Building a collection of fine mechanical watches comes with the understanding that it involves a certain level of commitment. Much like indulging a passion for high-end sports cars, acquisition is merely the first step. Beyond that, whether your hoard of luxury watches is from a brand’s contemporary range or classic vintage pieces from the archives, they all require more care and attention than a run-of-the-mill quartz throwaway. Eventually, those fairly new to the game will come across the subject of watch winders, and the arguments for and against them can both be equally compelling. So below, we lay out all the pros and cons, along with our recommendations for what to look for if you decide a watch winder is the thing for you.
All modern Rolex watches use self-winding movements, which means that they can be kept running with the use of a watch winder.
What is a Watch Winder?
Automatic mechanical watches are kept wound and running via the movement of the wearer’s arm. That motion is transferred to a small weight in the internal mechanism that oscillates back and forth and puts tension on the mainspring. If the piece is left stationary for an extended period of time, the caliber will eventually use up all the tension in the mainspring and the watch will stop. The time it takes for that to happen is known as its power reserve, and it varies across different models, with some, such as the latest from the Panerai Luminor range, taking up to eight days to wind down.
A watch winder is simply a device, mains or battery-powered, that keeps a timepiece moving to replicate the effect of it being worn, which ensures that the mainspring stays wound. You place your watch in the cushioned holder and it sets off, gently rotating in either one direction or several depending on the type, and it keeps your watch running until you are ready to wear it again.
While watch winders work with modern, self-winding Rolex watches, older vintage reference that use manually-wound movements will not benefit from them.
But Do I Need One?
Depending on who you ask, a watch winder is either an indispensable weapon in a collector’s arsenal or a pointless expenditure for people with more money than sense.
The case for the former usually centers around the various oils and lubricants that are essential for the smooth operation of a watch’s movement. They are used to reduce friction across the numerous parts, and prevent metal on metal contact to prolong the life of the components. If a watch is left dormant for too long, those oils can dry up or coagulate, which can significantly hinder performance.
Highly complex timepieces are good candidates for watch winders because the more complications a watch has, the more time consuming it is to set after it stops running. (Image: Vacheron Constantin)
Those against winders point to the effectiveness of modern synthetic lubricants, which are only really affected by things like age or temperature, rather than whether or not they are kept in motion. So long as you commit to a strict servicing schedule, where oils are refreshed as a matter of course, having your watch constantly wound is not only unnecessary, but could actually be harmful. If you don’t wear your favorite piece except on special occasions, having it sitting idle means there is less of a chance for the gears to accumulate wear.
Where the two factions tend to meet in the middle and agree that a winder makes a certain amount of sense is in regards to watches that contain numerous complications. If a relatively simple three-hander stops running, getting it going again is the work of a few seconds. In fact, for most horology geeks, manually setting and winding a mechanical watch it is one of the great joys of ownership. However, if a piece with a perpetual calendar or moonphase stops and has to be reset, it can take quite a long time to get right and become an unrelenting pain in the backside. Keeping those types running constantly is certainly beneficial.
The rotor is the semicircle-shaped component in automatic watch movements that adds tension to the mainspring as it rotates through regular wear and use.
I Want One!
If you are lucky enough to own an extensive collection of automatic mechanical watches and tend to swap and change them fairly regularly, having them all ready to go at a moment’s notice – without the need to wind and set them first is obviously pretty convenient. In that case, you may decide a watch winder is the way forward, but what should you look for in one and how much should you spend?
For the second point, as with anything horology related, there is always a more expensive option. Winders can run anywhere between $50 all the way up to a number with many, many zeroes. Buying the best that you can afford is well-worn but still relevant advice.
The costlier examples are generally more feature-heavy; some worthwhile, others a little gimmicky. Two of the most important attributes for a winder to have are the ability to rotate in different directions, and some sort of timer to allow the watches to rest periodically.
While leaving a watch to sit too long can be detrimental, keeping it perpetually running can increase the amount of wear and tear on the internal components of the watch.
