Deciding whether to opt for a quartz or mechanical military watch is sometimes a difficult decision and much will depend on how to use the watch and how frequently.
Interestingly we often find at watch fairs etc that younger watch buyers sometimes do not even know that watches without batteries exist! They often consider winding a watch to be totally archaic but it is interesting that once they know the options and the principals of an automatic self winding watch are explained to them it often grabs their attention and becomes significantly more appealing. We always point out that most military issue watches are actually quartz these days but that automatic variants are frequently made by manufacturers such as CWC, Marathon and MWC for sale to private purchasers or serving military as well as to individuals such as ex military, police officers, security staff or pilots. Of course military watches up to around 1980 were historically handwound and many famous models such as the GG-W-113, W10 and A-11 are still made today to the original specifications although some have upgraded cases and automatic movement options as opposed to manual wind.
A relatively recent development is that in the last few years a new type of movement has appeared which is a hybrid. A hybrid movement essentially combines the best of both new and traditional watchmaking technology. They encompass features from both conventional automatic and quartz models resulting in a hybrid ultra-low maintenance movement.
A hybrid movement has a battery powering the movement through coils and a quartz oscillator, the hands though are mechanically actuated and controlled. Fundamentally the movement is mechanical except that it's powered by a battery and regulated by a crystal the only thing it doesn't have is a spring. This type of watch offers the ideal choice for buyers who would prefer the sweep secondhand as seen in automatic watches with the hassle-free maintenance benefits of a quartz watch.
In my experience I find that hybrid movements work very well with Chronographs because the watch looks 100% mechanical outwardly with the ability of the time in hand to snap back without sweeping back as it does on a quartz. Also the timing hand moves in the same way as a mechanical Chronograph rather than the one second increments which you see on normal quartz watches.
Hand wound watches are still popular with many buyers the problem is you have to remember to wind them on a daily basis so ideally they should be round at the same time otherwise it's easy to forget. One other thing is to avoid setting the date (if your watch has this function) at night. The reason for this is that the day-date mechanism is always activated during the night and could be seriously disrupted if set during this time. Ideally, always aim to set it after midnight and before say 7pm. Another consideration is that automatic and mechanical watches although shock proof can suffer damage if you are playing a sport requiring violent arm motions (e.g. tennis, golf, cricket, squash etc), there is also a risk that hands can be dislodged. Another thing which can wreak havoc surprisingly with any watch including military watches is firing a large calibre weapon.
How do I ensure maximum life from my watch?
I usually recommend you take it in every 3 years to a good watchmaker or jeweller, lots of collectors say it should go in every 12/18 months but personally I think every 3years is fine. Basically every watch should be serviced, including quartz analog watches which although they don't need much attention they do you need the sales checked to ensure they are waterproof. Interestingly a lot of enthusiasts and watchmakers I know reckon you could let them go 4-5 years because modern synthetic lubricants do not tend to pool and congeal but to play safe - especially if it is an old military watch or even a standard old handwound or automatic - I still feel it is wise to take it in every 3 years. Treated right a mechanical watch should keep going indefinitely. I am often asked how long a mechanical watch should last and my answer is always the same "forever if you keep maintaining it and replacing parts as needed".
Don't things wear out? How can it last forever?
Modern mechanical and self winding watches have what are termed as 'jeweled' movements. These jewels are not real precious stones they are synthetic rubies which are placed at specific pivot points throughout the watch where the parts are most stressed. Prior to the development of synthetic rubies, real rubies were used and this was often in combination with hardened steel bushings. Modern synthetic rubies are to all intents and purposes as good as the real thing and don't wear down at any appreciable rate. The rubies keep your watch running smoothly and when the watch is maintained correctly they ensure the watch will last for generations.
The first watches were all handwound mechanicals. Then in the late sixties and early seventies manufacturers in Japan and Europe - at pretty much the same time - started to manufacture self-winding automatics. Interestingly the first automatic watch was the invention of a British watch repairer named John Harwood in 1923 but for some reason it took around 40 years for the automatic watch to reach commercial production.
Are automatic watches superior?
