forever, it has to be serviced with proper lubrication and replacements of damaged cogs and springs every 5-10 years. Automatic watches are assembled with quality parts and highly skilled craftsmen.

The reason automatic watches are still in existence, even after quartz, smartphones, and computers were invented, is due to the simple fact the automatic watches last for eternity if properly cared for.

How Long Do Automatic Watches Last?

To understand how automatic watches can last forever, it might be worth knowing something about the movement. An automatic movement consists of over 100 different cogs, gears, springs, and other small metal pieces. All the components are screwed in placed and attached to the case of the watch. To make sure your watch will last, you have to treat it like a car.

Good quality watches can be expected to last well beyond a lifetime. Under the right care and maintenance, having an automatic watch becoming an heirloom should be no problem.

Good quality automatic watches are generally Swiss movements. However, Japanese movements are also very respected and should also be sufficient.

Yet, cheap Chinese movements seen in some indie/cheap brands should not be expected to last long. They are produced on some very loss tolerances and qualities compared to Swiss and Japanese movements.

All these parts grind against each other all day, every day, for years on end. To minimize the wear of the components, each moving part in the movement is lubricated.

Lubricating the components technically does so none of the components ever touch, but rather the lubrication between the components touch.

To make sure the lubrication doesn’t dry up or becomes grimy, it is recommended to send the automatic watch for service each 3 to 5 years.

If the watch is taken for service every 3 to 5 years, the matchmaker might suggest a total disassembly of the watch every 7-10 years.

The movement will be completely disassembled, washed, any damaged or worn components replaced, and fully relubricated.

The last 7-10 year service with a full disassembly might not be needed if you care for the watch and get the regular services.

The “full service” or “overhaul” service is required only for watches that either need multiple parts replaced or if the movement starts showing signs of age.

It is the service and care that makes the watch last forever.

Parts From A Full Serviced Omega Seamaster Professional 300M
Some Parts From A Full Serviced Omega Seamaster Professional 300M

Good Rules of Thumb For Everyday Use:

  • If the watch starts to run ± 1 minute per day, it is safe to say you need a watchmaker for some kind of service.
  • The engagement of the date change mechanism between 9 p.m and 2 a.m, is known as the danger zone. Don’t adjust the time in that period. It can damage the movement.
  • Avoid any magnetism. Watches can get magnetized, and while it can get fixed, it is better avoided.
  • Big shocks should be avoided. While people have been playing the sledgehammer game at the carnival without breaking the watch, automatic watches are not made to be 100% shock resistant.

Over time the parts for the automatic movements will be difficult to find. Therefore the servicing can become too expensive to be worthwhile.

Many antique watches or watches from manufactures there is no longer around can be very difficult to repair if the production of spare parts where limited and the parts cant be found anywhere.

How To Maintain An Automatic Watch

Maintaining an automatic watch is relatively straightforward. The tricky part is the price of the maintenance. The cost of the service is heavily reflected in the brand and quality of the watch. Brands like Omega and Rolex have the regular maintenance service costs around $200-$300. In contrast, the full service or overhaul can cost between $600-$1000.

Good Rules of Thumb for Maintaining Your Watch:

  • Go for regular services of intervals between 3-5 years (a standard servicing).
  • If watch has water resistance go for a yearly compression test to ensure water tightness.
  • If the watch starts to run ± 20 seconds per day it is safe to say you are in need of a watchmaker for some kind of service.
  • Keep the crowns of the watch closed. Dirt, dust, and whatnot will get in.

Wear the Watch

While this is an obvious one, wearing the watch helps the lubrication flow in the watch. If the watch is stored for too long, the oils could eventually harden and make the movement have difficulties running.

When you wear the watch, you will also keep an eye on the condition of the movement. If it is suddenly ticking 20 seconds late per day, you know that something is wrong. You wouldn’t see that if it was placed in a drawer.

There are watch winders which can keep the watch wound while you wear other watches. However, there are reasons why you should invest in a high-quality watch winder. This is not a place to skip quality, as poor watch winders can expose the watch to both magnetism, and if overwinding the watch, it can cause excessive wear to the slip-clutch.

Get the Watch Proper Service

Speaking of wear, the watch should be serviced ever so often. The interval of the services depends on the quality of the watch. A modern Omega doesn’t need as frequent service as an antique no-name brands.

The universal recommended service interval is between 3 to 5 years. There is a difference, such as Omega’s co-axial movement has a recommended service interval of 7 years. So before blowing your hard-earned money on “over-servicing” your beautiful timepiece, consult with your watchmaker or manual that came with the watch.

The importance of proper service can’t be understated. The servicing is what makes the watches last for lifetimes to come. You should look for watchmakers/jewelers who are authorized in servicing your particular watch.

Watch the Winding

An automatic watch can’t get overwound like a mechanical watch can. However, there can be an excessive wear on the slip-clutch. The slip-clutch is what makes the automatic movement unable to be overwound. When the watch is fully wound, the slip-clutch as activated, and the rotor no longer winds the mainspring.

However, if the slip-clutch is damaged, the watch can overwind or not wind at all. Therefore, you shouldn’t go wind the watch whenever you use it. If the watch has stopped, turn the crown a good 20 times. From here, let the watch do the winding to avoid any unnecessary damage.

Clean the Watch

For watches with water resistance, you should wash it ever so often. The salts from your sweat will set around on the bracelet and the case of the watch. While it is not something that impacts the movement of the watch, it can make the outside look nasty.

When the links of the bracelet grind against each other, the anti-corrosion can get weared out, adding the salts from your sweat and maybe even some diving, the bracelet could start rusting.

Do Automatic Watches Stop?

An automatic watch stops after 30-70 hours without any winding. When the power reserve of an automatic watch runs out of energy, it stops. This is not dangerous nor damaging to the watch. To get the watch going again, simply turn the crown about 20 times and slap it on the wrist. The watch will now wind itself on your wrist.

Many thinks that if the watch stops, it is because something is wrong. However, on automatic watches, it is highly unlikely you will have a watch that won’t stop from time to time because the mainspring has released the energy stored in the movement.

For people not knowing what an automatic watch is, it might look disguising. However, it is completely normal. An automatic watch does not use a battery, but a spring that is wound by either the crown of the watch or the rotor.

Jonas Henriksen

AllInWatches is founded by Jonas, who has a great interest in mechanical watches. All aspects of manual and automatic (mechanical) watches is a big interest and have been a passion since 2015, where the first automatic watch was purchased. Seeing the transparent case back and discovering the heritage of watchmaking piqued an interest in horology.

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