Some of the most expensive and sought-after watches in the world are mechanical watches. Unlike watches with batteries, mechanical watches are powered through a series of springs and gears that are tightened when wound and slowly release energy into the watch over time.
To wind your mechanical watch, you’ll need to rotate the crown, typically clockwise, for about 20–40 rotations, until the watch is fully wound. You’ll be able to feel when the watch is getting close to being fully wound, as you will feel a strong resistance. Be careful not to overwind it, as that could damage the movement, and require a trip to your local watchmaker.
Of course, that’s just a simple explanation. In this article, we’ll look closely at how to avoid damaging your watch during this intimidating process and more!
How to Wind a Mechanical Watch
Step 1: Remove the Watch
It is essential to remove the watch from your wrist before winding it. Winding it while it’s on your wrist can cause unnecessary stress on the crown and damage the movement.
Step 2: Locate the Crown
Locate the crown on the side of your watch. Most crowns are on the right side of the watch case, at the 3:00 position, however, some watches have crowns at 4:00 or even 9:00.
Sometimes, watches even have more than one crown to control additional complications. In any case, the watch is typically wound by the same crown used to set the time.
Ensure the crown is pushed into the position closest to the case. But some watches have crowns that are screwed down. These will need to be unscrewed counterclockwise until they’re in the desired neutral position.
Step 3: Rotate The Crown
Begin winding the watch by rotating the crown clockwise. You should feel a slight bit of resistance, and you might even hear some unexpected noises coming from your watch. This is normal. Winding the watch tightens the movement’s mainspring and activates the gears that power it.
Continue to rotate the crown until you start to feel the resistance increase. Usually, it takes anywhere from 20-40 complete rotations of the crown to power the watch fully, but every watch has a different power reserve and winding requirements.
Be sure that you don’t overwind it. When you feel resistance, that’s your cue to stop winding!
Step 4: Return the Crown to Its Original Position
After winding, press the crown to return the watch to its original state. If your watch has a screw-down crown, you can now screw it back into the case.
Still Can’t Wind Your Watch?
If you still weren’t successful in winding your watch, here are a few reasons why that may be:
- It’s an automatic watch that doesn’t have hand-winding. The most common reason you can’t wind your watch is that it has an automatic movement without manual hand-winding capabilities.
- Learn how to wind an automatic watch here.
While an automatic watch is considered mechanical, not all can be hand-wound. They are powered by motion and usually stay energized throughout the day while wearing them on your wrist, but giving them a few shakes should give them a jump start.
- Screw-down Crown. Some watches have a crown that screws into the watch case to keep water out. If you have a mechanical watch with a screw-down crown, you need to unscrew it before winding it.
- Rust and/or dirt. Rust and dirt can prevent the stem from moving as it should. I once had the crown of a Vostok amphibia rust from saltwater exposure. Always rinse your [water-resistant] watches with tap water after coming home from the beach!
- The watch is damaged. If the movement in your watch is damaged. Movements can get damaged from drops, shock, abrupt impact (imagine hitting a baseball with a bat while wearing the watch), or general wear and tear.
- Broken crown. On older watches, the crown may be broken entirely.
If you believe your watch is broken, you should take it to an experienced watchmaker for repair. As long as it isn’t made of precious gems or metals like some fancy luxury watches are, a watch crown is often the most affordable part to repair.
Which Direction Should You Wind It?
A watch crown should almost always be wound clockwise. Doing the reverse will likely not wind the watch. In some models, it may even be harmful. Turning it in the opposite direction can strain and damage the tiny parts that make your watch run.
How Often Should You Wind It?
How often you should wind your watch depends on its power reserve. A power reserve indicates how long it can run when fully wound, like the watch’s gas tank.
Most mechanical watches have a power reserve of about 40 hours. It is best to keep the watch above at least half of its power reserve, as it reaches peak performance when the mainspring is above half-tension.
Also, with a power reserve of 40 hours, waiting two full days (48 hours) before winding will result in the watch stopping before the second day is complete.
If the watch is not being worn for an extended period, it is not necessary to wind it every day, but it should be wound about every two weeks. This prevents the lubricating oils in the watch from drying up.
How Much Should You Wind It?
This usually depends entirely on the model and varies from timepiece to timepiece. However, most watches are fully wound after 20–40 360-degree turns of the crown. Your watch may require more or fewer turns, depending on its power reserve.
A watch’s manual will often outline precisely how many rotations you should wind your watch.
