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, the acquisition stage 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 your average quartz timepiece.
Eventually, those fairly new to the game will come across the subject of watch winders, and the arguments both 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 for you.
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What Is A Watch Winder?
During normal wear and use, 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 movement that oscillates back and forth and puts tension on the mainspring. If the piece is left stationary for an extended period of time, the watch 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 and brands, with some (such as the latest from the Panerai Luminor range) taking up to eight days to completely wind down.
A watch winder is simply a device, either plug-in or battery-powered, that keeps a timepiece moving to replicate the effect of it being worn. This ensures that the mainspring stays wound. A good watch winder will have a silent motor and will allow you to adjust the turns per day (TPD) so that you can configure it to your specific watch.
This means that if you only wear your timepiece on special occasions, it can be carefully “wound” while you are not using it, ensuring that it stays running and displaying the correct time and date. After configuring your watch winder by setting its direction of motion and the number of rotations per day, you then place your timepiece in the cushioned holder and it starts moving, gently rotating in either one direction or both depending on its settings, and it keeps your watch running until you are ready to wear it again.
Do I Need A Watch Winder?
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, coagulate, or migrate, which can significantly hinder performance. Additionally, there are other components such as the mainspring that are designed to flex, and leaving them in the same stationary position for too long has the potential to diminish their lifespan.
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 it 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 agree that a winder makes a certain amount of sense is in regards to watches that contain numerous complications. If a relatively simple time-only watch 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 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 (assuming you even remember how to do it) and it can become an unrelenting pain in the backside – especially if you have multiple watches with these types of complications. Keeping those types of models running constantly is certainly beneficial.
So You Want A Watch Winder
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, but you don’t always have to spend a small fortune to get yourself something serviceable. Winders can run anywhere between $50 all the way up to exorbitant prices with many, many zeroes attached to them. 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 (clockwise, counterclockwise, and bidirectional), and some sort of timer or rotation setting that will allow the watches to rest periodically.
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 set the rotation direction. As for the timer, all automatic watches are protected by what is known as a mainspring bridle (a form of slip-gear inside the movement) that disengages the winding mechanism when the spring reaches maximum tension, thus preventing it from being overwound.
While this mechanism prevents your watch from overwinding itself, it is subject to wear and tear from overuse, just like any other part of the movement. Therefore, having too high of a rotation setting or worse yet, a watch winder that simply stays in constant motion the entire time, will simply put more wear and tear on the components of the winding mechanism and will ultimately do more harm than good, even if it is only on a minor scale. Therefore, many winders allow you to input a certain number of turns per day as a means to help safeguard the caliber from excess wear.
Setting Up Your Watch Winder
Properly configuring your winder for your watch will entirely depend on the type of watch you own. Many self-winding luxury timepieces, including all Rolex watches, will wind bidirectionally, which means that they will wind themselves both when moving clockwise and counterclockwise. However, there are many others, such as certain models from Jaeger-LeCoultre and Breitling that only wind in one direction, so you will first need to confirm the type of movement in your watch so that you can program its winding settings accordingly.
As for the number of rotations per day, this will also vary depending on your specific watch. Most automatic watches require somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 to 800 turns per day (TPD), but there are some models out there that require either more or less than this. For Rolex watches, you will want to choose a setting around 650 TPD with bidirectional motion. Luckily, this is a setting that you will find on the vast majority of watch winders available, so you do not need a highly advanced winder in order to properly set it up for your Rolex.
Similarly, most modern Omega watches also require a watch winder setting in the 600-800 TPD range with bidirectional motion. Certain self-winding vintage Omega models will require different settings, and anything with a hand-wind movement like the classic Speedmaster Moonwatch simply will not work, as watch winders only work for models with automatic-winding movements. However, for the vast majority of models, you will want 650 to 700 rotations per day, which guarantees that most watch winders on the market will have an appropriate setting for your watch.
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
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 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. With velvet lining and with a nice lacquered finish, it does the job and is a solid contender at this price point.
Another budget-friendly option is a Versa watch winder. 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 and silent motor, a respectable number of function settings, and a decent number of options as far as style and designs.
Middle of the Road – Wolf Designs Double Watch Winder
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 and solid build quality. 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 both larger and heavier watches up to 55mm in diameter. All-black faux leather with chrome clasps and control switches, it is stylish enough to not look out of place in most interior decors, while the glass front cover lets you see everything at work. Powered either off a DC input or by 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
Diving headfirst into high-roller land, $52,000 will buy you the Agartos Tourbillon from the German purveyors of all things for the one percent: 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 – or as the brand likes to call it, a Time Mover®.
The ‘Magic Slide’ electromechanical opening and closing arrangement grants access exclusively to the owner via innovative fingertip sensors. Inside, the finest Italian Nappa leather nestles up to five watches, and it 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 only the very best, this could well be the ultimate watch winder.