What Happens If You Don’t Wear An Automatic Watch For A Long Time?

Automatic watches, with their intricate mechanics and time-honored designs, stand as marvels of engineering. Unlike quartz watches that run on batteries, these are powered by the daily movements of the wearer, making them unique in their operation.

If you don’t wear an automatic watch for an extended period, it will eventually stop. However, this isn’t necessarily a sign of malfunction or damage. It’s merely the nature of how these watches function, as they rely on kinetic energy for power.

The longevity and performance of an automatic watch are closely linked to its usage patterns and care. Not wearing it can have certain implications, but it’s essential to recognize that these timepieces are designed with robust mechanisms, ensuring they remain resilient over time.

Automatic watch movement

Automatic Watch Basics

Automatic watches, with their blend of precision engineering and artful design, hold a unique charm. For horology enthusiasts and casual wearers alike, these timepieces are revered for their self-winding mechanics and robust functionality. Let’s delve deep into their world and shed light on what makes them so special.

Mechanism of Automatic Watches

The name ‘automatic’ is indicative of the watch’s capability to wind itself. But how does this intricate mechanism work?

1. The Rotor

The rotor is the unsung hero of automatic watches. This semi-circular component moves in tandem with the wearer’s arm. Its perpetual motion ensures the mainspring is always wound up, ready to keep time ticking.

2. The Mainspring

The mainspring is where the energy of the watch gets stored. Think of it as a battery. But instead of chemicals and electricity, it’s all about mechanical energy. When fully wound, this coiled spring stores enough energy to power the watch even if it isn’t worn for a day or two.

3. Gear Train and the Escapement

The gear train is a series of interconnected gears that transmit the energy from the mainspring to the escapement. The escapement then takes this energy and releases it in measured, equal bursts. It’s this controlled release that allows the watch to keep time consistently.

4. The Balance Wheel

The balance wheel, in cooperation with the escapement, ensures the energy from the mainspring gets distributed rhythmically. This wheel oscillates back and forth, creating the unique ‘tick-tock’ sound that many watch enthusiasts adore.

How Movement Powers Them

It’s a marvel of engineering that an automatic watch harnesses the movement of the wrist to power itself. But how?

The constant motion of the rotor, driven by the wrist’s movement, is pivotal. As the rotor spins, it winds the mainspring. This stored energy, when transmitted through the watch’s mechanism, powers the hands and other complications the watch might have. The beauty is in the cyclical nature of this mechanism: wear the watch, and it winds itself, take it off, and the stored energy keeps it running.

Power Reserve Duration

A critical aspect of any automatic watch is its power reserve. Let’s break down what it is and why it’s essential.

Explanation of Power Reserve

Imagine going to bed, leaving your watch on the nightstand, and waking up to find it still ticking. That’s the power reserve at work. In simple terms, it’s the duration for which a fully wound watch can run without any more winding.

For many standard automatic watches, a full wind means they can run for 24 to 48 hours without being worn. However, some high-end models, designed with longer power reserves, can go days or even weeks.

Factors Determining Its Longevity

The power reserve’s duration isn’t just a random number. Various elements come into play:

1. Mainspring Size

The mainspring’s size can directly influence how long a watch can run. A larger mainspring equals more stored energy, which in turn means a longer power reserve.

2. Movement’s Efficiency

Not all watch movements are created equal. Some are designed to be more efficient, using less energy for each tick. An efficient movement will extend the power reserve.

3. Complications

In watch parlance, complications refer to any function a watch performs other than just telling the time. Be it a date indicator, a chronograph, or a moon phase display; every added complication can consume additional energy. More complications might translate to a reduced power reserve.

4. Age and Maintenance

Just as with any machinery, an older watch might not perform as efficiently as it once did. Regular maintenance is crucial. A well-maintained watch will have a more consistent power reserve compared to a neglected one.

5. The Rotor’s Design

Rotors come in different designs. Some wind the mainspring in both their clockwise and anti-clockwise movements, while others might do so in only one direction. The more efficient the rotor design, the better it is for the power reserve.