In addition to the guideline stipulated by the manufacturer, one must get a feel for the winding resistance of each watch. For example, winding one watch a full rotation may power it more or less than another watch would. So, counting precisely 30 or 40 revolutions does not guarantee that the watch has been fully wound.
Can You Overwind a Mechanical Watch?
Yes, it is definitely possible to overwind a mechanical watch. Overwinding a mechanical watch would damage the watch and require repair.
Overwinding is unlikely as long as your watch is in good condition and you do not keep winding after you feel a strong resistance.
How To Know When a Watch is Fully Wound
As most watch lovers know, a mechanical watch movement is powered by a coiled mainspring found in the barrel. Winding a watch causes this spring to tighten, building up energy. The spring then slowly unwinds, gradually powering the movement.
You know that a watch is fully wound when you start to feel resistance in the crown. This means that the mainspring has been tightened fully and cannot be wound any further.
How Long Will a Mechanical Watch Run When Fully Wound?
The power reserve of a watch determines how long it will run when fully wound. Of course, the condition, and age of your watch may also affect its power reserve. A new or recently serviced watch will likely have a greater power reserve than an older model of the same watch, as the oils and parts within its movement have worn down over time.
The average mechanical watch has a 40-hour power reserve. However, some watches have up to 80 hours of reserves when fully wound. There are rare watches that can run for up to a month. Wow!
What Should You Do If Your Mechanical Watch Stops Running?
If your mechanical watch stops running, a few things may have gone wrong.
The first step is to check if the watch is wound by following the steps outlined in this article. Sometimes, it stops running because it has no power reserve remaining. However, if you check and find that the watch is fully wound, then the best thing that you can do is take it to an expert for assessment and repairs.
Some of the common issues that cause this problem include:
- A broken mainspring
- Faulty winding
- Loose screws
- Water damage
Professionals are best suited to deal with these issues, and if you try to fix them on your own, you may cause even more damage to your valued timepiece.
Does Winding a Mechanical Watch Cause Wear and Tear on the Movement?
Winding a mechanical watch will undoubtedly cause wear and tear on the movement as any friction would. However, the jewels in a watch movement are lubricated with synthetic oils to reduce the friction between high-wear parts as much as possible.
However, over time, these oils do wear out. Therefore, as long as the watch is regularly serviced: cleaned, and has its oils replaced, regularly, the wear and tear on a mechanical movement will be minimal.
If well maintained, mechanical watches last a lifetime, making them great heirlooms to pass down for generations. If the watch is serviced every couple of years, it may last even longer. So, wear and tear are minimal and will not cause concern for many decades on a well-maintained watch.
Can All Mechanical Watches Be Wound?
All mechanical watches must be wound to function, but only some can be wound by hand.
Automatic watches are a type of mechanical watch that can only sometimes be hand-wound. Attached to an automatic movement is a weighted rotor. This rotor generates power for the mechanical movement as the watch moves and the rotor rotates. Some automatic watches have hand-winding, and some don’t.
However, every watch that does not have an automatic movement, and just a normal mechanical movement, can be hand-wound.
How to Wind a Vintage Watch
To wind a vintage watch, simply push the crown in toward the case, and rotate the crown until you start to feel a strong resistance.
Winding a vintage mechanical watch is just like winding a modern one. However, it is vital when handling vintage watches to be extra gentle with the crown, as it is more fragile than those found on newer watches.
Do You Need a Watch Winder to Keep A Watch Wound?
In short, you do not need a watch winder, but it can be a fun accessory to keep your automatic watch wound. It will not work for mechanical watches that do not have automatic movement.
A watch winder can only wind a mechanical watch with an automatic movement. It isn’t a requirement to keep your watch wound. Some watch enthusiasts, such as myself, enjoy the ritual and feeling of winding my mechanical watches nearly every morning. Some, of course, don’t!
A watch winder can put unnecessary wear and tear on the watch’s movement without even getting to wear and enjoy it on your wrist. Although some seem to love seeing their watch spin around on that fascinating device…
Winding a mechanical watch may seem intimidating at first, but I can assure you it’s not as complicated or risky as it seems.
To recap how to wind your watch:
- Push the crown in toward the case and/or unscrew the crown (if it has a screw-down crown)
- Rotate the crown clockwise until you feel resistance
Be sure to follow the instructions outlined in this article and wind the watch slowly until you feel some resistance in the crown, to avoid overwinding it, and you’ll be able to enjoy your watch for years to come.