How to Wind Up a Watch: A Comprehensive Guide

How to Wind Up a Watch: A Comprehensive Guide

Discover the art of winding both manual and automatic watches with precision and care. Whether you're a seasoned collector or a newcomer to the world of mechanical watches, this guide will ensure your timepiece stays ticking perfectly.

The Basics of Mechanical Watches

Understanding Mechanical Watches

Mechanical watches are powered by a mainspring that stores energy, which is then transmitted to the gear train, ultimately turning the watch's hands. There are two primary types of mechanical watches: manual (hand-wound) and automatic.

Manual (Hand-Wound) Watches

Manual watches, also known as hand-wound watches, require the wearer to wind the mainspring by turning the watch's crown. This process stores energy in the mainspring, which is then released as the watch's gears and hands move. The frequency of winding depends on the watch's power reserve, which can range from a few hours to several days.

How to Wind a Manual Watch: To wind a manual watch, start by unscrewing the crown to access the stem. Then, turn the crown clockwise until you feel resistance, indicating the mainspring is fully wound. Be cautious not to overwind, as this can damage the watch's mechanism. Typically, manual watches need to be wound daily, with some models requiring winding every 12 hours.

Automatic Watches

Automatic watches, also known as self-winding watches, harness the wearer's movements to wind the mainspring. This is achieved through a rotor, a weighted component that oscillates with the wearer's movements, generating energy to power the watch. Automatic watches do not require daily winding, but they do need to be worn regularly to maintain their power reserve.

How Automatic Watches Work: As the wearer moves their arm, the rotor oscillates, turning a series of gears connected to the mainspring. This mechanical energy is then stored in the mainspring, powering the watch's movement. Most automatic watches have a power reserve ranging from 36 to 40 hours, depending on the model and manufacturer.

Key Differences and Importance of Winding

The primary difference between manual and automatic watches lies in their winding mechanisms. Manual watches require direct intervention from the wearer, while automatic watches utilize the wearer's movements to generate power. Winding is crucial for both types, as it ensures the watch's accuracy and prevents damage to the mechanism.

Consequences of Not Winding: Failing to wind a mechanical watch can lead to inaccurate timekeeping, as the watch's gears and hands will slow down or stop moving altogether. In extreme cases, a watch that is not wound regularly can suffer mechanical damage, requiring costly repairs.

Examples of Mechanical Watches

  • Manual Watches:
    • Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional: A manual-wind watch with a 48-hour power reserve, priced around $5,000.
    • Patek Philippe Calatrava: A manual-wind watch with a 45-hour power reserve, priced around $10,000.
  • Automatic Watches:
    • Rolex Submariner: An automatic watch with a 40-hour power reserve, priced around $7,000.
    • Breitling Navitimer: An automatic watch with a 42-hour power reserve, priced around $6,000.

Credit: YouTube Channel - Crown \u0026 Caliber by Hodinkee

Winding a Manual Watch

Understanding the Stem and Crown

The stem and crown are crucial parts of a manual watch that play a vital role in the winding process. The stem is the long, thin rod that connects the crown to the watch's gear train, while the crown is the knob on the outside of the watch case that you turn to wind the watch. To wind a manual watch, you need to pull out the crown to the time-setting position, which is usually the first or second click, depending on the watch model. This allows the stem to engage with the gear train, enabling you to wind the watch.

The Correct Winding Technique

To wind a manual watch correctly, follow these steps:

  1. Hold the watch in your non-dominant hand, with the crown facing upwards.
  2. Use your dominant hand to turn the crown in a clockwise direction. You may feel some resistance, but this is normal.
  3. Apply gentle to moderate pressure, depending on the watch's power reserve and your personal preference.
  4. Wind the watch in a smooth, consistent motion, without applying too much pressure or jerking the crown back and forth.
  5. As you wind, you may hear a slight clicking sound or feel a subtle resistance, indicating that the watch is being wound.

How Many Turns are Enough?

The number of turns required to fully wind a manual watch varies depending on the watch model, its power reserve, and the wearer's activity level. As a general guideline, most manual watches require between 20 to 40 turns to fully wind the mainspring. However, some watches may need more or fewer turns. It's essential to consult your watch's user manual or contact the manufacturer if you're unsure about the specific winding requirements for your watch. For example, the Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch requires around 30-40 turns to fully wind its mainspring, while the Rolex Submariner needs approximately 20-30 turns.

Avoiding Overwinding

Overwinding a manual watch can cause damage to the mainspring or other internal components, leading to costly repairs or even rendering the watch unusable. To avoid overwinding:

  • Stop winding when you feel a noticeable increase in resistance or when the crown becomes harder to turn.
  • Don't wind the watch too quickly or with excessive force, as this can cause the mainspring to become over-tightened.
  • If you're unsure about the watch's power reserve or winding requirements, consult the user manual or contact the manufacturer.
  • Consider investing in a watch winder, which can help maintain the watch's power reserve and reduce the need for manual winding.

