A watch crown isn’t just in reference to the famous Rolex logo. In fact, it’s one of the most important parts of any watch.
If you’ve used a watch before, you’ve definitely used a crown to wind it or to set the time.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the watch crown, how it works, and the different types of watch crowns that might be powering your favorite watch.
What is a Watch Crown?
The watch crown is the tiny knob that you can find on the side of your watch’s case, usually at the 3:00 position.
The name “crown” came from its visual similarity to the royal crowns worn by European kings.
Almost every watch has a crown, as it is necessary to set the time.
A crown is also used to power a mechanical, hand-wound watch, by winding it clockwise. Many automatic watches can also be wound this way.
The crown is also used for other complications on a watch, like setting the day or date. In rare cases, it can even act as a stopwatch for chronographs.
Why Was the Watch Crown Made?
Watches were originally wound through the use of a physical key. Crowns were introduced to eliminate the need to have an external object to use the watch.
The first watch crown was devised by John Arnold and then honed into a workable piece of watch mechanic by Antoine Louis-Breguet in 1830. Interestingly, it was later patented by Louis Audemars in 1838. Do these names ring a bell?
Ultimately, the modern watch crown, as we know it today, uses a sliding pin. Developed in 1842 by French watchmaker Jean-Adrien Philippe.
Types of Watch Crowns
There are a couple of different types of crowns you might come across in different watches.
These are the standard crowns present on most timepieces today. One is usually present on the 3:00 position of the watch.
Some watches opt to place the crown at other positions, however. Many Seiko 5 watches have crowns at 4:00, which some prefer, as it doesn’t dig into the wrist. Recently, Rolex has even released a southpaw watch with a crown at 9:00, aimed at lefties who might wear their watch on their right hand.
A screw-down is a special type of crown that is screwed tightly into a specially machined case to prevent water from entering. Screw-down crowns are most often found in dive watches to increase their water resistance.
Fun fact — Rolex was the first brand to introduce a “screw-down” to the market!
Recessed crowns are a polarizing design. Some people don’t like the look of a standard crown popping out on the side of their watch. The recessed crown addresses this by tucking the crown into the case, and under the bezel.
This hides the crown away, giving the watch a more symmetrical look, and protecting the crown in the process.
Recessed crowns also tend to be more comfortable, as they won’t dig into your wrist. However, they can be more difficult to operate, as you’ll need to first pry the crown away from the case to use it. Not recommended for people with short nails!
The most obvious and common crown shape is a singular round knob. If you own a modern mechanical watch, chances are you have a straight crown!
As the name suggests, this crown resembles a cone. The conical crown is from the early days of pilot watches, as it allowed pilots to easily operate their watch while wearing a pair of heavy gloves.
The onion crown is intentionally oversized for ease of use and is another shape preferred by aviators. These typically stick out a bit more than conical crowns.
The cabochon crown bears a polished jewel on the outer edge to give a more luxurious look. The cabochon is mostly used in more expensive watches, such as the famous Cartier Tank.
Winding a Watch Crown
To wind a watch crown, simply grab it with your thumb and index finger. Then, rotate it clockwise, until the watch is fully wound. Most mechanical watches require between 20-40 full rotations to power the watch fully.
When fully wound, the average mechanical watch can run for 40-60 hours, depending on its power reserve.
Of course, the amount of crown rotations needed to fully power the watch varies from watch to watch. Ensure you don’t overwind your watch, or you could risk damaging it.
When the watch is being wound, the mainspring gets tighter, and in the case of a mechanical watch, the watch should gradually get harder to wind. To make sure you don’t overwind it, simply stop winding it when you start to feel a bit of resistance – do not push past this point.
Tip: Only hand-wound mechanical watches can be overwound. Automatic watches can not be overwound (even if they have hand-wound capabilities).
How Does Winding The Crown Power A Watch?
As you wind the crown on a mechanical watch, it generates power in the movement. Winding the crown coils the movement’s mainspring, a long metallic ribbon that rests in the barrel.
The mainspring slowly unwinds, creating a train of motion in the cogs and gears in the movement. In a way, the crown is the starting point of the energy transfer that happens throughout the movement.
An automatic watch does not require the use of a crown to power the watch. Instead, it uses an oscillating weight — a balanced weight that winds the watch through the wearer’s kinetic motion.
Still, the crown is necessary to set the time by pulling the crown out of its resting position, closest to the watch case. Then, rotating the crown clockwise will move the time on the watch forward, and counter-clockwise will move the time backward.
Replacing a Watch Crown
Replacing a watch crown is generally one of the most simple and affordable fixes that can be done on a mechanical watch.
A generic crown costs as little as $10, and more expensive ones may cost as much as $300, depending on the replacement crown. This does not include the cost of replacing the crown, simply the part itself.
Of course, replacing a watch crown is no easy feat, and requires a delicate, precise touch, and the right tools. Your first stop should be a watchmaker, but you can also replace a watch crown yourself, with the right tools, and a bit of patience.
Replacing a Watch Crown Yourself
Watch the video below to learn how to replace the watch crown in common movements.
- Remove the case back of the watch. You may need to use a cas back remover, screwdriver, prybar, or a rubber ball, depending on the type of case back used.
- Unscrew the bolt holding the stem. The stem, as the name suggests, is a thin piece of metal attached to the crown. Find the bolt holding the stem in place and unscrew it.
- Slide the stem out of its place. Remove the crown from the stem and replace it with your new one.
- Slide the new stem in. Slide the stem back in, screw in the stem bolt, and replace the back cover.
- Wind the watch. Before reassembling the watch, give it a wind to ensure it is seated correctly and is winding the mainspring.
- Voila! You have successfully replaced the crown!
The crown is an exceptionally important part of any watch. This small part ensures you can wind a watch, and set the time, day, and date, on your favorite watch, for years to come.