Watch Winders: Frequently Asked Questions

by Jack Freedman, President
Superior Watch Service Inc.

I have read with much interest and amusement various ideas, questions and comments made about winders for automatic watches. One fellow thought of attaching a watch to a ceiling fan, another considered using a miniature paint shaker, or yet another a small wave machine which rocks back and forth. One person suggested making a winder from a mechanical game which comes with an electromotor and batteries. Here are my responses to some questions I'm frequently asked about watch winders.

Question: Do inexpensive winders (under $75.00 US) do the job?

Answer: Yes, some undoubtedly do -- but not always well and possibly not for long. Further, they may not be good for the long-term health of the watch. We can't generalize over all possible embodiments of the watch winder that may be available, but we can say that a good watch winder is based on research and development. A professional watch winder like the Cyclomatic-Due is an engineered product. It has the task of winding and keeping your watch safely wound in a condition of mainspring tension that is optimal for your watch. Like any properly engineered product, its quality stems from the designer's thorough knowledge of automatic winding mechanisms and their operational needs. A cheap winder just turns the watch.

Question: Why doesn't Superior sell inexpensive watch winders?

Answer: There are many differences between inexpensive winders and those we sell. Our determination is that the less expensive winders currently available are not the quality most customers want. We would not put our name behind a product which can lead to customer dissatisfaction. These winders may be just fine for lower-priced watches but they are not professionally engineered products. We aren't interested in dealing with returns of winders that fall short of customer expectations.

There have been some rather interesting new winders introduced lately. But it's not enough just to have something turn your watch. An automatic watch is wound through an oscillating weight called the rotor. The rotor of a watch winds a movement by responding to inertial acceleration. And that's not necessarily accomplished by turns from just any motor. A professionally engineered watch winder has the right speed (RPM's), a robust motor, the right shaft angle and proper timing all in one instrument. This ensures that the rotor turns properly to wind the mainspring, building a power reserve for the watch. Our Cyclomatic-Due is a self-alternating machine, turning clockwise and then counter-clockwise, which winds every automatic watch on the market, not just Rolex.

It would be just as foolish for an amateur to build and sell a watch without comprehensive knowledge of what makes a watch tick. We will leave the marketing of cheap winders to others and market only products that first meet our own quality standards. We offer only proven, factory-tested watch winders that we know will meet your total satisfaction.

Question: But a watch is designed to be worn on the wrist. There is no more irregular and inconsistent method of motion than a wrist during its normal daily activities. What makes Superior's winders more desireable?

Answer: Human behavior is always inconsistent and totally unpredictable. Daily activities are usually in an unpatterned rhythm. Therefore, consistent mechanical stress on a worn timepiece won't occur like it could from a faulty or unprofessional winder acting like a robot. Since our firm specializes in service of luxury timepieces our focus has always been on quality.

Question: You gotta be kidding me - five hundred plus dollars for watch winders? Are you telling me that there is no less-expensive way to keep an automatic watch wound while it is off your wrist? There are countless ways to conceive a machine that would do this job -- anything that intermittently shakes, wiggles, or spins -- and most could be realized for far less than $100. What justifies the high price?

Answer: I'm not suggesting to anyone that a watch cannot be wound with alternative ways. You can attach your watch to a yo-yo, release it at full speed, and get satisfaction by seeing time fly. Or you can stuff your watch tight in a miniature barrel and roll it down a hill. I'm sure there are lots of other ingenious ideas clever folks can think of with which to wind up a watch.

But professional watch winders are superior to the other methods. You may be unaware that there is one brand, Scatola del Tempo, whose winder prices run several thousand dollars!

Your question can also be asked about the timepieces themselves. Is there no less-expensive way to tell time than with luxury priced watches?

Question: Can a cheap watch winder damage a watch?

Answer: Let's just say some winders can damage some watches. The most obvious way is for the winder to drop the watch because of sloppy mounting arrangements. Clearly, the watch to be wound must be totally secure on the winder, regardless of its type of strap or bracelet or the size of its owner's wrist. Then, the external magnetic field of a cheap winder can magnetize the watch. Not a total disaster but certainly a nuisance. A good winder must have no external magnetic field at the point where the watch is attached. We have seen cheap winders that leak oil (tough on that $300 crocodile strap), get hot, or begin to smoke if accidentally stalled for more than a minute.

