How To Wind A Watch

If you’re used to quartz watches which run off a battery, you’re probably unsure how to wind a watch that doesn’t do the work for you. Whether you need to wind an automatic watch or a manual mechanical time piece, it’s a whole different thing than setting the time on a quartz watch and forgetting about it.

There are specific ways you need to approach things when you pull the crown and begin the winding motion or you risk damaging the watch and incurring costs for watch repair or replacement. You can invest in a watch winder that does the work for you, but there may be a time when you’re not around the watch winder and you’ll need to do it yourself.

So whether you need to wind an automatic watch for usage or are all in on a luxury manual watch which requires constant attention and self winding, one thing you need to consider is just how to get it done efficiently and without incident.

That’s where we come in. We’ve create the definitive primer on how to wind an automatic watch and how to wind manual watches. The way you move watches is the way you keep them moving or stop them from working. Careful and steady hands are a crucial part of it, but there’s a bit more than that for you to consider.

So, let’s start things off by looking at manual watch movements and giving you a how to that you can bookmark for future reference.

How To Wind A Watch With A Manual Winding Mechanism

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Manual movement watches are marvels of engineering, but they do require a fair amount of maintenance to keep them functioning and on time. When you look up articles online about how to wind a watch, the majority of the focus will likely be on manual watches. That’s because a watch with a manual movement usually requires winding every few days or so. If you don’t wind your watches regularly, the power reserves will drain and you’ll have a dead watch on your wrist in need of attention.

With all this being said, let’s look at the ins and outs for winding watches with manual movements.

  • Lay Your Watch Out On A Flat Surface — Winding a watch when it’s on your wrist can be a futile exercise. In fact, one problem with winding a manual watch on your wrist is that it can actually damage the mechanisms within your time piece because of the unnatural angle you have to approach the watch itself and the exposed stem.
  • Steady The Watch Face Up In Your Left Hand — With the crown of the watch facing up and the face exposed, hold the watch with your left hand. If you are naturally left-handed, reverse this and use your right hand. Find the stem of your watch and pay attention to the clicks as your turn it. Most manual watch stems have different functions for setting different things, so you may have to test things out to ensure that it’s in winding mode.
  • Pull The Watch Stem Out Carefully — With the thumb and index finger on your dominant hand, pull the watch stem out gently by the watch’s crown. Be careful not to overshoot the crown or be too aggressive as you can damage the stem and other parts of your watch that way.
  • Wind Your Watch Stem — To wind your manual watch, turn the watch stem clockwise. Be very slow and deliberate doing so, checking for any sort of resistance from the watch itself. Be really mindful when doing this and stop winding the stem as soon as you feel any sort of resistance or push back. If you over-wind the watch and go too far, you can damage the mechanisms both inside and on the external casing of your time piece. As a general rule of thumb, most manual watches require about 20 to 40 different turns to adequately wind it for use. Each time piece is different though and you’re going to have to feel it out for yourself.
  • Put Your Watch Back Together — Press on the crown to push the stem back into place. Be careful doing so and use the same care putting things back as you did pulling them out. Any undue force can cause irrevocable damage which could force you to find a replacement.

Now that we’ve covered winding watches with a manual movement, let’s take a look at automatic time pieces.

How To Wind A Watch With An Automatic Movement

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It seems weird that you’d have to wind an automatic watch considering the automatic designation, and to be fair you’re not actually going to have to “wind” an automatic watch that has a self winding movement. However, you will have to set the automatic watch up for proper time keeping and you’ll also have to maintain it to ensure that it remains a viable watch on your wrist going forward.

Let’s go through a step-by-step primer on how to wind a watch with an automatic movement:

  • Take A Look At Your Watch Instructions — It’s easy to make a mistake and assume that you have a watch with an automatic movement if you don’t do your research. Some manual-wind mechanical time pieces have extended power reserves which can last for close to a week. If your watch is actually a manual-wind time piece, you’re going to have to refer to the previous section on how to pull the crown and spin the crown properly to make things happen. Do note that if your watch does have an automatic movement, it needs to be worn pretty often to ensure that it stays wound. Most automatic watches function off of kinetic energy and require either your arm’s movement or the help of a watch winder to keep them going strong.
  • Prepare Your Watch — If you’ve invested significant money in a luxury automatic watch, you don’t need to be told just how important it is to be careful. Replacing or fixing a luxury watch can cost an exorbitant amount, so you have to be careful that you don’t damage the crown or other parts of the watch by being careless or too aggressive. Take the watch off your wrist and set it down flat on a stable surface.
  • Find Your Watch Crown — The crown of your automatic watch helps control the nervous system of your watch. The crown is usually used to wind the watch, and set both the time and the date. Similar to a manual watch, you’re going to need to pull the crown out in order to expose the watch stem. Be careful when doing this so you don’t damage the crown or the stem.
  • Wind The Crown & Put Things Back — Once the crown has been pulled out and you see which level of the watch stem works to wind your watch, now it’s time to get things going. Turn the crown of the watch clockwise and only do so until you feel some sort of resistance. As with a manual watch, don’t wait until the resistance becomes more prominent as you risk breaking intricate pieces of your watch. Once the watch is wound, you can use the crown to set the time and put things back together for wearing it!

Your automatic movement watch should keep time for a long time after this initial winding exercise. Automatic watches are low maintenance by design, but one thing you have to keep in mind is that wearing the watch is crucial to keeping things going. Otherwise you’re going to have to pull the crown again and repeat the above process.

Frequently Asked Questions

What direction do you wind a watch?

The majority of watches with a mechanical movement require you to turn the crown clockwise when looking at the watch face to face. To wind your mechanical watch, rotate the upper part of the crown towards the 12 in a clockwise motion. One thing you need to make sure of is that you don’t go overboard with turning the crown. Mechanical time pieces are built with a precarious balance of small gears and pieces. Manual winding has all kinds of potential pitfalls which could end up doing more harm for your time piece than good.

How often should you wind a watch?

Wind your watch once a day if you wear it often, once every few days for a watch that’s more of a sometimes thing. As long as you’re careful and don’t pull the crown in a reckless way, there’s no harm in winding your watch regularly to ensure that it keeps time the way you need it to. Remember that a mechanical watch works best when the mainspring is just above half tension. You can use a watch winder to make this happen or do it manually by hand, but winding your watch every day or so is a best practice that will ensure you get the most out of your mechanical watch going forward.

One note — most watches have a two-day power reserve or close to it, so you don’t necessarily have to wind the watch every single day. If you forget to do so, you should still have enough juice for your watch to keep its movement working. However, mechanical watches require constant winding if they’re not automatic or kinetic. Winding a watch each day or so makes sure that you’re never left wondering what time it is.

Is it OK to wind a watch backwards?

While most mechanical watches allow you to wind them backwards without any resistance, it’s unlikely to have the effect you’re looking for. Conducting manual winding backwards usually engages a neutral mode which does nothing. It’s not a bad thing to try and wind your watch in a counterclockwise motion, but it’s a futile exercise and won’t actually accomplish anything with most mechanical time pieces. It may be fun to turn the crown just for giggles or when you’re feeling nervous, so you can definitely give it a try. Just be careful and don’t overboard when you wind the crown or you risk damage which may require a watch repair shop to fix.

What happens if you don’t wind a watch?

If you don’t wind the watch on your wrist and it requires you to do so, it’s simply going to stop working on you. Mechanical watches have a finite power reserve of around two days or so. If you don’t wind the watch, the power reserve will drain itself and the movement of your watch will cease once it’s zapped. One disadvantage to allowing your watch to simply stop is that you’ll have to set the time again using another time piece for reference.

This is one advantage of having a self winding watch or quartz watch, as they don’t require you to do nearly as much regular maintenance manually. It also protects your crown. Sometimes if you pull the crown too aggressively, you risk damaging it and damaging the entire watch. You’re better off using a watch winder sometimes or simply investing in a different type of watch.

Closing Thoughts

Winding the crown of your mechanical watch or setting up your automatic watch can be kind of tricky. Whether you choose to wind a watch manually or invest in a watch winder (or self winding watch), there are different steps and safeguards you need to consider before you set the time and go forward with your day. Be extra careful with all of the small moving pieces, pay attention to the details, and you’ll make sure that you have a fantastic time piece on your wrist that’s working and with you for years to come.

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