By following these steps and guidelines, you'll be able to wind your manual watch correctly and maintain its accuracy and performance. Remember to always handle your watch with care and consult the user manual or manufacturer if you have any doubts or concerns.

Mastering the Automatic Watch

The Role of the Rotor

The rotor is a crucial component in an automatic watch, responsible for harnessing the wearer's movements to wind the mainspring. It is a half-moon shaped weight that oscillates with the wearer's arm movements, transferring energy to the gear train and eventually winding the mainspring. The rotor's efficiency is critical in ensuring the watch remains powered throughout the day. High-quality rotors are designed to maximize energy transfer, often featuring intricate mechanisms and materials such as tungsten or gold to optimize performance.

Daily Wear vs. Manual Winding

Automatic watches are designed to wind themselves through daily wear, eliminating the need for manual winding. However, the amount of winding generated by daily wear can vary significantly depending on the wearer's activity level and the watch's efficiency. On average, a moderately active person can generate around 80-120 turns per day, which is sufficient to power most automatic watches. However, if the watch is not worn for an extended period, manual winding may be necessary to maintain accuracy and prevent the watch from stopping.

Winding an Unworn Automatic Watch

When winding an unworn automatic watch, it's essential to follow the manufacturer's guidelines to avoid damaging the mechanism. Typically, you'll need to wind the watch clockwise until you feel resistance, usually around 30-40 turns. It's crucial not to overwind, as this can put excessive stress on the mainspring and potentially cause damage. For watches with a higher power reserve, such as the Rolex Deepsea, which boasts a 70-hour power reserve, winding every 10-14 days may be sufficient. Conversely, watches with a lower power reserve, like the Tissot Le Locle, may require more frequent winding, every 36-40 hours.

In conclusion, mastering the automatic watch requires an understanding of the rotor's role, the impact of daily wear on winding, and the proper technique for winding an unworn watch. By following these guidelines and considering the specific characteristics of your watch, you can ensure your timepiece remains accurate and functional.


Does winding damage the watch?

Winding a watch does not inherently damage the watch. However, improper winding techniques or excessive force can potentially cause harm to the watch's internal mechanisms. Modern watches, especially those with automatic winding mechanisms, are designed with safeguards to prevent overwinding, which can damage the mainspring or other components. It is essential to wind the watch gently and stop when you feel resistance to avoid any potential damage.

Should I wind it every day or let it rest?

The frequency of winding a watch depends on the type of watch and the user's activity level. For automatic watches, which wind themselves through the wearer's movements, it is generally recommended to let them rest occasionally to allow the mainspring to unwind and recharge. If you are not very active, you may need to wind your automatic watch more frequently to ensure it continues to keep accurate time. For manual wind watches, regular winding is necessary to maintain the power reserve, but it's crucial to avoid overwinding.

The Truth About Overwinding

Overwinding is a common concern for watch owners, especially those with manual wind timepieces. While it is possible to damage a watch by overwinding, most modern watches have built-in safeguards to prevent this. Automatic watches, in particular, are designed to self-regulate their winding mechanism, making overwinding highly unlikely. For manual wind watches, it is essential to wind them gently and stop when you feel resistance to avoid damaging the mainspring or other components. It's also important to note that some watches may have specific winding instructions, so it's always a good idea to consult the manufacturer's guidelines.

Maintaining Tension for Accuracy

To ensure your watch remains accurate, it's crucial to maintain the optimal tension in the mainspring. Here are some steps to follow:

  • Check the Power Reserve: Before winding your watch, check the power reserve indicator to see how much energy is left. This will help you determine how often to wind it.
  • Wind Correctly: Wind your watch in a clockwise direction, usually by turning the crown. Be careful not to overwind, as this can damage the mainspring.
  • Listen for the Click: Most mechanical watches will produce a distinct click when fully wound. Stop winding once you hear this click to avoid overwinding.
  • Wind at the Same Time Daily: Establish a routine of winding your watch at the same time every day to maintain a consistent power reserve.

For example, the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M has a power reserve of 60 hours, and it's recommended to wind it daily to maintain optimal accuracy.

Storing Your Watch When Not in Use

When not wearing your watch, it's essential to store it properly to prevent damage and maintain its accuracy:

  • Use a Watch Winder: Invest in a watch winder, like the Orbita Sparta Watch Winder, which can hold up to four watches and features multiple winding modes. This will keep your watch wound and ready to wear.
  • Store in a Cool, Dry Place: Avoid storing your watch in direct sunlight, near a heat source, or in humid environments.
  • Avoid Extreme Temperatures: Keep your watch away from extreme temperatures, such as those near a fireplace or in an unheated attic.
  • Use a Soft Pouch or Case: Store your watch in a soft pouch or case to protect it from scratches and shocks.

For instance, the Rolex Submariner is a popular watch that requires careful storage when not in use. A watch winder like the Jqueen Watch Winder can help keep it wound and accurate.

