What is a watch winder?
A watch winder is a device used to keep automatic (also known as self winding) watches running when not worn. Automatic watches operate on the principle of winding themselves using a moving weight inside the watch. The weight swings or rotates while the watch is worn and turns the winding mechanism inside the watch. So, fairly obviously, if the watch is not worn, then it no longer receives power this way and will run down. While virtually all automatic watches can be manually wound, this is not always convenient. So the concept of an automatic watch winder was born.
A watch winder is a device which holds a watch (or often more than one) and moves it in a circular patterns to emulate the necessary parts of human motion to operate the self-winding mechanism.
A winder cannot over wind an automatic watch, since all automatic watches are protected from being over wound by a mechanism that disengages the winding process when the mainspring is fully wound. But using a timer-based winder is still very important to prevent excessive wear on the winding mechanism. There is no need to keep the watch in motion 24 hours a day when usually only 30 minutes of motion is necessary to keep it properly wound.
Winders are totally useless with battery-operated quartz watches. But they do work for the special ‘battery-less’ quartz watches, such as the Omega-Matic, Seiko Kinetic, and similar. These automatic/quartz hybrids use the same weight/rotor principal to generate electric power to run a quartz movement.
Up until recently, there were no winder devices available to operate manual wind watches. But Orbita demonstrated such a device at the Basel 2000 watch exposition, and may be making them available to the public in the near future.
Do I need a watch winder?
Well, you didn’t need to buy more automatic watches than you can wear at one time, did you? But don’t worry, you are far from alone! Many collectors and enthusiasts quickly get into this dilemma. Ultimately, the main function of a winder is as a convenience device. Read on to learn more…
Does a watch winder protect my watch?
Sometimes people are worried about the oils clotting in their watches from disuse. The oils used in most modern watches and properly serviced vintage watches are not very prone to clotting or coagulating. While there are technical reasons in favor of keeping a watch continuously running, there are also reasons in favor of not unnecessarily overusing a watch.
There is no significant evidence that a good watch winder will either save or harm your watch. The several watch repair professionals I’ve dealt with say they’ve never encountered a watch that ‘would have been fine, if only the owner had kept it on a winder.’
So how should I choose whether to get a winder or not?
Choose a winder for your needs based on its convenience value to you. If you have a watch you almost never wear, simply wind it up every couple of weeks and let it run down. But for automatic watches you wear frequently, but not continuously, a winder is a great solution for keeping them ready to wear on a moments notice. If this convenience is worth the cost of a winder to you, then go for it!
The single biggest advantage of a winder for seldom used watches is for those with complex perpetual calendar features that may require elaborate resetting after the watch has been stopped for a while.
Why are most watch winders so expensive?
Watch winder manufacturers and sellers emphasize the quality, the precision, and their knowledgeable design to correctly pamper your watch as the reasons. These do factor in, but only explain part of the cost of these $60-$20,000 devices. But the remaining factor in the cost is that these are specialty items manufactured in relatively low quantities.
Although winder manufacturers keep their sales numbers confidential, it is safe to guess that sales are a few thousands of units per year. At this level of production, they cannot achieve the economies of mass production that make items that sell in the multi-million units (such as blenders and toasters) so affordable. So while the prices of the devices may be higher than you might expect, it is not viable for these manufacturers to produce them at prices comparable to mass consumer items.
What types of watch winders are available?
Functional: Such winders perform the duties of winding one or more watches. Generally, these units hold the watch on the exterior of the device, and tend to be plastic or cheaply finished wood.
Elegant: These winders go beyond pure functionality and offer a nice form and exterior. Normally they are a completely enclosed box, often made of nicely finished wood or covered in leather. They are suitable for display on a desk or dresser, yet many are capable of fitting inside a drawer or safe deposit box.
Extravagant: As with many luxury items, the sky is the limit on options. Winders with heaters to keep the watch near body temperature, built-in storage drawers, and atomic-clock-synchronized time displays are some of the esoteric and beyond features available on some of the very high end winders.
Within these are options of a/c and battery powered units. The battery units are especially nice for use on shelves, in drawers, or in a safe deposit box.
Should I start with a single or a multi-headed unit?
If you are enough of a collector to want a winder, don’t short-change yourself by skimping on a winder that can only handle one watch. If you’ve got the watch ‘bug,’ it won’t be long before you buy another automatic and be caught short. Consider at least one of the single-unit watch winders have optional two-watch heads. Or buy a single-watch unit for starters and plan on adding a multi-watch unit later.
What else should I consider?
Don’t underestimate the value of manual wind watches for your collection. They offer the joy of needing to interact with your collection every day or two to keep them going. It can be nice to be needed. Vintage manual wind watches are readily available, modern ones are less common but still made. Not only will you not need a winder, they are intentionally easy to wind by hand. Many automatics have screw down crowns or are otherwise not as accommodating for frequent manual winding.
Automatic watches are intended for fairly regular wear. So concentrate your ownership of automatic watches on those that you will wear at least a couple of times a week. Winders are a nice convenience for watches you don’t wear daily. But why spin away most of the lifetime of several nice watches waiting for you to seldom wear them.
A bad watch winder is worse than no winder. Automatic watches are designed to be worn by people. People move in a large diversity of manners, causing a fairly even distribution of motion of the watch’s internal winding mechanism. A watch winder is normally limited to a very finite number of directions and types of movement — some as little as one single motion. So a poorly designed winder (especially the one you tried to make from an old electric drill and spare auto parts when you first heard that a real winder sells for hundreds of dollars) might cause undesirable wear of the watch’s mechanisms from excessive and repetitive movement.
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