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Rolex Watch Movement: Self Winding, Manual Winding, and Quartz

Rolex Watches and Their Movement Mechanisms

The most important part of a wristwatch is its movement (but you already knew that, right?). Without this little mechanism ticking inside the case, the watch would be just a pretty but useless adornment around your wrist.

Watch movement is the mechanism that measures the passage of time and, in some models, also displays the current date. Movements may be entirely mechanical, electronic, or a blend of the two. Most watches today have automatic movements, which means the motion of the wrist and body causes the rotor (a metal weight attached to a winding mechanism) to pivot.

Rolex 4130 movement, used in the Daytona since 2000.

Rolex 4130 movement, used in the Daytona since 2000.

Rolex Watch Innovation: Mechanical Movements

Here's a bit of trivia for you: The modern rotor system was developed and patented by Rolex and introduced as the Oyster Perpetual in 1931.

However, the person who first developed a rotor was Abraham-Louis Perrelet (1729-1826), one of Switzerland's greatest watchmakers of all time, considered the father of the automatic watch. He introduced the concept in 1770 and was way ahead of his time since the invention was better suited to wristwatches and Perrelet lived in the pocket watch era. Obviously, the watches couldn't move in pockets enough to wind the mainspring, so the rotor system didn't perform well. Another Swiss watchmaker, Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) improved self-winding watches and named them "perpetuelles" (the likely source of Rolex's term). Other watchmaking greats of the 19th century advanced the concept. But it wasn't until World War I that Rolex perfected its system and automatic watches became popular.

Types of Movement in Rolex Watches

Self WindingManual WindingQuartz Movement

The most common type

A more classic type of watch

Arguably the most precise time keeper

Watch is wound by the movement of the wearer's wrist

Watch is wound by hand daily

Self wound watch

Examples of self wound watches: Explorer, GMT Master II, Submariner, Sea-Dweller, Cosmograph Daytona, Yacht-Master, Air-King, Datejust, and Day-Day

Examples: The Cellini Collection for Men

Examples: The Cellini Collection for Women

Rolex Watch Movement Variants

Rolex's timepieces are either self or manually winding. There are also a few ladies' models powered by a quartz movement.

The self-winding model is by far the most common one. It is simply a mechanical watch with a mainspring wound by the motion of the wearer's arm. All the models in Rolex's Oyster Professional and Oyster Perpetual line - Explorer, GMT Master II, Submariner, Sea-Dweller, Cosmograph Daytona, Yacht-Master, Air-King, Datejust, and Day-Date are self-winding.

The gents' watches and a couple of women's models in the Cellini line are hand-wound. Since the Cellini collection is the simplest—in terms of design and function—of all the Rolex watches, the hand-winding befits this classical image.

On the other hand (this just came naturally, I didn't intend the pun), most of the ladies' models in the Cellini collection are powered by a quartz movement. I admit that I see an obvious paradox and somewhat of incoherence in having a classically simple timepiece with a quartz movement, which is usually associated with cheaper watches or fakes. Still, we can be quite certain that Rolex does not manufacture lesser-quality watches, so if for some reason you fancy having a quartz-powered timepiece, you can be sure it will keep on ticking with accuracy and precision for many years to come.


Nestor on August 30, 2011:

What a comparison, a Rolex against an elcheapo quartz watch. It remind me I must find a BMW against oxen cart comparison, both of them are transportation media, and by the way the oxen one doesn`t need a road and fuel is grass free.

Alex on June 08, 2011:

Like Rob i think its about the emotion and aspiration and not about keeping time.

Rob on May 26, 2011:

You are missing the point . A rolex buyer knows a timex keeps better time but dosent care . He wats to owna Rolex.

bigbuyer on February 28, 2011:


Chris on February 20, 2011:

Alex ... You are mistaken, a rolex watch is not hand built ... Unless you believe machines have hands.

Alex on February 01, 2011:

I think Don is missing the point . Rolex , and other mechanical watch , ownership is not about timekeeping .The technology is 200 years old , the watch is hand buit , you are buying art and soul .Yes its accurate to 3 - 5 seconds per day so 99.99% ,but it can never compete with quartz watches . The pleasure is in the ownership.

Mike on September 09, 2009:

Also, take a look at the picture above of the 4130 movement for the Daytona; the rotor looks like it has ball bearings like and ATA. The 3155 doesn't have ball bearings, I believe they have a brass bushing and jewel if I am not mistaken.

Mike on September 09, 2009:

Hey Don, I'll give you $500 for that Rolex so you can break even and go buy yourself a great quartz.

Don on January 05, 2009:

I sent my Rolex date just to Dallas to have it serviced. That watch gaines 3 minutes every day. I went to wal-mart and bought a $10.00 quartz that keeps right in time with my Atomic clock I have at home. This myth about them being so accurate is just a myth. All this cost me was $500.00 to have a watch serviced that won't keep time. The moral of the story is if you want to keep time don't buy a Rolex.

Boy on October 15, 2007:

My two tone oyster perpetual rolex has a difference of 1 second a day. Is this normal for a automatic watch.

wynne on March 25, 2007:

I have a watach that belonged to my brother. It is an older vintage watch with the numerals 56330 on the back of the stainless case. What type of band should a vintage Oyster Perpetual men's watch have?