A winder that varies in its revolutions means the watch’s interior weight is receiving equal amounts of wear across its surface, rather than on just one side. Additionally, some timepieces only wind in one direction, so it then becomes a necessity to be able to switch up the rotation.
As for the timer, all automatic watches are protected by what is known as a mainspring bridle that disengages the winding mechanism when the spring reaches maximum tension, thus preventing it from being overwound. The bridle is subject to wear and tear from overuse as any other part of the movement, so engaging and disengaging it constantly by having a fully wound watch in constant motion will do more harm than good. Therefore, many winders allow you to input a certain number of turns per day as a means to help safeguard the caliber.
Watch winders work by periodically rotating the watch, which allows its internal rotor to resupply tension to its mainspring.
Our Favorite Watch Winders
With all that in mind, here are a few of the winders we think are well worth a look.
Budget – Uten Automatic Watch Winder Box / Versa Watch Winders
One of the least expensive and most straightforward watch winders available, this option is perfect for those who want a winder, but don’t want to invest too heavily in one. (Image: Uten)
Coming in at around $60, this compact no frills example can wind two watches simultaneously, and it is powered either by DC or batteries, making it ideal if you’re off traveling. The Japanese Mabuchi motor is whisper quiet, and despite its lack of frills, provides an intelligent rotation cycle of two minutes counterclockwise, a six minute pause and then two minutes clockwise. Velvet lined and with a nice lacquered finish, it does the job and is pretty unbeatable at this price point.
Another budget-friendly option is Versa watch winders. Readily available through a number of online sources, and with prices ranging from $40 for a single watch winder to about $120 for a 4-slot winder, Versa makes solid options for those who require the functionality of an automatic watch winder, but who do not necessarily want to pay a premium for it. While their construction is primarily plastic (for most models), you do get a reliable motor and a decent number of options as far as designs.
Middle of the Road – Wolf Designs 270102 Heritage Module 2.1 Double Watch Winder
Wolf makes fantastic watch winders that can often be found for significantly below retail prices – with a little bit of savvy shopping. (Image: Wolf Designs)
Wolf Designs has been in the luxury leather goods business longer than most – about 180 years to be exact. This double winder is certainly an investment, coming in at around the $500 mark (with some savvy searching), but it is packed with some pretty useful features. It can provide up to 900 turns a day and be programmed to perform intermittent rotations either clockwise, counterclockwise or a mixture of both. It also has a start delay feature (10 seconds up to 12 hours) and has preset pause and sleep stages.
Inside, the redesigned ‘lock in cuff’ keeps everything secure, and can hold larger, heavier watches up to 55mm. All black faux leather with chrome clasps and control switches, it is stylish enough for the average man cave, while the glass front cover lets you see everything at work.
Powered either off the mains or from lithium batteries, it is possibly the only winder you will ever need – until you add a third automatic watch to the collection of course.
Yikes! – Buben & Zorweg Agartos Tourbillon
The Agartos Tourbillon is really more of a high-complication clock that also winds watches; however it is the ultimate choice for those interested in premium watch winders. (Image: Buben & Zorweg)
Diving headfirst into fantasy land, $52,000 will buy you the Agartos Tourbillon from the German purveyors of all things one percent-ish, Buben & Zorweg. Looking like something out of an industrial art installation, it is in fact an exquisite flying tourbillon minute clock that also happens to house a watch winder – sorry, a Time Mover®.
The ‘Magic Slide’ electromechanical opening and closing arrangement grants access exclusively to the owner via innovative sensors. Inside, the finest Italian Nappa leather nestles up to five watches, and comes complete with state-of-the-art LED lighting with fading functionality.
The aluminum and wood exterior is a symphony of high-gloss metallic piano lacquer, and the column houses an integrated B&Z sound system. For those with timepiece collections that deserve to be protected by the very best, this could well be the ultimate watch winder.