September8 , 2023

    How Accurate Are Automatic Watches? A Complete Guide for Watch Lovers


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    Did you know that an automatic watch can lose or gain up to 25 seconds per day? That may not seem like a lot, but over a month, that can add up to 12 minutes of inaccuracy.

    An automatic watch is a type of mechanical watch that has a self-winding mechanism. An automatic watch uses the wearer’s wrist movement to power the mainspring, which transfers energy to the escapement, regulating the speed of the gears and the balance wheel. The balance wheel oscillates at 3-5 Hz, while the gears indicate time on the dial.

    However, unlike quartz watches that use a crystal oscillator to keep a stable frequency, automatic watches face various factors affecting their accuracy. As a result, automatic watches typically have a deviation of several seconds per day, either gaining or losing time. 

    You may be wondering, how much deviation is acceptable, and how can you measure it? How can you improve the accuracy of your automatic watch, or adjust it if it is running too fast or too slow? In this article, we will answer these questions so you can enjoy your timepiece without worrying about its precision.

    See also: Unlock the Secrets of Automatic Watches: A Beginner’s Guide to Movement

    How Accurate Are Automatic Watches?

    An automatic watch’s accuracy involves its ability to consistently maintain time and display accurate hour, minute, and second values. It’s like a mechanical orchestra playing a symphony of time. But just how does this intricate dance of gears and springs translate into the tangible concept of accuracy?

    Expand your knowledge: How Accurate are Mechanical Watches Really?

    Understanding Accuracy in the World of Horology

    Accuracy is the difference between the actual time and the time displayed by the watch. For example, if your watch shows 12:00 pm when the actual time is 12:01 pm, your watch is one minute slow, or has a negative deviation of -1 minute. Conversely, if your watch shows 12:02 pm when the actual time is 12:00 pm, your watch is two minutes fast, or has a positive deviation of +2 minutes.

    Measuring Accuracy

    how accurate are automatic watches - watchmaker working with timegrapher
    Image: Watchmaker Working with Timegrapher (Source)

    To measure the accuracy of an automatic watch, you need a device called a timegrapher. A timegrapher is a machine that acoustically measures mechanical watch ticks to assess accuracy and enable calibration.

    By using a timegrapher, you can get a precise reading of your watch’s performance and accuracy. You can also compare your watch’s accuracy with different positions (e.g., dial up, dial down, crown up, etc.) and temperatures to see how they affect it.

    Defining Good Accuracy

    What is considered good accuracy for an automatic watch? There is no definitive answer to this question, as different watches have different specifications and tolerances. However, one way to evaluate how accurate automatic watches are is to use the COSC certification standards.

    The COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres) tests watches to ensure they meet stringent accuracy criteria. To earn this certification, an automatic watch must pass a series of tests that measure its performance in different positions, temperatures, and pressures.

    The COSC standards require that an automatic watch have an average daily rate of around -4 to +6 seconds per day.

    Another way to evaluate the accuracy of an automatic watch is to use the manufacturer’s specifications. Some watch brands have their own standards and methods for testing their watches, which may be stricter or more lenient than the COSC standards. 

    For example, Rolex guarantees an accuracy of -2/+2 seconds per day for their watches, while Grand Seiko guarantees an accuracy of -3/+5 seconds per day for their watches.

    Discover more: The Ultimate Precision: Most Accurate Mechanical Watches

    Comparing Accuracy Across Watch Types

    How does the accuracy of automatic watches compare with other types of watches? Well, there are advantages and disadvantages to each type. For example:

    • Quartz watches: Quartz watches are powered by batteries and use a quartz crystal to keep time. They are generally more accurate than automatic watches, with an accuracy of +/- 1 second per day. They are also more affordable, durable, and low-maintenance than automatic watches. However, they lack the charm, craftsmanship, and history of automatic watches. They also need to have their batteries replaced every few years.
    • Manual winding mechanical watches: Manual wind watches require daily or weekly winding by turning the crown to keep them running. They are less accurate than automatic watches, with an accuracy of +/- 10 s/d or more. They are also more prone to wear and tear and require regular servicing and cleaning. However, they have a nostalgic appeal and a sense of connection with the wearer. They also have a longer lifespan than automatic watches if properly maintained.
    • Smartwatches: Smartwatches are digital devices that connect to smartphones, offering various features and functions. They are accurate, convenient, versatile, and customizable, but lack the elegance, style, and sophistication of automatic watches. They require frequent charging and may become obsolete quickly.

    Don’t miss this: 15 Best Automatic Watches for Every Need

    What Factors Affect Automatic Watch Accuracy?

    Automatic watches are intricate devices dependent on the synchronization of numerous components for timekeeping. However, there are many factors that can disrupt this balance and affect the accuracy of an automatic watch.

    Also Read: Discover the Longevity of Mechanical Watches: How Long Will They Keep Ticking?


    Temperature can affect the accuracy of an automatic watch by expanding or contracting the metal parts of the movement, especially the hairspring. Cold temperatures might slow down the movement, while heat can make it run a bit faster. 

    Think of it as your watch’s reaction to the climate it finds itself in. This can lead to deviations of a few seconds a day, depending on the extremes your watch is exposed to.

    Tip: To avoid this, you should keep your watch away from extreme temperatures, such as direct sunlight, fireplaces, ovens, freezers, etc. You should also avoid sudden temperature changes, such as going from a hot sauna to a cold pool.


    Magnetism can affect the accuracy of an automatic watch by magnetizing the metal parts of the movement, especially the hairspring. It could lead to significant deviations, ranging from minutes to even hours.

