Automatic vs Chronograph Watches: Which One Should You Get?
Home / Blog / Automatic vs Chronograph Watches: Which One Should You Get?


Automatic vs chronograph watches

Automatic vs Chronograph Watches: Which One Should You Get?

Wristwatches are more than just functional timekeeping devices; they are also symbols of personal style, luxury, and craftsmanship. Among the various types of watches available, two prominent categories stand out for the modern collector, enthusiast, and all prospective buyers: automatic and chronograph watches. Each of these categories has a unique history, design, and functionality, which intersect and overlap in many ways. 

In this article, we’ll delve into the world of automatic and chronograph watches, exploring their origins, how they operate, and this fascinating overlap between the two in the form of automatic chronograph watches. Buckle up, and let’s dive in!

About Automatic Watches 

The roots of automatic watches can be traced back to the late 18th century when Abraham-Louis Perrelet, a Swiss watchmaker, invented the self-winding movement. His invention laid the foundation for automatic watches, which are often referred to as “self-winding”, “mechanical”, or “mechanized” watches.

The key innovation behind automatic watches is their ability to wind themselves through the natural motion of the wearer’s wrist. This ingenious mechanism eliminated the need for manual winding, the default function of watchmaking of the day, making automatic watches a practical choice for those who appreciate the beauty of traditional watchmaking without the need for frequent manual intervention by the user.

How Automatic Watches Operate

Automatic watches function through a complex system of gears, springs, and rotors. Here’s a simplified explanation of how they work:

  • Rotor Movement: Inside an automatic watch, there’s a small semi-circular weight called the rotor. As the wearer moves their wrist, the rotor pivots on its axis.
  • Energy Transfer: The motion of the rotor winds the mainspring, which is the coiled spring responsible for storing energy.
  • Power Reserve: The mainspring stores the energy generated by the rotor’s movement. This energy is used to power the watch and keep it ticking.
  • Regulation: The watch’s movement is regulated by an escapement mechanism, which controls the release of energy from the mainspring at a consistent rate.
  • Timekeeping: The regulated release of energy drives the hands of the watch, allowing it to keep accurate time.

Automatic watches are known for their smooth, sweeping second hands, which move continuously rather than ticking in one-second intervals, commonly found in quartz watchmaking technology. This feature adds to the elegance and charm of automatic watches with its reliance on mechanical energy alone, without the intervention of batteries and electronic-based tech.

About Chronograph Watches 

Chronograph watches have a rich history dating back to the early 19th century. The word “chronograph” itself is derived from the Greek words “chronos” (time) and “grapho” (to write). These watches were initially designed for specialized applications such as measuring astronomical events and conducting scientific experiments.

One of the most notable figures in the development of the chronograph watch is Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec, a French watchmaker who invented the first practical chronograph in 1821. Rieussec’s design involved an ink-tipped stylus that marked elapsed time on a rotating dial as it moved across it.

How Chronograph Watches Operate

Chronograph watches are renowned for their ability to measure elapsed time with precision. Here’s how they operate:

  • Chronograph Movement: A chronograph watch features an additional set of sub-dials and pusher buttons on the case. These components are used to activate and control the chronograph function.
  • Start, Stop, and Reset: To measure elapsed time, you start the chronograph by pressing a designated pusher. The central second hand begins to move. To stop timing, you press the same pusher again, and to reset, you use a separate pusher.
  • Sub-Dials: The sub-dials on the watch face display elapsed time in various increments, such as seconds, minutes, and hours.
  • Return to Zero: After recording elapsed time, the chronograph hand can be reset to its original position, ready for the next measurement.

As mentioned, chronograph watches are often associated with precision timing and are favored by athletes, pilots, and professionals who require accurate timekeeping for various activities in sports and applications where accuracy is of the utmost importance and a literal split second counts.

Automatic vs Chronograph Watches: Which Is Best For You?: 

With some history and definitions under our belt, it’s now time to ask: Which is the best watch for you? Ultimately, the choice between an automatic and a chronograph watch boils down to your personal preferences and needs.

Choose an Automatic Watch If:

  • You appreciate the variety of styles and aesthetics within the automatic watch category. From everyday three-handed sports watches to dive or GMT watches with functional bezels, there’s likely an automatic watch to fit your needs.
  • You prefer a timepiece that doesn’t require frequent adjustments or battery replacements.
  • You’re a watch collector with multiple watches in rotation and value the ability to grab and go without the need to wind your watch daily.

Choose a Chronograph Watch If:

  • You require precise timing for activities like sports, racing, or aviation.
  • You want a versatile watch that can function as a stopwatch when needed.
  • You prefer a sportier and more rugged design. Many chronographs are larger in size and robust for larger wrists.
  • You value practical features that enhance your everyday life.

Whether you opt for an automatic watch or a chronograph watch, remember that the perfect timepiece is one that suits your lifestyle, complements your style, and aligns with your priorities. Both types offer their unique charm, and the right choice is the one that resonates with you the most. So, take your time, explore your options, and select the watch that will not only tell time but also tell your story.

