Hand-Wound Watches - The Hows, The Whys, And The What Ifs

Hand-Wound Watches - The Hows, The Whys, And The What Ifs

There is one question we get asked, more than most would assume, and that is "why isn't my watch working?"

There are a series of steps that we take to troubleshoot in such a circumstance. The first step is to wind the watch. Almost every time, we establish that the reason a watch isn't working properly is that it simply hasn't been wound, or has not been wound enough. We forget, as watch people, that not everyone knows what a manual-wind watch needs, or that some may not understand why it needs what it does. For that reason, we are here today to go through the whys and hows, and to ease some fears around the what-ifs. 

Why does my watch need to be wound?

Unlike a quartz watch, one powered by a battery, our watches are powered by something called the mainspring. This is a little thin strip of steel, called spring steel, and it’s wound around a central stalk and encapsulated in what is called the mainspring barrel. This little capsule can then be rotated, which in turn coils this spring up tighter and tighter until we have a coiled up slice of steel that, when let go, is extremely powerful. We don’t want the spring uncoiling in 1 second though, so that’s where all the other components, such as wheels and pinions, come into play.

These parts allow the mainspring to uncoil at a specific rate. In the case of the watch shown in the video above, the Coniston, the mainspring uncoils itself after 40 hours or so. In-between the point where it has been fully wound and tight, and when it’s fully discharged, or loose, the mainspring powers the watch as it unwinds.

Think of the mainspring as a rudimentary battery. Batteries need charge, right? To charge this battery, we wind the crown. This crown is attached to something called the stem, which in turn is connected to the winding mechanism, which in turn - via a few more wheels- winds the mainspring within the mainspring barrel.

So now we know why our watches need to be wound - to charge the mainspring - we now come on to the hows.

How do I wind my watch?

It’s important not to underestimate how many turns the crown needs to get the mainspring to a state of “charge” that powers the watch for around 2 days. Turning the crown 6 times will not keep the watch working more than a few minutes. For the Coniston movement, which is a Miyota 8N33, the crown needs to be turned about 35 times. For our Derwent movement, which is also a Miyota movement, this time a 6T33, this only needs around 25 turns of the crown to get the watch to a fully charged state. For our Haskell, which features a Swiss ETA 2804-2 movement, this requires around 30 turns. Our Cherwell, Lomond and future ranges will also require similar levels of turning - more than 25 but perhaps less than 40 turns. 

The direction in which you wind the crown is also very important. If you look at the Coniston movement shown in the video, you can see that as I turn the crown clockwise - away from me - the crown and stem turns the keyless works, which in turn rotates the mainspring barrel. This is the way to wind your watch. If you turn the crown the other way - towards me, which is the wrong direction - you will see something cool happen. The little part that connects the crown to the chain of wheels, which turns the mainspring barrel, jumps out of the way. This basically overrides everything and prevents any damage, but also means that your watch is not getting charge; nothing is moving, and it's simply saving itself from any damage. You won’t break your watch if you turn the crown in the wrong direction, but if you keep winding it this way, you’ll waste a lot of your time and your watch won't be wound.

There are multiple and varied techniques to winding a watch, a couple of which you can see in the video. So long as you are not twisting the crown laterally whilst winding it, you can do whatever you like. Just don’t stick your crown in a power drill or something daft like that.

Now to the elephant in the room - overwinding. This is one of the main 'what ifs' that we hear from customers.

What happens if I wind it too much?

How will I know when it's wound? What if I break it? Overwinding is a problem, there’s no two ways about it, but it’s easily avoidable and preventable with a bit of explanation and demonstration.

We shall also caveat this section - in the three years or so that we've been selling watches, not a single customer (to our knowledge) has overwound their watch.

Overwinding is when you wind up your watch until you get to the point where the mainspring is fully tight and can’t be turned anymore. In this state the crown will stop moving in your fingers and that is that; 99% of owners take their time to wind their watch and as you arrive at the fully wound state, the crown has a lot of resistance and feels heavy in the hands. It’s at this point that you should stop winding, when you feel a gentle protest and a soft stop, and your watch should last for around 40 hours or so.

However, should you be horsing it and winding in a blind fury, you might hit this “stop” point without realising it and continue to turn the crown. One of two things will happen at this point - either you overpower the mechanism within your movement and things start breaking inside your watch and it’s a sad day for everyone, or - more commonly - you will create too much torque for the connection between your crown and the stem it’s attached to, and the crown will shear off the stem. The crown is attached to the stem with a thread, and like all threaded parts, they have a maximum torque limit. 

If this does happen, it’s not the end of the world as we can replace the broken crown and stem, and the watch is once more alive. However, in the unlikely event of internal damage to the watch, it becomes a bit more of an issue.

Our best advice is to get to know your watch - wind it daily, get to know how it feels in your hands and how it responds to your touch, and you'll soon learn how to wind it perfectly. All our watches have an accompanying manual, either in print or available via our website, and we're always here to answer any queries. There's no such thing as a silly question to us. 


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  • @Gregory – I was told that this can occur in any watch with a date wheel, I believe, and that it’s connected to when the date wheel becomes ‘engaged’ by the mechanism in changing the date from one day to the next. This typically happens between nine PM and three AM. The advice I was given was to pull out the crown and set the time to six-thirty, that way you know that, whether AM or PM, the date wheel is disengaged. Then re-engage the crown part way so that you can adjust the date to the day before today’s date (if today is the 8th, change it to the 7th). Pull the crown back out to adjust the time and adjust it forwards until the date wheel ticks over (now you know you’re at midnight), then adjust it forwards to the current time.

    At this point, you re-engage the crown to the winding mechanism and wind the watch safely without damaging the mechanism.

    Owen Cook
  • Gregory, I’ve never heard of damaging a watch by changing the date manually. A watch really doesn’t know the difference between 12 midday or 12 midnight. But depending upon when a manual date change is attempted you may set it 12 hours out of kilter and the worst that will happen is that the date changes around 12 midday.
    To correct this requires no more than a little experimentation. Say around 10am try a manual resetting of the date to the previous day and then change the time by winding the hands towards and a few minutes past the 12 o’clock position. If the date doesn’t change, the watch is now on the correct cycle and so rewind the hands to set to the correct time. If this sequence doesn’t work, then simply change the date and follow the same procedure by temporarily setting the hands to pm time in the afternoon. It’s more of an annoyance than anything.

    Terry Byford
  • I found Your article/video on watch winding quite informative. Could you explain why one shouldn’t manually change the date on a watch between certain times and what damage may occur if you do so?

    Gregory Gibbs
  • Hi do all your watches handwind? I’m looking for a hand wind watch with numbers ?


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