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FAQ: Automatic vs. Kinetic vs. Solar watches

September 03, 2019

Seiko-automatic-Kinetic-Solar-movement

FAQ: Automatic vs. Kinetic vs. Solar watches

Here’s something for those who would like to know more on the general typology of watches. This article’s aim is to explain the differences between so called automatic, kinetic and solar watches in, hopefully, simple way. We’ll cover some of the frequently asked questions regarding these topics.

So let’s start with the oldest type, the automatic watch.

Seiko-automatic-movement-6R15D Seiko automatic movement 6R15 

When are automatic watches invented?

Long story short, the first automatic watch was made in 1777, when Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Perrelet invented a self-winding mechanism. The mechanism was used in pocket watches and worked by using oscillating weight that moved as the watch wearer walked. It was reported that the watch with this mechanism would be fully winded by walking for 15 minutes. But when it comes to wristwatches, it was 1924, when English watchmaker John Hardwood patented the first wristwatch that has self-winding mechanism.

From then, there were tuning and improvements to the mechanism itself, but the principle of work never changed. With automatic watch, manual winding wasn’t necessary and the person who wears the watch would provide energy to run it with its movements.

Seiko-62mas-reissue-movement Seiko 62mas re-issues with automatic caliber 6R15 inside

What are automatic watches and how they work?

Simply explained, an automatic watch works whenever the wearer moves. Each move puts the internal rotor in a watch in move, which winds the mainspring.  

When were kinetic watches invented?

Although solar powered mechanism is basically older than a kinetic one, we’ll discuss the later first here, as it is similar to the automatic one. Kinetic watches were invented by Seiko in 1986, but were first called "Automatic quartz". In 1991, the name was changed to "Seiko Kinetic".  

What are kinetic watches and how they work?

Kinetic watches work on similar principle as automatic watches – both types are powered by the wearer’s movement. Only in kinetic case, the movement doesn’t power the spring, but rather charges a piece of quartz. Energy made by this charge is then stored in a battery, or so called "capacitor".

Inside-Seiko-Kinetic-Caliber-5M85A-2 Seiko kinetic movement anatomy 

What is the difference between an automatic and a kinetic watch?

As it can be concluded from the previous two answers, the difference between automatic and kinetic watch is in the way the movement of the wearer powers the watch. When it comes to automatic watches, the movement that powers the rotor stores the power in the spring, while that power in a kinetic watch is stored in a capacitor. But that difference is not the only one. There’s also a difference in how much energy storage last: Automatic watches hold the power for shorter periods of time in comparison to kinetic ones. On average, power reserves for automatic watches are around 50 h (maximum power reserves don’t go over a couple of days), while power reserves of a kinetic watch can be measured in months.  

Are kinetic watches equals to automatic?

Well, yes and no. The thing is that kinetic watches are basically automatic watches with greater power reserves, which also means better accuracy (automatic watches lose some after they run out of power). On the other side, the capacitor in the kinetic watch needs occasional replacement, which puts a con on the kinetic side. But when you compare their prices, automatic watches are usually more expensive, because they are made with superb craftsmanship and the accuracy loses are usually covered with hacking options. It really comes down to individual tastes.  

Seiko Kinetic watches

As Seiko never stops evolving, the same goes for its kinetic watches, where we saw several sub-types during the course of history. Such are Kinetic Direct Drive with a month of charge that can also be hand-wound, Kinetic Chronograph (5 months of charge) and the Ultimate Kinetic Chronograph. Then there are Kinetic Perpetual (5 months of charge, plus 4 years of sleep mode), Kinetic Auto Drive and Kinetic GMT (both have sleep mode after 72 hours that lasts for 4 years)

Inside-Seiko-Kinetic-Caliber-5M85A-1 Seiko kinetic movement - caliber 5m85a

Where are Seiko kinetic watches made? Are they made in Japan?

Seiko still handles a lot of its production in-house, especially when it comes to its watch movements. In the case of Kinetic watches, it goes from producing quartz crystals to a lot of other pieces.  