Consequences of Non-Use

Natural Stopping of the Watch

Every automatic watch possesses a certain lifespan of operation without external intervention. This is known as the power reserve. When the watch isn’t worn and doesn’t receive the necessary kinetic energy, the stored energy from the mainspring eventually depletes. Consequently, the watch stops.

It’s a standard process and not indicative of any fault in the watch. If you were to shake the watch or wear it again, the rotor would swing, wind the mainspring, and the watch would begin to function once more.

Impact on Watch Accuracy and Health

A widespread belief is that if an automatic watch isn’t used regularly, it may lose its accuracy or get damaged. While partially true, the context is essential:

  • Lubricants: Watches contain lubricants that keep the gears moving smoothly. Over time, and especially in non-use, these can coagulate, leading to less effective gear movement. This could potentially affect accuracy.
  • Calibration: If you have a watch with several complications, such as date functions, not using the watch regularly might require frequent recalibrations.
  • Long-Term Health: While it’s okay for the watch to stop occasionally, long periods of inactivity might cause the mechanical parts to deteriorate faster than they would with regular use.

Special Automatic Watches

Features that Demand Constant Running

Certain automatic watches come with intricate complications that are designed to be in continuous operation. Examples include perpetual calendars which are pre-programmed to account for different month lengths and even leap years. These watches are often more intricate, and their design assumes they’ll be in nearly constant operation.

Potential Issues if They Stop

If such watches with intricate features were to stop, it could lead to complications:

Storage Recommendations

Ideal Conditions for Storing

If you plan not to wear your automatic watch for an extended period, here’s how you should ideally store it:

  • Dry Environment: Humidity can be detrimental. A dry place ensures no moisture enters the watch, preventing rust or damage to the internal parts.
  • Moderate Temperature: Avoid places with extreme temperature fluctuations. Consistent, moderate temperatures are the best.
  • Away from Magnets: Watches can get magnetized, which affects their accuracy. Store them away from speakers, refrigerators, or any magnetic sources.
  • Face Up: If storing for shorter periods, keep the watch face up. This ensures minimal tension on the watch hands.

Tips to Avoid Damage During Prolonged Non-Use

When storing for extended periods:

  • Watch Winders: These devices keep the watch moving, ensuring that it doesn’t stop and that the lubricants are evenly distributed.
  • Regular Check-ups: Even in storage, it’s a good idea to wind and operate the watch at least once a month. This ensures all parts move and reduces the chances of lubricant coagulation.
  • Safe Storage: Consider investing in a watch box or case, especially if you have multiple watches. This offers protection against physical shocks and provides a controlled environment for storage.

Wearing Frequency

Recommended Regularity for Wearing

Automatic watches are a blend of precision, engineering, and art. Their design allows them to harness the energy from your hand’s natural motion, converting it into energy to power the watch. But, how often should you actually wear these timepieces?

For an automatic watch, motion is its lifeblood. When worn regularly, the internal mechanisms move seamlessly, ensuring the mainspring remains tightly coiled. To keep the heart of your watch ticking and in perfect rhythm, wearing it at least three times a week is advised. This guarantees a consistent power source and minimizes the need for manual winding.

Benefits of Periodic Wear

Donning your automatic watch isn’t just about fashion or ensuring you’re on time; there are tangible benefits to this practice:

  • Health of the Watch: Regular wear ensures a consistent power supply to the watch, preventing abrupt stops which can be detrimental to its inner mechanics.
  • Time Accuracy: A regularly worn watch maintains better time accuracy. Stagnancy can disrupt the rhythm and pace of the timekeeping elements.
  • Lubrication Maintenance: The continuous motion ensures that the watch’s lubricants are evenly spread, preventing them from settling and potentially causing friction between parts.