What About Automatic Chronograph Watches? 

All that said, if you still can’t decide between the two and wonder if it’s possible to have the best of both worlds (ie: an automatic chronograph), have no fear. While automatic and chronograph watches are distinct categories, there is an intriguing overlap in the world of watchmaking – the automatic chronograph watch. 

These timepieces combine the self-winding mechanism of automatic watches with the stopwatch functionality of chronograph watches. The result is a versatile and stylish watch that caters to both horological enthusiasts and those who value precise timing.

Features of Automatic Chronograph Watches

  • Automatic Movement: Like traditional automatic watches, automatic chronograph watches use the wearer’s wrist motion to wind the mainspring and provide power to the watch.
  • Chronograph Functionality: In addition to telling the time, automatic chronograph watches offer the ability to measure elapsed time with the push of a button.
  • Elegance and Style: Automatic chronograph watches often boast exquisite designs, making them suitable for both formal and casual occasions.
  • Smooth Second Hand: These watches typically feature the characteristic smooth, sweeping second hand associated with automatic movements.
  • Complications: Some automatic chronograph watches may include additional complications, such as date displays or moon phase indicators, enhancing their functionality and aesthetics.

Popular automatic chronograph movements include the Valjoux 7750 and the ETA 2894, both known for their reliability and accuracy. These movements are widely used by renowned watchmakers to create exceptional timepieces.

Notable Automatic Watches 

In the market, there are a number of directions one could go when looking for an automatic watch. Indeed, a majority of mechanical watches in the market today will likely be automatic, given the practicality and standardization of automatic movements overall. 

Everything from your basic three-hand watches with dressier leanings to more rugged sports-type watches like divers and GMTs, there’s plenty to choose from. The following are three notable pieces to look into that range the gamut.

Seiko Presage Cocktail Time SRPD37

Seiko Presage Cocktail Time SRPD37

The Seiko SRPD37 is a sleek and stylish dressy timepiece that combines classic design with modern functionality as part of Seiko’s Presage line. Its stainless steel case and calf-skin leather band give it a premium feel, while the “Cocktail Time” olive and black sunray dial with date window add a touch of sophistication.

The watch features Seiko’s reliable 4R35 automatic movement, ensuring accurate timekeeping without the need for a battery. The dauphine hands and diamond-shaped indices make it easy to read the time in various lighting conditions, and the Hardlex crystal protects the dial from scratches.

With a water resistance of 50 meters, the SRPD37 is suitable for everyday wear and can handle light water activities. Its 40.5mm case size (11.8mm thick, 47.5mm lug-to-lug) strikes a balance between elegance and versatility, making it suitable for both formal occasions and casual wear when paired with different strap combinations.

Overall, the Seiko SRPD37 is a fantastic choice for those seeking a well-built, stylish, and dependable dress adjacent automatic watch at an affordable price point.

Retail Price: $425.00

Oris Big Crown Pointer Date (ref. 01 754 7741 4065-07 8 20 22)

Oris Big Crown Pointer Date (ref. 01 754 7741 4065-07 8 20 22)

The Oris Big Crown Pointer Date (reference 01 754 7741 4065-07 8 20 22) is a timepiece that seamlessly blends vintage charm with modern craftsmanship. Its 40mm stainless steel case exudes a robust yet refined aesthetic, while the oversized crown pays homage to Oris’ aviation heritage.

The standout feature of this watch is its iconic pointer date complication, which adds a unique touch to the classic dial design with a striking pointer date hand tracking the date along the outside edge of the dial. 

The cathedral-style hands and track markers create a striking and sophisticated look, accented by the hour numerals marking 1 through 12 o’clock. The automatic movement inside (Oris 7544, base Sellita SW 200-1) ensures precise timekeeping with a 38-hour power reserve.

With a water resistance of 50 meters, it’s suitable for daily wear but not recommended for extensive water activities. The watch can be purchased on a steel bracelet or leather strap, with both options complementing the overall design, providing comfort and style.

In summary, the Oris Big Crown Pointer Date is a timeless and elegant watch that captures the spirit of aviation history while offering modern reliability and style. It’s a true classic in the world of horology.

Retail Price: $2,150.00

Tudor Black Bay 41mm (ref. M7941A1A0RU-0001)

Perhaps no other brand epitomizes the success of vintage design in the past decade than the Black Bay line of watches from Tudor. Particularly, the Tudor Black Bay 41mm (ref. M7941A1A0RU-0001) is a prime example of the brand’s dedication to blending heritage design with modern functionality. 

Its 41mm stainless steel case (13.6mm height, 50.1mm lug-to-lug) exudes rugged elegance, and the bold black dial with gold-tone accents exudes a timeless appeal in the all-familiar dive watch template from the house of Rolex (and Tudor by extension).

