There’s a watch for every occasion. Many of the most hyped watches require a battery, which means that they’ll eventually need a battery replacement. A quality mechanical wind-up watch, however, will forever keep going if you treat it right.
Here’s where to start if you’re looking for a watch that you can wind up, put on, and go without the fear that the hands will stop turning due to a dead battery.
How Do Wind-up Watches Work?
Most of the wristwatches driving current trends are battery-powered quartz watches (that goes for new watch brands you should know as well as for affordable vintage watches). These work by sending electricity from the battery into a quartz crystal, which vibrates and drives the motor of the watch hands. It’s simple, reliable, and cheap (when it comes to price, not the quality of the build).
Mechanical watches are much more complex, and, importantly, wind-up watches have no battery. They’re engineered down to the tiniest detail and are analog through and through with three major functional sections. There’s the mainspring, which stores tension and is the power source for the watch. Tension is released from the spring in small, controlled bursts by the escapement. In skeletonized mechanical watches, you can identify the escapement assembly as the part of the watch that looks like a wheel that very quickly spins one direction, then back, then back again, over and over until the tension of the mainspring is spent. The escapement is regulating the release of tension into the wheel train, which comprises gears that turn at precise speeds. This is the part of the watch that actually measures time. Generally speaking, one wheel measures seconds, one measures minutes, and one measures hours, and each is connected to the respective hands on the face of the watch.
Many modern mechanical watches are automatic, also known as self-winding. That means there are weighted rotors that wind the mainspring naturally as the wearer moves their arm. Of course, self-winding mechanical watches can be wound manually if the need arises as well.
If you’re the type of person who finds that their watch batteries always give out, a mechanical watch is the way to go. These automatic mechanical watches, many of which have viewing windows to see the rotor doing its job, will never die on you because of a spent battery.
Bobo Bird R05-1
I got this watch as a Christmas gift a few years ago and the compliments have been rolling in ever since. The contrast between dark and light colors of the band is immediately eye-catching, especially since it’s wood, which is still relatively rare. It’s also nice to see everything that’s going on inside, regardless of whether or not you fully understand what all those gears and dials are doing. And you get all of that for a price you don’t have to flinch at.
Invicta Grand Diver
It’s always good to have a dive watch in your watch case. Not just for actually diving, but because dive watches are rugged and can stand up to day-to-day use while still looking classy enough to wear to professional events. The Invicta Grand Diver is a great example: it’s an attractive watch that will keep accurate time while you’re beating the hell out of it. Fair warning: The watch weighs in at more than a pound. That could be a strike against it in terms of how practical it is for everyday use, but it’s a solid choice for people who want to feel like they have some real weight on their wrist.
Orient Bambino Version 3
The Bambino Version 3 from Orient departs from the others in its range that take a lot of cues from older, more ornate watch styles that have fancy number fonts and the occasional Roman numeral thrown in. In comparison, the Version 3 is a minimalist’s dream. Everything about it is clean lines and bold contrasts, built on a reliable Japanese-style automatic movement. It’s still visually striking, so we’re not sure if it would be right to call the watch “understated.” Maybe something closer to subtle.
Fossil’s Inscription range demonstrates the true meaning of clockwork. You can see everything going on inside this thing, to the point that if you stare too long, you run the risk of having vivid Dali-esque hallucinations of gears, springs, and dials. Everything about it looks complicated and delicate, mostly because that’s exactly what mechanical watches are on the inside. Plus, what is a discussion about mechanical watches without least one confusing-looking watch mention.
MVMT Arc Automatic
MVMT hasn’t even been around for a decade yet. Its launch as an accessible luxury brand was so successful that it can feel as though it has been around for ages. The Arc Automatic is a great example as to why: It looks like the modern update to a watch from the 1960s, even though the guys that founded the company weren’t born yet. The rose gold accents play very well with the dark gray face and deep brown strap. Anyone who’s ever owned a MVMT watch before will tell you that you’ll lose it before you start having problems with it.
Victorinox is best known as the makers of the original Swiss army knife, but has been making watches since 1989. Just like how Victorinox knives are reliable, so are the watches. The Alliance is an attractive black dial automatic watch that comes with either a black leather strap or steel bracelet. The price tag is certainly on the higher end, but this is the kind of buy-it-for-life product that justifies the cost.
The best type of aspirational watches are ones that the average guy just might end up owning without taking out a loan. A Tudor, for example, over a Rolex. The 1926 range is a good pick given that the style has lasted for nearly a hundred years. The rose gold bezel and accents against the black and silver are a little louder than some conventional tastes might prefer, but this also isn’t an everyday watch. This thing gets put on at occasions where you want to be noticed.