I always explain that it is not so much a question of better, it's a question of personal preference and a deciding factor is often how often you wear it. Although it is estimated that over 80% of watches sold these days are quartz I always point out that a hand-wound or automatic watch has vastly more character. Clearly, there is something different about watching a second hand sweep around the dial as opposed to the one second increments of a quartz watch. Of course if you want the best of both worlds you can always opt for a hybrid movement which is also described here which combines features of both mechanical and quartz movements. Hybrid movements are described below.
Isn't it a nuisance to have to keep wearing an automatic to keep it wound?
The answer to this is yes and no. Any automatic watch generally has a power reserve of 30-50 hours depending on the movement but they can also be handwound if you don't wear it. The other option is to buy a watch winder. The following site has an excellent article regarding automatic watch winders http://www.chronocentric.com/watches/winders.shtml
Personally I have 3 automatic watches and a watch winder that keeps them running 24/7 so I can pick one and wear it whenever I choose. In my opinion for automatic watches you wear frequently, but not continuously, a winder is the only practical solution to keep them ready to wear at a moments notice. If this convenience is worth the cost of a winder to you, and I can say with 100% certainty that it is for me then go for it! Keep in mind that the biggest single advantage of a winder for watches not used on a daily basis is that it saves the hassle not only of setting the hands but also the date - and day if the watch has one.
Just as with hand wound watches it's generally wise to service the watch approximately every three years just to be sure that the watertight seals are in good condition and also to lubricate the movement.
A hybrid watch movement as explained above has many of the characteristics of a mechanical movement because outwardly the watch does not appear to be a quartz watch it is definitely the ideal compromise if you want the ease of ownership which comes with a quartz with the outward appearance of a mechanical. The only downside is the battery life is not the tickly long it's usually two or three years but that's a pretty small price to pay when getting a battery swap he's not overly costly. Unfortunately when it comes to military pattern hybrid watches the choice is very limited as regards manufacturers CWC don't make them nor do Marathon so the only option is MWC who seem to have adopted them for a wide range of models which can be seen here https://www.mwcwatches.com/search?q=Hybrid
A watchmaker I know recently retro fitted a CWC with a hybrid movement but that was for his own use it would probably make very little economic sense to do this unless you have watchmaking skills. Of course it could be that if a movement replacement is needed and a suitable hybrid will fit maybe that would be the time to explore the possibilities.
Q: Can I overwind my automatic watch and damage it?
A: Fortunately Not. Automatics will disengage from winding when the watch is fully wound. As the power runs down at some preset point it automatically engages and starts winding again until it has a full charge then the process starts again.
Q: Do I need to do anything other than just wear it?
A: Although automatic and mechanical watches do not have batteries, some routine maintenance is vital for continued and long term reliability. Our general guidelines are that if you wear your Automatic daily and it has a manual wind feature, it is best to wind it by hand every two weeks with the winding stem (crown) this keeps the wheels in motion and ensures oil does not solidify. When you remember just wind the crown a few turns - say 15-20 - and it will keep things ticking over. This is not crucial but it seems beneficial in our experience.
If you don't not wear your Automatic watch daily, you should wind the watch once or twice a week to ensure the mechanism remains in complete running order.
If you own a handwound watch it is best to try to remember to wind it at the same time every day. This is important as far as the movement is concerned. Many collectors I know of military watches make winding it every morning when they wake up or when they get to their desk a daily routine. One thing to avoid is winding it in the bathroom if it has a tiled floor because you only need to drop it once and it can be a virtual write off especially if it is a very old model with scarce availability of parts.
Also avoid setting the date (if your watch has this feature) at night. This is because the date mechanism is always activated during the night and could be seriously disrupted if set at this time, always aim to set it after midnight or before around 7pm.
Another thing to be mindful of with hand wound watches which seems more of an issue than with automatics in our experience is magnetism, because TV's, speakers and iPads contain magnets they have the potential to magnetise the watch. If you find a watch is suddenly running between five and ten minutes fast per day it probably needs demagnetising which is a pretty straightforward job for any watchmaker.
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