The watch boasts the reliability of the Kenissi MT5602-U automatic movement, ensuring precise timekeeping in daily use. Its signature snowflake hands and luminescent markers pay homage to Tudor’s iconic design elements and dive watch tradition (calling back to the Tudor Submariners of yore). 

Its 200-meter water resistance makes it suitable for various activities, from daily wear to recreational swimming and diving, along with its now iconic burgundy dive bezel with its practical elapsed timing capability.

Newly available on a traditional oyster inspired bracelet, 5-link bracelet, or rubber strap. Overall, the Tudor Black Bay 41mm effortlessly balances vintage aesthetics with contemporary performance, making it a worthy choice for those seeking a versatile and stylish timepiece that’s built to last; A perfect daily driver.

Retail Price: Starting at $4,225.00

Notable Chronograph Watches

And while automatic watches can offer a wide variety of styling and aesthetics, chronograph watches are a bit more particular in their execution due to the form factor required. Still, there are chronograph watches available at varying price points for a new or seasoned buyer, and the following are a few notable choices should you choose to dip your hand into the category.

Seagull 1963 Chronograph

The Seagull 1963 Chronograph is a charming homage to mid-20th-century aviation timepieces utilized by the Chinese Air Force. While larger variants exist, of primary note is a more faithful smaller version, measuring in with a 38mm stainless steel case (47.3mm lug-to-lug, 13.22mm thick), acrylic crystal, and vintage-inspired design, it exudes a sense of nostalgia and authenticity.

The standout feature of this watch is its manual-wind mechanical movement, which not only harks back to a bygone era but also offers a unique connection to the art of watchmaking. The chronograph function, complete with two subdials and a central sweeping seconds hand, adds a touch of functionality to its retro charm.

The cream-colored dial, bold Arabic numerals, and blued steel hands create a legible and attractive face. Although it lacks modern conveniences like automatic winding or a date complication, the Seagull 1963 Chronograph excels in capturing the essence of classic watch design.

This watch is a true gem for vintage watch enthusiasts and offers an authentic experience at an affordable price.

Retail Price: $325.00

Longines Heritage Classic Chronograph (ref. L2.830.4.93.0)

The Longines Heritage Classic Chronograph (ref. L2.830.4.93.0) is a stunning timepiece that effortlessly marries timeless elegance with modern precision in a striking tuxedo dial. Its 40mm stainless steel case (13.6mm thick, 49.2mm lug to lug) embodies a vintage aesthetic, while the meticulously crafted details on the dial and bezel pay homage to Longines’ rich heritage and storied ties to aviation history.

This watch boasts a sophisticated caliber L895 automatic movement (28800 vibrations per hour, 54 hours of power reserve) that ensures accurate timekeeping and a reliable chronograph function for precise time measurements.

The cream-colored dial, silvered polished hands, blue chronograph hands, and painted Arabic numerals add a touch of sophistication, while the tachymeter scale on the outer edge of the dial provides a nod to its historical roots. With a black leather strap, it exudes classic charm and comfort.

The Longines Heritage Classic Chronograph is a beautiful example of how tradition and innovation can come together in a harmonious and stylish timepiece, making it a remarkable choice for watch enthusiasts who appreciate both history and craftsmanship.

Retail Price: $3,425.00

Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch (ref. 310.

The Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch (ref. 310. is an iconic timepiece that has solidified its place in horological history. As the watch that accompanied NASA astronauts to the moon, it represents a pinnacle of precision and reliability.

Its 42mm stainless steel case (13.2mm thick, 47.5mm lug to lug) houses the legendary manual-wind Omega Caliber 3861 movement, renowned for its durability and accuracy (and now METAS-approved). The black dial features the iconic tri-compax subdials, luminous hour markers, and bold hands, ensuring superb legibility.

Overall, the Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch is not just a watch; it’s a symbol of human exploration and achievement. Its timeless design, historical significance, and exceptional craftsmanship make it a must-have for any watch aficionado or space enthusiast.

Retail Price: $8,000.00


In the world of horology, the choice between automatic and chronograph watches often comes down to personal preference and intended use. Automatic watches are enchanted with their intricate self-winding mechanisms and variety in style and execution, while chronograph watches excel in precision timekeeping and sports-related applications.

Ultimately, whether you opt for an automatic watch, a chronograph watch, or an automatic chronograph watch, your choice should reflect your individual style, interests, and the role you want your wristwatch to play in your daily life. Regardless of your preference, one thing remains certain: the world of watchmaking continues to evolve, offering a vast array of options to cater to every taste and need. Godspeed!

About Exquisite Timepieces

Established in 1998, Exquisite Timepieces is your one-stop shop for all things luxury watches! We are an authorized dealer for 60+ luxury watch brands including Omega, Hublot, Seiko, & Longines! We are proud to showcase one of the world’s largest pre-owned watch collections, including renowned brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe. Check out our brand new watch arrivals here and popular pre-owned listings here.

as seen on
To Top