Watch Winders Guide
Learn about these special accessories for automatic watches
- What exactly is a watch winder?
- Do I need a watch winder?
- Doesn't a winder protect my watch by keeping the oils from clotting?
- So how should I choose whether to get a winder or not?
- Why are watch winders so expensive when they seem pretty simple in concept?
- What types of winders are available?
- Should I start with a single head unit or go for a multi headed unit?
- What else should I consider?
An Omega Deville 4500 takes a spin on an Orbita Bellino winder [Derek Ziglar]
What exactly 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
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...
Doesn't a winder protect my watch by keeping the oils from clotting?
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 watch winders so expensive when they seem pretty simple in concept?
Watch winder manufacturers and sellers emphasize the quality, the precision, and their knowledgable
design to correctly pamper your watch as the reasons. These do factor in, but only explain part of the
cost of these $200-$8,000 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 winders are available?
There are only a few manufacturers of watch winders. The types of watch winders currently on
the market tend to fall into three main categories:
Functional: Such winders perform the duties of winding one or more watches. Generally,
these units hold the watch on the exterior of the device. As such, they tend to need to be on a
tabletop or somewhat tall shelf. Some which handle more than one watch start to resemble
carnival rides, with their merry-go-round or ferris wheel configurations and multiple rotating
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 head unit or go for 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
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.