Regular Servicing for Optimal Performance

Regular servicing is vital to maintain your watch's optimal performance and extend its lifespan:

  • Service Every 3-5 Years: Most mechanical watches require servicing every 3-5 years, depending on the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Check for Water Resistance: If your watch is water-resistant, have it checked and resealed during servicing to maintain its water-resistant capabilities.
  • Replace the Battery (if Applicable): If your watch has a battery, have it replaced during servicing to ensure it continues to keep accurate time.
  • Inspect for Wear and Tear: A professional watchmaker should inspect your watch for any signs of wear and tear, replacing parts as needed.

For example, the Patek Philippe Calatrava requires regular servicing to maintain its intricate mechanical movement. A professional watchmaker can inspect and service the watch to ensure it continues to keep accurate time.

Handling Delicate Movements in Vintage Watches

When it comes to winding a vintage watch, it's essential to handle the delicate movements with care. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Avoid Over-Winding: Vintage watches can be prone to over-winding, which can cause damage to the mainspring or even break it. To avoid this, wind your watch until you feel resistance, then stop. Don't force the crown further, as this can put excessive pressure on the gears.
  2. Use the Correct Winding Technique: Hold the watch with the crown facing upwards and gently turn the crown clockwise until you feel resistance. Avoid winding in a counterclockwise direction, as this can damage the gears.
  3. Check the Power Reserve: Vintage watches often have a shorter power reserve than modern watches. Check the power reserve indicator on your watch to ensure you're not over-winding. Typically, a power reserve indicator will show the number of hours or days the watch will continue to run on a full wind.
  4. Avoid Winding with Force: Don't use force or apply too much pressure when winding your vintage watch. This can cause the gears to slip or the mainspring to break. Instead, wind gently and smoothly.
  5. Consider Professional Maintenance: If you're unsure about how to wind your vintage watch or if it requires maintenance, consider consulting a professional watchmaker. They can assess the watch's condition and perform any necessary repairs or maintenance.

Restoring an Unused Vintage Watch

If you've inherited or purchased a vintage watch that hasn't been used in a while, it may require some restoration before it's ready to wear. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Clean the Watch: Start by gently cleaning the watch with a soft cloth and mild soap solution. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials that can damage the watch's finish.
  2. Inspect the Movement: Open the watch case and inspect the movement for any signs of damage or corrosion. Look for rust, broken gears, or other issues that may need to be addressed.
  3. Replace the Battery (if Applicable): If your vintage watch is quartz-powered, replace the battery with a new one. Make sure to use a battery compatible with your watch model.
  4. Lubricate the Movement: Apply a few drops of watch oil to the movement's pivot points and gears. This will help to lubricate the movement and get it running smoothly again.
  5. Wind the Watch: Once the movement is clean and lubricated, wind the watch according to the manufacturer's instructions. Be careful not to over-wind, as mentioned earlier.
  6. Test the Watch: Once the watch is wound, test it to ensure it's keeping accurate time. If the watch is still not running correctly, it may require further maintenance or repair.
  7. Consider Professional Restoration: If your vintage watch requires extensive restoration or repair, consider consulting a professional watchmaker. They can assess the watch's condition and perform any necessary repairs or restoration work.

Some popular vintage watch models that may require special care when winding include:

  • Omega Seamaster (prices start at around $1,000)
  • Rolex Submariner (prices start at around $5,000)
  • Patek Philippe Calatrava (prices start at around $10,000)
  • Cartier Tank (prices start at around $3,000)

When it comes to winding these watches, it's essential to follow the manufacturer's instructions and take extra care to avoid damaging the delicate movements. Regular maintenance and professional restoration can help to keep your vintage watch running accurately and looking its best.

When Your Watch Won't Wind

Winding a watch is a crucial aspect of maintaining its accuracy and functionality. However, sometimes, watches can be finicky and refuse to wind properly. If you're experiencing issues with winding your watch, don't worry – it's not uncommon. Here are some common reasons why your watch might not be winding and some troubleshooting steps to help you identify and fix the problem.

Identifying and Fixing Common Problems

1. Insufficient Winding

One of the most common reasons for a watch not to wind is insufficient winding. Make sure you're winding your watch regularly and with the correct amount of turns. The recommended number of turns varies depending on the watch model, but a general rule of thumb is to wind your watch 30-40 times daily. For automatic watches, wear them regularly to allow the rotor to generate power.

2. Worn or Damaged Mainspring

A worn or damaged mainspring can prevent your watch from winding properly. If you suspect this is the case, you may need to have your watch serviced by a professional. The cost of replacing a mainspring can vary, but on average, it can range from $50 to $200, depending on the watch model and type of mainspring required.

3. Faulty Stem or Crown

A faulty stem or crown can also prevent your watch from winding. Check if the stem is loose or if the crown is damaged. If so, you may need to have it replaced. The cost of replacing a stem or crown can range from $20 to $100, depending on the watch model and type of replacement part required.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.