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How To Wind An Automatic Watch

Updated on September 24, 2009

Sometimes owners of the most prestigious watch brands complain that their automatic watches never run on time.  To understand why some of the most expensive or less expensive automatic watches don’t seem to keep proper time, we need to understand how automatic watches work.

Automatic watches are a marvel of ingenuity, some have 300 some have over 600 moving parts, all moving at once and powered by a tiny spring. 

The movement of your hand continuously winds the watch, but contrary to popular belief, in order for automatic watches to provide the most accurate time, they must be wound at least once a month.

In a hand wound watch, the main spring is ‘tightened’ into a coil by the winding of the crown.  As the spring unwinds it sets all the gears in motion powering the watch mechanism.  An Automatic watch works the same way, except an automatic watch has a pendulum or counterweigh attached to the mainspring.  As the wearer’s hand moves the counterweigh, which is off centered, rotates and slightly tightens the mainspring.  This is what makes the automatic watch ‘automatic’.  One does not have to wind it every day because it’s being wound as you wear it.

The problem is that even though the watch is being wound, the mainspring uncoils at a faster rate than the counter weight can wind it.  So it comes to a point where the counter weight is providing only enough power to keep the second hand moving and barely enough power to keep the hour hands moving at an accurate rate.  In order to keep An automatic watch fully powered the wearer must wind the watch at least once a month.

To wind an automatic watch you should first remove it from your wrist.  Winding the watch while it’s on the wrist can bend the stem (tubing holding the crown). While holding the watch on your left hand turn the crown (the little knob used to adjust time) forward, towards the 12 O’clock marker, by rolling the crown between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand.

It takes about 15 to 20 turns for a woman’s watch to be fully wound and about 20 to 30 turns for a man’s watch to be fully wound.  If the watch you have has a screw down crown, the crown will not turn when you try to turn it with your fingers.  In order to unscrew the crown turn the crown backwards towards the 6 O’clock position.  You will see and feel when the crown separates from the case, then proceed to wind the watch as described above.  Don’t forget to screw the crown back into the case by pressing it against the case as you wind the watch.

Ensure you wind the crown ‘forward’ towards the 12 O’clock position.  Turning the crown backwards towards the 6 O’clock will feel like something is happening but the mainspring will not be tightening, in essence nothing happens when you turn the crown backwards.

Automatic watches have a clutch that disengages the winding mechanism.  No matter how long you wind it for, it can not be ‘over wound’ or damaged, as a manual watch can.  Turning the crown forward 15-20 times for women’s watches and 20-30 times for men’s watches will give you an idea when the movement is fully loaded.

An automatic watch that is not worn will continue working for 36 to 48 hours, after that it will stop tracking time.  This is called the power reserve. If the power reserve is depleted and the hands of the watch stop, all you have to do is set the time, wind the watch and you’ll be back in business.  There are devices which are designed to wind automatic watches when they are not being worn, that are very popular with automatic watch owners.  They are called winding boxes.  Although the majority of them do look like boxes some of them could be quite ingenious.  

To use a watch winding box all you have to do is place the watch on the watch stand and turn the box on. The winding boxes are generally powered by electricity and some travel ones use batteries. The watch stand rotates slowly throwing the counterweigh off center and winding the watch. Some of them are extremely elegant and make great gifts for the man who has everything.

Keeping an automatic watch wound not only ensures the watch keeps proper time but it will bring down the very expensive cost of maintaining an automatic watch. Enjoy a marvel of today’s times by winding your automatic watch at least once a month.


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    • Taranwanderer profile image

      Taranwanderer 2 years ago

      Great tutorial on winding automatic watches. Although with the Smartwatch taking over, the time for these kinds of timepieces may be ending soon.

    • profile image

      Gez 5 years ago

      Excellent article, I certainly did not know it is possible to hand wind an automatic watch, much appreciated, cheers.

    • profile image

      Ann 5 years ago

      WONDERFUL HELPFUL ARTICLE. I almost sent my watch to dealer for an expensive repair per quote. I waited a month or two, and bingo, put my watch on and it has been running nicely ever since. Just wear and wind once a month or get a box. AWESOME!

    • profile image

      Tuki 5 years ago

      I like automatic watches, check here so cool automatic watches at good price:

    • WatchCases profile image

      WatchCases 6 years ago from Charlottesville

      Great hub. I use a watch-winder but it's good to know how to stem wind a watch.