Traditional mechanical watch movements use a spiral spring called a mainspring as a power source. In manual watches the spring must be rewound by the user periodically by turning the watch crown. Antique pocketwatches were wound by inserting a separate key into a hole in the back of the watch and turning it. Most modern watches are designed to run 40 hours on a winding, so must be wound daily, but some run for several days and a few have 192 hour mainsprings and are wound weekly.
A self-winding or automatic mechanism is one that rewinds the mainspring of a mechanical movement by the natural motions of the wearer's body. The first self-winding mechanism, for pocketwatches, was invented in 1770 by Abraham-Louis Breguet; but the first "self-winding," or "automatic," wristwatch was the invention of a British watch repairer named John Harwood in 1923. This type of watch allows for a constant winding without special action from the wearer: it works by an eccentric weight, called a winding rotor, that rotates with the movement of the wearer's wrist. The back-and-forth motion of the winding rotor couples to a ratchet to automatically wind the mainspring. Self winding watches usually can also be wound manually so they can be kept running when not worn, or if the wearer's wrist motions don't keep the watch wound.
Some electronic watches are also powered by the movement of the wearer of the watch. Kinetic powered quartz watches make use of the motion of the wearer's arm turning a rotating weight, which turns a generator to supply power to charge a rechargeable battery that runs the watch. The concept is similar to that of self-winding spring movements, except that electrical power is generated instead of mechanical spring tension.
Electronic watches require electricity as a power source. Some mechanical movements and hybrid electronic-mechanical movements also require electricity. Usually the electricity is provided by a replaceable battery. The first use of electrical power in watches was as substitute for the mainspring, in order to remove the need for winding. The first electrically-powered watch, the Hamilton Electric 500, was released in 1957 by the Hamilton Watch Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Watch batteries (strictly speaking cells) are specially designed for their purpose. They are very small and provide tiny amounts of power continuously for very long periods (several years or more). In most cases, replacing the battery requires a trip to a watch-repair shop or watch dealer; this is especially true for watches that are designed to be water-resistant, as special tools and procedures are required to ensure that the watch remains water-resistant after battery replacement. Silver-oxide and lithium batteries are popular today; mercury batteries, formerly quite common, are no longer used, for environmental reasons. Cheap batteries may be alkaline, of the same size as silver-oxide but providing shorter life. Rechargeable batteries are used in some solar powered watches.
Some electronic watches are powered by light. A photovoltaic cell on the face (dial) of the watch converts light to electricity, which in turn is used to charge a rechargeable battery or capacitor. The movement of the watch draws its power from the rechargeable battery or capacitor. As long as the watch is regularly exposed to fairly strong light (such as sunlight), it never needs battery replacement, and some models need only a few minutes of sunlight to provide weeks of energy (as in the Citizen Eco-Drive).
Some of the early solar watches of the 1970s had innovative and unique designs to accommodate the array of solar cells needed to power them (Synchronar, Nepro, Sicura and some models by Cristalonic, Alba, Seiko and Citizen). As the decades progressed and the efficiency of the solar cells increased while the power requirements of the movement and display decreased, solar watches began to be designed to look like other conventional watches. A rarely used power source is the temperature difference between the wearer's arm and the surrounding environment (as applied in the Citizen Eco-Drive Thermo).