But there is a more subtle and more prolonged type of damage an improperly designed winder can impose on a watch: stressing the automatic winding mechanism's overwind protection system. All automatic watches have means built into them to start the mainspring attachment slipping when the spring is almost fully wound. An improperly designed winder can force the watch's overwind protection mechanism to work overtime.

Depending on how long ago the watch was serviced and lubricated, eventually this can cause the watch to fail, intermittently or continuously. The watch begins to overbank -- the spring tension becomes so strong that the balance wheel begins to hit the "crash stops" at the ends of its travel, ricocheting back and forth in a way that can damage parts of the escapement. The process by which this happens is usually characterized as giving the watch too many turns per day.

A well-designed winder is generally programmable to give the watch the correct number of turns per day and to do it in such a way that all motion goes toward winding the mainspring rather than stressing the overwind protection mechanism.

Question: Is it o.k. for a winder to run continuously? Can it work for an hour, then stop and after an hour start again? Should it work at a certain speed? If so, which is preferred, a 110V AC at 12 RPM or the DC model at 1 RPM? This seems like a significant difference.

Answer: There is no clear superiority between AC and DC winding, other than the obvious inconvenience of requiring an AC cord for the AC winder and having a slightly higher sound level with a DC winder. Any type of winder and any RPM within reason is acceptable as long as the rotation is programmed in a way that assures the proper number of turns per day, applied toward building up power reserve, rather than uselessly and needlessly stressing the overwind protection mechanism.

For example, most fine automatics require 300 - 800 turns per day to restore power lost during 24 hours of running. A Rolex requires 500 turns per day, which can be in either direction. To distribute wear equitably in the winding mechanism, a good winder will change direction and will also follow a cycle. For example, the high-quality Cyclomatic Due turns 36 revolutions clockwise, pauses 30 minutes, then turns 36 revolutions counter-clockwise, pauses 30 minutes, and so on. That distributes the winding over time. Some movements, like the popular Valjoux 7750, wind in only one direction. Winders like the one above require twice as much time to keep such a movement wound.

A winder that gently keeps an unworn watch running, however, can be inadequate to wind a stopped watch quickly. For this purpose, winders like the Cyclomatic Due have a selectable mode that continuously winds the watch at about 40 RPM under manual control. This mode can bring a stopped Rolex to a power reserve of 24 hours in about 12 minutes and to a fully wound condition in about 20 minutes. Obviously, continuing in this mode would not be good for the long-term health of the watch, but it is a handy and gentle way to bring the watch to a wearable condition after a period of disuse.

Returning to the 12 RPM winder mentioned in the question, this winder would be much too severe unless it has an intermittent cycle programmed into it. A watch using it would need to be on it about 40 minutes per day, but not all at one time.

The 1 RPM winder is a much better approach. It performs 1440 turns per day and could be programmed to run only 10 hours out of every 24. However, it is not exceptionally adapted for bringing a run-down watch quickly up to a usable level of power reserve.

Question: Should a watch winder turn in a certain direction? What's the difference between unidirectional or bidirectional rotations?

Answer: The rotor mechanism varies on every watch. Some watches wind in the clockwise direction, others in a counter-clockwise direction while many wind in either direction. Professional watch winders like the Cyclomatic-Due or the Cyclotest 6, rotate in both directions, clockwise and counter-clockwise and will wind every automatic watch on the market.

Question: How does the Cyclomatic-Due or the Cyclotest 6 compare to the Scatola del Tempo luxury winder?

Answer: Some people prefer an automobile which delivers the most mileage while providing a comfortable ride from point A to point B. Others prefer riding in a Rolls-Royce notwithstanding the costs involved. We have researched the market for several years and found that there are two types of customers for automatic winders. One is looking for a practical, affordable, and functional winder. The other is looking primarily for the aesthetics with functionality a secondary concern.

Most people who have multiple timepieces have a desire to change their watches and be seen wearing them by others. They're not any more concerned with the instrument that keeps their watches on time than they are concerned about the equipment that keeps their cars running. Some people, however, enjoy the pampering of their watch collections and want to see their watches wound in a fine silk and leather box. There is a market for both. My company is pleased to offer the most affordable professional watch winders on the market.