Service Interval Implications

How Non-Use Can Affect Service Duration

Not wearing an automatic watch isn’t as benign as leaving a quartz watch in your drawer. Over time, lack of movement can lead to multiple issues:

  1. Lubricant Coagulation: The lubricants inside the watch can dry up or clump together, increasing the risk of internal friction.
  2. Mechanical Stress: When restarted after a long period of inactivity, the sudden motion can exert undue stress on the watch’s mechanics.
  3. Reduced Power Reserve: A watch left unworn for extended periods may experience a reduction in its power reserve capacity.

Possible Advantages for Maintenance

On the flip side, there are a few potential upsides to not wearing your automatic watch constantly:

  • External Preservation: The less you wear the watch, the fewer chances there are for external dings, scratches, or exposure to harmful elements.
  • Internal Wear: Reduced wear translates to decreased wear and tear on the internal components.

Myths Debunked

Automatic Watch Stopping: Good or Bad?

One common myth about automatic watches is that if they stop, they’re broken. This is far from the truth. When an automatic watch stops, it typically means its power reserve has depleted. Resuming its regular wear or opting for a manual wind will have it ticking in no time.

Consequences of Leaving Watch Unwound

There’s a myth that leaving an automatic watch unwound can cause harm. While it’s true that leaving it unwound for extended periods isn’t ideal due to potential lubricant issues, it won’t cause immediate or irreparable damage. However, if you plan to store it for an extended period, proper storage conditions are essential.

Duration of Automatic Watch Operation Without Wear

Another myth pertains to how long automatic watches can function without being worn. The truth is, this duration varies from watch to watch, largely dependent on its power reserve. While some watches may last up to 48 hours, others, especially luxury models, can have reserves lasting up to a week.

Optimal Winding Practices

Importance of Winding for Automatic Watches

Winding isn’t just an activity; it’s an essential practice for the health of automatic watches. Here’s why winding is non-negotiable:

  • Ensures Continuous Operation: Winding keeps the watch ticking, ensuring that time is kept accurately.
  • Maintains Watch Health: Regular winding helps in the even distribution of lubricants, reducing wear and tear on components.
  • Extends Lifespan: Just like any machinery, regular maintenance, which in this case is winding, can extend the watch’s lifespan.

Methods to Keep Them Wound Without Wearing

If you don’t wear your watch daily, there are ways to keep it wound:

  • Watch Winders: These are devices that hold the watch and rotate it, emulating the wrist’s movement. They are perfect for those with a collection, ensuring each piece remains wound.
  • Manual Winding: For watches that permit it, turning the crown periodically can help maintain their operation. This is especially useful if you wear your watch less frequently.
  • Occasional Wear: Even if you don’t wear it daily, putting it on once in a while can also do the trick.


How Long Can An Automatic Watch Run Without Being Worn?

Most automatic watches have a power reserve ranging from 24 to 48 hours, though some can last several days. Once the reserve is depleted, the watch will stop.

Is It Bad To Leave An Automatic Watch Unwound?

No, it’s not inherently harmful. However, if left unwound for extended periods, the lubricants inside can become viscous, potentially affecting accuracy and function.

Is It Better To Keep An Automatic Watch Wound?

Yes, periodic winding keeps the internal mechanisms in motion and the lubricants evenly distributed. It’s especially beneficial if the watch isn’t worn regularly.


Automatic watches are more than just time-telling devices; they are a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship of horology. Their reliance on movement for power is both their defining feature and a point of consideration for their care.

While they can withstand periods of inactivity, understanding their operation can help in ensuring their longevity. Whether you’re an avid collector or someone who appreciates the elegance of a well-crafted watch, knowing how to care for these pieces ensures they stand the test of time.

In the ever-evolving world of technology, where digital watches and smartwatches continually push boundaries, the charm and allure of automatic watches remain timeless. Respecting their design and attending to their needs guarantees their legacy for future generations.

Steve, a dedicated watch aficionado who delves into the intricate world of automatic timekeeping. Drawing from his engineering background, he unravels the technical marvels that power self-winding watches. Steve's fascination was kindled during his travels to Swiss watchmaking hubs, where he gained insights into the synergy of art and mechanics. Through his writing, he brings to light the wonders of these perpetual-motion masterpieces.

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