How A Watch Winder Works (& Do You Really Need One?)

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There are many watch owners who have never had to wind a watch in their life.  The “quartz revolution” of the 1970s changed the entire industry and threatened to make the wound mechanical watch a relic of the past. In the 1980s, digital watches rose in popularity, making old-fashioned timepieces seem out of touch. While a quartz watch runs on a battery, an automatic watch uses the movement of your wrist to power the mechanism. 

A watch winder is a box or container with holders for one or more automatic watches. When you aren’t wearing your watch, you place it in the box and the watch winder does its magic. The motion of the winder mimics the motion of a human wrist so that the watch is constantly storing energy. 

It’s a basic rule of fashion, though, that what once was old will become new again, and the mechanical watch is currently riding a wave of popularity. It makes sense, as mechanical watches are well-crafted, stylish, and reliable.

The only problem is, in our current age of technology, even the most retro-loving watch aficionado doesn’t want a timepiece that winds down and stops telling time.

Thankfully, there is a way to enjoy the timeless style of a classic mechanical watch without the need for constant winding.

Triple watch winder
Triple Watch Winder Winding 3 Watches at the same time.

Mechanical Watches Need To Be Wound

Photo Credit: Daniel Zimmermann

To explain why a mechanical watch is wound, I need to give a quick explanation of how a mechanical watch works.

The internal components of a mechanical watch are mostly a series of gears that spin toward different purposes.

The escapement and oscillator work together as the timekeeper, while the dial train moves the dials on the face of the watch, and the gear train is the energy transporter.

The important watch part for our topic today is the mainspring. This is the piece of the watch that stores and then releases all the energy that is necessary for the whole shebang to keep on spinning. A mainspring is generally a coiled piece of metal that connects the winding mechanism to the gear and/or dial trains. Without it, your watch is just a collection of well-crafted, unmoving wheels.

The mainspring stores energy when it is wound tight and then releases that energy gradually as it unwinds. A good mechanical watch can go days without being wound, though most need to be wound every night. The exception to that rule is the automatic winding watch.

Automatic winding watches

large watch winder
3-Head Watch Winder Plus Storage for 5 watches | Image Credit Eric Kilby

In the 18th century, mechanical watches were a sensation, but there was just one problem: having to wind your watch every night was tedious.

Watchmakers started working on the automatic watch, and in the 1770s, the first ones appeared.

A normal mechanical watch has a winding stem with a knob on the outside of the watch’s body that allows the wearer to manually wind the mainspring.

The automatic watch replaces the winding stem with internal, oscillating weights that transfer the movements of the wearer into the watch by winding the mainspring. As long as the wearer is active, the watch remains wound.

To this day, the automatic watch remains one of the great milestones in watchmaking history.

Finding a way to harness human movement for stored energy is a conservationist’s dream. Unfortunately, humans are not perpetual motion machines: we aren’t always moving and eight hours of the day (for some of us) we are motionless in our beds.

For a closer look at how watch winders work you may want to check out this video:

Watch Winders:

Tag Heuer watch in a single wooden watch winder. Image Credit: Wikipedia

When an automatic watch is at rest, it winds down the same as a traditional mechanical watch. Most can be manually wound after a night’s rest, but that kind of defeats the whole purpose of an automatic watch. If only there was a device that would keep your automatic watch wound even when it wasn’t on your wrist.  See our overview for a better understanding of different kinds of watches there are besides automatic and mechanical.

The watch winder is just that device. A watch winder is a box or container with holders for one or more automatic watches. When you aren’t wearing your watch, you place it in the box and the watch winder does its magic. The motion of the winder mimics the motion of a human wrist so that the watch is constantly storing energy. Winders usually have various settings for the direction and frequency of winding.

While traditional mechanical watches have a finite winding capacity, automatic watches are designed with special mainsprings that can’t be overwound. This is important because it means that you can place your automatic watch in a watch winder and leave it there for days, weeks, or even months and it won’t harm the mechanisms.

Good Watch Winders?

There are different styles and sizes of watch winders. There are single- and multi-watch holders, as well as sophisticated wooden boxes or futuristic-looking metal and plastic containers. Like watches themselves, watch winders can be very cheap or inordinately expensive. Most are reasonably low-priced, but picking out the right watch winder depends on your tastes and budget.

CHIYODA Single Wooden Watch Winder with Quiet Motor, Battery Powered or AC Adapter-12 Rotation Modes (Brown)
Single Wooden Watch Winder with Quiet Motor

CHIYODA is a popular brand of watch winder that makes a variety of models. Take one of their most popular, the Single Wooden Watch Winder. For an affordable price, you get this finely crafted and whisper-quiet winder that will sit inconspicuously on your dresser or on a nightstand. Its specially designed, silent motor ensures you won’t hear it as it keeps your watch on time.

JQUEEN Double Watch Winder with Quiet Japanese Mabuchi Motor (A-Ebony)
Double Watch Winder with Quiet Japanese Mabuchi Motor

If you’ve got more than one automatic watch, you can go with the JQUEEN Double Watch Winder. This quiet box forgoes wood for an elegant black leather look. With this double winder, you can keep two watches wound at all times.

This winder has multiple direction settings and can even be programmed with different winding time settings.

WOLF 459256 Roadster 6 Piece Watch Winder with Cover, Black
WOLF Roadster 6 Piece Watch Winder (459256 )

There’s really no reason to throw down four figures for a watch winder, but if that’s your druthers, you should check out the WOLF 459256 Roadster 6 Piece Watch Winder, the Rolls-Royce of watch winders.

This flashy box keeps six watches wound at any time and has a multidirectional winding mechanism.

What sets it apart from all the other winders though is its patented rotation counter.

Winders generally estimate the number of rotations, but the Roadster keeps an exact count. You can have a daily preset of exactly how many rotations it will do for each watch. As we discussed above, automatic watches generally have free-turning mainsprings so a watch won’t be overwound, but if you’re leaving a watch in the winder for weeks at a time, it’s still better for the watch if it isn’t being wound indiscriminately. The Roadster ensures your watch is always wound when you need it without the wear of constant movement.

Do I Need A Watch Winder?

A watch winder is a cool tool for watch owners, not only because they keep your watch wound, but because they provide a safe place to store your watches when you’re not wearing them. Most of them double as display boxes so you can show off your collection. If you don’t have an automatic or hybrid mechanical watch, though, there’s no need for one.

Let’s be honest: in the strictest sense, a watch winder isn’t technically necessary. But when has that ever stopped a watch collector from investing in a beautiful piece of technology?