Do Seiko kinetic watches have a battery?

Seiko kinetic watches do have something that serves as a battery, but is rather called capacitor and differs from ordinary battery in many ways, most importantly in the longevity. For example, Seiko kinetic watch capacitor probably won’t need a replacement for years, at least when it comes to newer models.  

How accurate are Seiko Kinetic watches?

Super-accurate, as they have quartz inside, and quartz powered timepieces are considered to be among the most accurate.  

How to charge Seiko kinetic watches?

To charge Seiko kinetic watch daily, simply wear it. But even if you leave it still for quite some time, all you need to do to make them reset to correct time is to shake them.

Seiko-Kinetic-SUN043-Kinetic-movement-2 Seiko Prospex GMT Kinetic Sun043 with 5m85 caliber inside 

What are solar watches and when they are invented?

Solar powered watches can be actually powered by any form of light, though not all light powers it the same. Solar watches are basically quartz watches powered by the light through solar cell, instead of movements, as in kinetic watches. Solar watches date back from 1970s, specifically 1976, when the first solar watch called Synchronar was released by the company Ragen Semiconductor, Inc. Its inventor was an American, Roger W. Riehl.  

Seiko solar-powered watches

A year after the first solar watch, the Synchronar, Seiko followed with its first solar powered watch in 1977. By now, Seiko has released dozens of solar watch models, which is kind of natural, having in mind their environmentally friendly nature as a company.

Seiko-solar-caliber-V175A Body of Seiko solar caliber V175A 

Seiko kinetic diver vs. solar diver

When it comes to Seiko, it’s really hard to compare their solar and kinetic diver watches, especially nowadays when both types include so many great models. But, one side holds its power reserves for longer as it seems, so solar diver may win this race. On the other hand, the difference probably won’t bug you much in real life.  

Seiko solar movement accuracy

Seiko solar movement accuracy also relies on quartz, so there is no greater time loss in comparison with kinetic watches. They both go around +/-15 seconds per day.  

How long do solar-powered watches last?

Solar powered watches can last for years, but we saw questions such as: Do solar-powered watches last forever? No, they don’t, as their capacitor won’t really be able to last you a lifetime, but you’ll probably have no issues for the first dozen of years.

Seiko-Solar-Chrono-SSC673P1-and-Solar-movement-1 Seiko Prospex watches from Save the Ocean series, SSC675 and SSC673P1, both powered by a solar movement 

Conclusion

So, when it comes to the question: Are Kinetic watches better than automatic? That depends on whether you appreciate more the quartz accuracy or the old school automatic movements. And when it comes to the comparison of Seiko Solar vs. Kinetic watches, both types go through almost all Seiko’s brands and the differences are not crucial here. In the end, when it comes to Seiko, the craftsmanship involved in both types is extraordinary.    

Written by M.H. , Photo by Toni

References:

https://www.seikowatches.com/
https://www.seikowatches.com/global-en/products/prospex/special/historyofdiverswatches/
https://www.seiko.at/home/presse/2010/seiko-solar.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seiko
https://www.watchtime.com/featured/timepiece-timeline-milestone-seiko-watches/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_W._Riehl
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar-powered_watch
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quartz_clock#Accuracy
https://gearpatrol.com/2018/08/20/your-complete-guide-to-quartz-watches/
https://www.barringtonwatchwinders.com/blog/watches/the-history-of-automatic-watches-and-the-watch-winder/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham-Louis_Perrelet
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_quartz
https://www.techwalla.com/articles/automatic-vs-kinetic-watches
https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/what-is-the-difference-between-an-automatic-and-a-kinetic-movement
https://iknowwatches.com/seiko-automatic-vs-kinetic-watches/
https://iknowwatches.com/seiko-solar-vs-kinetic-watches/


1 Response

Kim Hancock
Kim Hancock

September 18, 2019

Thanks a lot for that explanation I’ve often wondered but never done the research,
As I’m an old school automatic fan.
After reading your article I’m thinking about delving int kinetic thanks again

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