    Tip: To avoid this, you should keep your watch away from magnetic fields, such as speakers, magnets, computers, phones, etc. You should also use a demagnetizer device to remove any residual magnetism from your watch if you suspect it has been exposed to a magnetic field.

    Gravity and Position

    Your automatic watch’s orientation matters more than you might think. Gravity can exert its influence on the intricate mechanics, affecting how your watch keeps time. Variations can range from a few seconds to nearly a minute in some cases, especially when your watch is placed vertically or horizontally for extended periods.

    Tip: To avoid this, you should wear your watch regularly and rotate it in different positions throughout the day. If you remove your watch overnight, lay it flat to minimize deviations.

    Wear and Tear

    Wear and tear can affect the accuracy of an automatic watch by causing friction and damage to the parts of the movement over time. This can reduce the efficiency and performance of the movement and cause the watch to run fast or slow. 

    Tip: To avoid this, you should service your watch regularly and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance intervals. You should also clean your watch periodically and lubricate its parts with proper oils.

    Human error

    Human error can affect the accuracy of an automatic watch by introducing mistakes or inaccuracies during the manufacturing or adjusting process. This can result in defects or variations in the parts of the movement that can affect its accuracy. 

    Tip: To avoid this, you should buy your watch from a reputable and authorized dealer who can guarantee its quality and authenticity. You should also check your watch’s accuracy regularly and correct any errors or deviations by using a timegrapher device.

    Vibration and Shock

    Life is full of movements – from jogging to typing – that expose your watch to vibrations and shocks. These seemingly innocuous actions can influence accuracy, albeit marginally. However, if you find yourself in an environment with frequent, strong vibrations, the impact on accuracy could be more noticeable.

    Tip: If your lifestyle involves frequent exposure to vibrations, consider a watch with anti-shock features. Otherwise, enjoy the little deviations as a testament to your active life.

    Find out more: 7 Most Accurate Automatic Watch Models You Should Consider

    How to Improve Automatic Watch Accuracy

    If you own an automatic watch, you may wonder how you can improve its accuracy and keep it running smoothly. Fortunately, there are some steps that you can take to improve the accuracy of your automatic watch.

    Explore related topics: Enhance Your Watch’s Durability: A Comprehensive Guide to Different Types of Watch Crystals and Care

    Adjusting Your Watch

    how accurate are automatic watches - adjusting a watch
    Image: Adjusting a Watch (Source)

    Adjusting an automatic watch means changing the rate of oscillation of the balance wheel to make it run faster or slower. This can be done by using a screwdriver or a regulator to change the position or tension of the hairspring, which is the thin coil that controls the balance wheel. By making the hairspring longer or shorter, you can increase or decrease the frequency of the balance wheel and thus the accuracy of the watch.

    However, adjusting an automatic watch requires some skill and experience. If you are not familiar with the process, don’t attempt it yourself. Instead, you should take your watch to a professional watchmaker. 

    Read More: How to Set and Adjust Your Mechanical Watch

    Servicing Your Watch

    how accurate are automatic watches - a watchmaker cleaning watch part
    Image: A Watchmaker Cleaning Watch Part (Source)

    Servicing an automatic watch means cleaning, lubricating, and calibrating the movement of your watch every few years to maintain performance and efficiency. This involves disassembling, inspecting, repairing, replacing, reassembling, and testing the parts of the movement using specialized tools and techniques.

    Servicing an automatic watch is a complex and delicate procedure that requires expertise and care. It is not something that you can do yourself at home, as you may risk ruining your watch or voiding its warranty. 

    Instead, you should take your watch to a reputable and authorized service center that can service it according to the manufacturer’s standards and specifications. The cost can range from $200 to $1000, depending on the watch’s model and condition.

    Storing Your Watch

    how accurate are automatic watches - watch winder
    Image: Watch Winder (Source)

    When you are not wearing your watch, store it in a safe and suitable place. This is important to protect your watch from dust, moisture, shock, or other factors that may damage or affect its accuracy. Storing an automatic watch also means keeping it wound up so that it does not stop running or lose its power reserve.

    There are different ways to store an automatic watch, depending on your preference and convenience. Some of the most common ways are:

    • Using a watch box: A watch box can protect your watch from dust, light, and scratches, but it cannot prevent it from stopping if it is not worn for a long time.
    • Using a watch winder: A watch winder can prevent your watch from stopping or losing its accuracy, but it can also overwind or wear out your watch if it is not used properly.
    • Using a safe or vault: A safe or vault can protect your watch from theft, fire, water, or other hazards, but it cannot keep it wound up or maintain its accuracy.

    Regardless of how you store your automatic watch, you should always keep it in a dry and dust-free place, away from direct sunlight or humidity. You should also avoid exposing your watch to extreme temperatures or magnetic fields that may affect its accuracy.

    More on this topic: Preserve Your Treasure: How to Properly Store Automatic Watches

    A Touch of Consistency

    Automatic watches thrive on motion, much like they would on the wrist of their wearer. If you don’t wear your watch daily, giving it a gentle shake before wearing can kickstart its movement and ensure accuracy. 

    Additionally, consistently wearing your watch and exposing it to regular movement can help maintain its rhythm. You can create a routine to wind and wear your watch at the same time every day to encourage accuracy.

    Don’t miss this: Choosing Most Reliable Mechanical Watch


    In this article, we have learned everything you need to know about how accurate automatic watches are. Owning an accurate automatic watch is not only a matter of convenience, but also a matter of pride and pleasure. 

    An accurate automatic watch is a beautiful and sophisticated piece of art that showcases craftsmanship and innovation. It is also a durable and reliable companion that can accompany you for many years and generations. 

    By taking good care of your automatic watch, you can ensure that it tells you the correct time and gives you the best experience possible.

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