Do We Need Watch Winders?

by Jack Freedman, President
Superior Watch Service Inc.

The following discussion summarizes the logic of both the pros and cons and also takes a look at technical and other differences concerning some of the automatic watch winders currently on the market.

As the number of watch owners having one or more automatic watches continues to grow, one of the most frequently asked questions is "Do I need an automatic watch winder"? To begin, I must point out that, despite the fact that my company has been a pioneer in introducing professional watch winders to consumers, I have publicly stated several times on the watch forums that they are NOT an absolute necessity.

Let's look at some concerns watch owners have about winders:

Question: "I'm sure there is a good reason for watch winders. But, I'm a little puzzled by their purpose other than for testing. It just seems to me that a given watch only has a certain number of hours of life in it before it must be overhauled and serviced, right? So, why not slow the process down while you're not wearing it? Is there a detrimental effect on the watch? What about new watches at the jeweler? They can sit for months before being sold. I've never seen a winder in the window keeping that new watch wound and waiting for me to buy it."

Answer: Watch winders are beneficial for those who own more than one automatic watch. They are particularly useful for automatic perpetual calendar watches which can be complicated and a nuisance to reset once stopped. More important, all watches should be kept wound and running for their own mechanical health to ensure proper lubrication and cut down on wear. If a watch sits still for a long period of time, the lubricant tends to clump. When that happens, it can have an adverse effect on the timekeeping accuracy of a watch with poor amplitude of the balance wheel. The reason that some, even the finest brand, timepieces do not perform up to par is probably due to the effect on a watch sitting in a jewelry store for long periods of time in a non-running condition.

Question: "If an automatic watch is not worn for several days, is it better to wind it in a watch winder, rather than manually turning the crown every morning? Or, does it make no difference which way the watch is wound?"

Answer: Automatic watches are designed with two interacting sets of winding systems, one is the manual winding mechanism and the other the automatic winding unit. Current typical automatics have a sandwiched double reverser wheel which contain miniature clicks inside. These reverser wheels allow the motion of the user's arm to build power reserve from the oscillating rotor through the winding system indirectly to the mainspring which drives the escapement.

Manually winding an automatic mechanism "on a steady basis" can put unnecessary rapid stress on the sensitive auto reverser wheels possibly damaging the tiny internal clicks. The torque pressure resulting from manual winding of automatic watches is not made for, day-in day-out, manual winding, especially if the watch is not in a pristine new or overhauled condition. Also, most automatic watches today have screw-down crowns. Using such crowns on a steady basis for manual winding will result in a shorter life for these spring-loaded crowns. The daily pressure and tension will break the posts off sooner or later requiring replacement of the crown and also the stretched / worn O-ring tube gasket. You then run a greater risk of allowing moisture to penetrate the case without your awareness and knowledge.

Question: "Does the way of mounting of the watch on a winder make a difference or is it enough to have a watch turning regardless of the position it's in? Why would it matter if all we're out to do is to try to mimic the motions of the wrist?"

Answer: Winders which do not turn the oscillating weight of an automatic watch, a.k.a. the rotor, with at least one full 360 degree turn in a completed revolution may not provide sufficient power reserve to keep a watch going after removal from the winder. I have found that the Bergeon/Cyclotest winders must be wall-mounted to provide optimum winding for all automatic watches. In a hanging position, the carousel-type winder rotates and revolves simultaneously giving the rotor the best opportunity to make one full 360 degree turn with each complete circle. These same winders laying flat on a table will not give ALL rotors enough power reserve since the rotor does not turn on the oscillating weight post. Winders using a cone-shaped mandrel to mount watches in a profile manner have, in my opinion, a drawback because its principle operates similar to a rocking chair or a pendulum. The watch does not receive the 360 degree turns to guarantee a LONG TERM buildup of power reserve to keep it running long after removal from that winder.

Since there is no winder on the market which can duplicate the unpredictable movements of a human wrist, it is all the more important that a suitable winder control the daily winding of expensive timepieces. A cheap or improperly designed winder may in fact do more bad for a watch than not winding it at all since it predictably stresses the same parts on a continuous daily basis.

Question: "The number of different types of winders on the market today have proliferated to many choices in varying price ranges. Aren't I better off just getting the cheapest one and sticking the rest of the money into another watch?"

Answer: To some degree, watch winders can be compared to watches themselves. We all know that a $10 quartz watch can give you the same or more accurate time as a $10,000 luxury timepiece. So, why would anyone spend 1000 times what they need to get the correct time?

The answer to this question is it may be a combination factor of design aesthetics, long term reliability and an appreciation of superior quality. The same thing can be said not only about watches but about other consumer products which also includes automatic watch winders. One can spend about $80 for the least expensive plug in type MTE winder, up to $8000 for a luxury model Scatola del Tempo. There are professional watch winders far in between in the midrange price points which have become very popular with watch collectors who want affordable quality made products. These are the ones I personally favor most.

Question: "Why are watch winders so expensive?"

Answer: Quality watch winders are sold through channels from the manufacturer to a distributor to the retail shops and finally to the end-user, the consumer. Unlike computers, electronics and other mass-produced consumer goods, watch winders, by comparison, have a limited small niche market. Research and development, warranty service and marketing (advertising and promotion) add up to the final cost leaving each of the sellers in the pipeline with a small profit margin, far less than what a retail shop would earn on the sale of a brand name watch.

To summarize, while watch winders are not an absolute necessity, they are not only a great convenience in keeping watches on the correct time and date but also help to extend the general running condition of them.

Jack Freedman
Superior Watch Service Inc.
copyrighted 7/27/98

Page last modified 12/20/06


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