The Power Reserve Indicator Must Die


Grand Seiko SBGC223

Power reserve indicator? No thanks. I cycle through a lot of watches. If I leave a watch for a while and it’s out of power, I wind it, set it and wear it. If it’s a mechanical watch that has some power remaining, I wind it full. As I wrote in Your Watch’s “Power Reserve” Explained, some people don’t enjoy setting a dead watch – especially if it has a date window. But the only way I can see how that would matter is . . .

If you consider a topped-up power reserve indicator (PRI) a reassuring indication that you’re still alive (i.e. ambulatory). More realistically, if you wear a casual watch on the weekend and return to your business/dress watch on Monday and don’t want to have to set it.

If that isn’t the dictionary definition of a first-world problem, it should be. Especially now that Coronageddon has made the weekend watch transfer power problem (WWTPP) a thing of the past, as the Monday to Friday 9 to 5 grind goes the way of the mood ring.

Grand Seiko Spring Drive SBGA427

And yet watchmakers keep cranking out timepieces sporting a power reserve indicator.

For the vast majority, incorporating this minimally useful gauge into a dial design is a challenge too far. Grand Seiko is the worst offender.

I really want a Grand Seiko Spring Drive – the only watch with a second hand that literally sweeps around the dial (other than obsolete Accutrons and their latter day Spaceview 2020). But I can’t abide the little PRI triangle inflicted on all but GS’s more expensive Spring Drive models. I have to pay MORE for less? Geddowdaheah.

NOMOS Lambda with power reserve indicator

Grand Seiko is the most persistent and pervasive power reserve indicator provider (it’s their signature move). But even exclusive and artful watchmakers fall prey to PRI-tis. To wit: the NOMOS Lambda.

While I appreciate the engineering chops required to manufacture a timepiece with an 84 hour power reserve, the Lambda’s 297-degree PRI dial flex is inescapably ill-advised.

Jaeger LeCoultre Spring Torque Chronograph with power reserve indicator

In this upmarket aesthetic affront NOMOS is not alone. Jaeger-leCoultre has also screwed the proverbial pooch by making a feature out of a bug. Or is that a bug out of a feature? More than once.

A. Lange & Sohne 1815 with power reserve indicator

I’m not saying watchmakers can’t incorporate a power reserve indicator without messing up a dial. The A. Lange & Sohne 1815 above is far from entirely objectionable. IWC’s elegant Portugieser Automatic shares the same layout, with the same relatively inoffensive result.

But no matter how you slice it, a dial-mounted power reserve indicator is still horological tits on a bull. Which may be why A. Lange & Sohne abandoned the PRI for their current 1815.

Draken Peregrine

To avoid eternal design damnation, some watchmakers disguise their power reserve indicator. The Draken Peregrine‘s logo is an excellent example of a hide-in-plain-sight PRI.

Breguet Classique 5907 caseback

Some brands cater to stoppedwatchaphobics by putting the power reserve indicator on the back of a watch (Breguet Classique 5907 above). Right answer, if an answer be needed. Which it isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. If you like your PRI you can keep your PRI. How many people with watches equipped with a helium escape valve dive deep enough where it would perform any useful function? A PRI is way more practical that (as is just about every other watch complication).

Just remember that the dial-mounted power reserve indicator is a needless affectation – and enjoy. God willing, I’ll never be in a position where I have that option.


  1. Bells & Whistles, HRV’s and PRI’s.

    I like an uncomplicated watch however there are so many unnecessary complications gadding about. Not to mention tourbillons which are complicated but not complications. Show me a Hermle Tellurium though and I change my mind and wish that it came wristsize.

  2. As a forgetful type, I see the need. I’m grab and go, so resetting is a hassle. It is a shame that most are such eyesores. If they really must be these off-centered arc wedges on the front, can they use a tone-on-tone non-contrasting needle and be as stealthy as possible? This is something that gets checked at most once a day, with no real alacrity.

    I’d truly like to hear from someone who likes these things as something more than a compromise. Youtube’s The Time Teller said they were his favorite complication, and my jaw dropped. Why?

  3. I actually happen to be wearing my one watch with a PRI, a Seiko SSA339J1 that I impulse-bought at the Osaka airport a few years ago on a domestic trip. I think it works decent on this dial as it is balanced by some dial printing on the far side, so it is visually a little less jarring. I find the complication somewhat amusing as it is my only watch with this feature. It also is interesting for me to wear the watch during a normal day and be able to verify how much activity it takes for an automatic to reach full power (Which generally allows for the best timekeeping).

    I am holding off on buying more pieces for the next three years at which point I plan on getting a Grand Seiko. I am hoping that by that time they will have more thinner watches and automatic Spring Drive models without the PRI.

    I wonder if it is somehow more complicated to modify the automatic SD movement and remove the PRI? Or if it is just the slow moving Japanese corporate mentality that is limiting the change?

    • @Zach B – I reckon that puts you in line for a bespoke Grand Seiko if you are hoping to lose this complication.
      The Seiko PRI that you mention is strangely enormous and subtle at that same time.

      @Oscar – yes, lockjaw.

    • The PRI as a Tamagotchi that can be fed and monitored resonates with me. I kind of want to play with one now.

      I looked up an image of the SSA339J1. The central needle and effort at printed symmetry changes the game substantially. If ever there were an instance where the hand could be blacked out except for the tip, this is it. Is it actually lumed, because that seems really superfluous.

      • I agree that a blacked out hand, except for the tip would better camouflage the PRI. And no it is not lumed, the only lume is on the hour/minute/second hands and small dots outside of the 3/6/9/12 indices.

        I like this SSA339J1 and wear it on a Uncle Seiko Tire Tread rubber strap as modern interpretation of a pilot/field watch.

        Another thing to add. On current Seiko mechanical watches with a PRI, they do away with the traditional date window and use a sub-dial. Although it doesn’t have the often desired dial symmetry, I saw the SARW057/055 in person and the blue or white enamel dial was stunning.

  4. Hold on a minute – you assume that everyone with an automatic watch is sufficiently active to keep it running without hand-winding it.
    I’ve owned four automatics and had to hand-wind each one about twice a week otherwise it stopped.
    Perhaps I’m especially slow/lethargic/static but I’m not alone. GOOGLE the question “why does my watch keep stopping” and you will find other people like me.
    I do a reasonable amount of walking but because I normally carry a shopping bag (or hold the left strap of a rucksack) I don’t swing my left arm very much.
    One of my watches had a power indicator which was very useful because I could hand-wind it only when necessary.
    The other watches I ended up hand-winding every day just to be sure – which I understand might erode the hand-winding mechanism within two years.
    I used a winding machine for a while but had ‘issues’ so I stopped using it.
    I understand if you don’t like power indicators but PLEASE don’t dismiss a function just because YOU don’t like it.
    Yours sincerely
    MAB (my initials)

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