Question: I have a Scatola del Tempo leather three-rotor winding box I purchased about a year ago. The winding cycle is as follows: 15 minutes in one direction then will stop for about one minute then 15 minutes in the other direction. This is repeated for a total of 2 hours which equates to 395 cycles + 395 cycles = 790 total revolutions per 24 hours. You said a Rolex requires 500 total revolutions per day. I have all Rolexes on the winding box. Will the extra rotations damage the watches? This is the lowest setting the box has.

Answer: While I can't endorse a winder I don't sell, I will say that the Scatola del Tempo cannot be classified as an amateur or hobbyist product. These are factory tested in some ways and most likely do the job for certain watches. I have not heard complaints about their products damaging watches.

Again, many combined factors are to be considered when choosing a watch winder. Our professional winders, like the Cyclomatic-Due or the Cyclotest 6 offer the right speed (RPM) as well as a sufficient number of turns for most automatic watches. One criteria without the other may not be enough. Therefore, how many turns required by a specific movement such as the ETA 2892 is irrelevant when using our winders. It's been precalculated by the respective factories with consideration of almost every automatic watch on the market.

Incidentally, I know of no study undertaken to determine the exact number of turns every different automatic movement requires. Such statistics of the thousands of different watches on the market, if they were available, would be invaluable for an engineer in developing a radically new kind of watch winder that could be adjustable to the particular watch placed on for winding.

Question: What makes your company's watch winders superior to others?

Answer: Many different points are considered before we determine the acceptability of the products that we will sell to others. We look at the speed and direction of rotations, robustness of the motor, noise level, shaft angle, watch arms, and so on. We also consider the size and overall ease of operation. Obviously, the materials and construction are very important. The most critical combined test is the RPM speed and total number of turns per 24 hours as we don't want to sell an amateur toy winder, which will be marginal, nor do we want a RPM power tank, which would be overkill. As mentioned, we test each manufacturer's product before offering it on the market.

Question: Does the angle of the motor shaft have any significance? Does it matter in what position the watch is mounted?

Answer: It certainly does have a major impact. The rotor of an automatic watch has an unbalanced mass and responds to inertial acceleration as well as to gravitational acceleration. A watch can work fine in daily use with moderate physical activity but with some winders it may never get fully wound. For example, if a winder's shaft is tilted from the horizontal by more than 45 degrees, the torque exerted on the winding mechanism by the unbalanced weight of the rotor may be too low to keep the rotor stationary at the bottom of the rotating case. Similarly, for example, a watch mounted sideways on a mandrel type arm may not get sufficient winding of the mainspring to keep its recommended power reserve.

Question: What benefit, if any, is there to a heated watch winding box? Is heating of the watch to body temperature recommended or necessary?

Answer: One manufacturer emphasizes this feature in their winding box. We know of no recommended advantage to this claim since it would be no different were you to take your watch out of any cold drawer or ordinary box. We have never seen a watch company provide instructions against preventing condensation from a box. Engineers and watchmakers we have discussed this with are of the opinion that the feature may be a marketing gimmick based on a coincidental side affect from the warming of the motor shaft inside their winding box.

Question: One winder company decided many years ago to market programmable winders to limit the number of turns per day and a few other companies have added programmable winders since then. What do you think of this added feature?

Answer: Most winders used in testing at watch manufacturers are NOT programmable because automatic watches are designed with a clutch type mechanism to prevent overwinding. A watch winder, in essence, is an extension of the human wrist and no two people have the same daily activity level. It would be foolish to advise a very active person with an automatic watch to cut down on his daily activities in order to prevent so-called wear-and-tear in the automatic mechanism of his watch. This is why watch manufacturers will not tell you an exact number of turns per day required for automatic watches but only will suggest a MINIMUM needed to maintain the expected power reserve.

Question: Do you plan any changes within your watch winder product line?

Answer: Yes, we continue to explore new products that are being developed by different manufacturers.

Question: Will you be introducing new watch winders in the future?

Answer: Yes, we will consider new watch winders which prove to be of the same high-quality standards our company has sold in that past and our customers demand.

Page last modified 12/20/06


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