If you ever owned an automatic mechanical wristwatch, you’re familiar with the standstill that inevitably occurs after not wearing it for a couple of days. When the hands are not moving, neither is the date, and even worse, neither are more elaborate complications such as a perpetual calendar or a moon phase. If you want to avoid having to set your watch after a period of non-use, the easiest option to keep it running is to wind the movement manually before it runs out of power reserve . However, common movements such as the ETA 2824-2, ETA 7750 or ETA 2892-A2 are not designed to be fully wound by hand. The sensitive gears eventually wear out and might require replacement by the watchmaker sooner than you’d expect them to. Another option is to shake your watch and make the rotor spin, which simulates automatic winding on the wrist. If that all seems too complicated, you might want to consider acquiring a watch winder.
Chronovision One with Bluetooth, available at https://www.chronovision.de/
Does a watch winder increase the longevity of my wristwatch? Probably not…
It’s true that in the past, lubricants used in watches would thicken when standing still, which tended to cause all sorts of problem within the movement. However, modern synthetic oils have been in use for more than 30 years now and eliminate this issue. The leading manufacturer in Switzerland is Möbius, today part of the Swatch Group. These lubricants rather than getting sticky, tend to evaporate over time, whether or not the watch is in motion. Therefore, a watch winder will have little positive effects on the longevity of modern mechanical wristwatches. In fact, it might be quite the contrary, as a ticking watch naturally experiences more wear and tear than one that is “taking a nap”. This is especially the case when the watch winder cannot be precisely adjusted to the respective watch. A timepiece with an automatic movement has certain mechanisms that prevent the spring from being over-tensioned. This is achieved by the use of a slipping clutch at the end of the mainspring that simply slips against the inside of the barrel wall when fully wound. A special grease is used in the barrel wall to minimize wear of that slipping action. In everyday life, the watch rarely reaches full winding, because the resistance against which the rotor has to work increases with increasing spring tension. An incorrectly programmed watch winder, on the other hand, is a little like the engine of a Ferrari that continuously runs at 10,000 revolutions per minute. The wear on the slipping clutch part of the mainspring increases significantly and can even wear out the inside of the barrel walls.
Buben Zorweg Vantage 12 Carbon available at https://www.buben-zorweg.com/
In a simple three-hand automatic watch, I would personally do without a winder. I prefer to start the movement with five to ten turns of the crown, set the time and date and enjoy the watch. For a watch with complex calendar displays and for technology enthusiasts, a watch winder may make sense: In this case, however, the watch winder should be adjusted in the direction of rotation and number of revolutions to the specific movement it is winding. This is the best way to ensure that the right amount of energy is supplied to the movement without overloading technical components such as the slipping clutch.
Adjusting your watch winder to your watch is crucial!
The market for watch winders is large and several suppliers offer a wide range of products in literally every price category. Almost all inexpensive devices are manufactured in Asia and some of them tend to have clear weaknesses. In addition to a loud operating noise, the electric motors in some models don’t supply enough torque. Some watch winders switch off at night and mimic natural wearing behavior: movement during the day, rest at night. Speaking of which: Depending on the activity level, a normal arm generates between 650 and 1950 rotor revolutions during the day. The average watch rotor weighs around five grams - roughly the weight of a teaspoonful of sugar.
Luwima Pi06 24KT Gold Edition available at https://www.luwima.com/
Some manufacturers offer devices that can be precisely controlled via Bluetooth and your Smartphone. Ideally, the watch (or movement) model can be selected via the app and the necessary settings are applied automatically. Adjusting the winder settings to your watch is crucial; for example, an ETA 7750, the most famous chronograph movement in the world, only winds in one direction. The same applies to other movements such as the Miyota 9015 or 8215. ETA movements such as the 2824-2 or 2892-A2 as well as movements from Rolex and many other manufacturers wind in both directions.
To properly set up your watch winder, you will need to know the optimal TPD (turns per day, or, how many full revolutions the winder turns in a 24-h period) and the turning direction (bi-directional/clockwise or counter-clockwise). You can find a comprehensive list here. For Formex owners, here’s a short summary of our current model lineup:
Which is the best watch winder on the market?
It all comes down to your budget, purpose and personal taste. I personally have very good experiences with Chronovision watch winders. The devices are not cheap, but worth the price. The drive is high quality and even heavy watches are turned safely and quietly. Modalo https://www.modalo-shop.com/ would be my recommendation for a more affordable option. Buben Zorweg has some impressive collector masterpieces that even fit your cigars. When it comes to design, Luwima manufactures some outstanding pieces with unique looks.
I personally own a watch winder for my collection, but I only use it to store my timepieces, without ever turning it on. If I haven’t worn a watch for more than two days and it stands still, I actually enjoy welcoming it on my wrist by giving the crown a couple of revolutions to get the movement started, and set the date and the time to within a second of the atomic clock. This has become a little ritual of mine over the years that makes putting a watch on even more special to me.
Raphael Granito, CEO Formex Watch SA
In short, if you want to keep your favorite automatic timepieces in motion and want to give it a dedicated place to rest, a watch winder might be a great solution for you. Just keep in mind: don’t let it run at full throttle, but just as much as your watch needs it.