All Wound Up: New Automatic Movements Generate Excitement

Cartier Rotonde de Cartier Astroregulateur

This is an English translation of a story that ran in Cronos magazine in Mexico in summer 2011

Though he invented the rotating oscillating weight for pocket watches around 1770, Abraham Louis Perrelet’s concept for an automatic watch that harnesses energy from the wearer was much better suited for wristwatches, which followed more than a century later. John Harwood, a watch repairer from the Isle of Man, filed a patent for a bumper winding system in 1923, but it was Rolex that set the benchmark with 1930’s Oyster Perpetual wound by a semi-circular weight that rotated 360 degrees. “Rolex was the first to introduce 360-degree rotation, and that was probably the biggest 20th-century invention,” says John Reardon Senior Vice President and Head of Sotheby’s Watch & Clock department in New York City. “After that, there wasn’t a big bump until Patek Philippe’s 12-600 caliber and the Ref. 2526 in 1954. That was a game changer because it was the first time a very high-end company offered an automatic system. The mythology is that Patek had to wait for Rolex’s patent to expire.” While the basic premise of the automatic winding system remains the same—to generate energy from the wearer’s arm motions—watchmakers recently have been working to advance these systems with heightened efficiency, adjustable speed settings, bi-directional systems, and even peripheral oscillators that allow a full view of the movement through the case back.

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