When the first quartz clock was built in 1927, no one could have predicted its meteoric rise in popularity. By the 1980s, they became easier and cheaper to produce due to solid state electronics, and subsequently became the world’s most widely used timekeeping technology, used even in computers and other electronic appliances that keep time.
However, mechanical watches are experiencing a resurgence. There is a growing appreciation for craftsmanship and passion, which watchmakers are taking advantage of by showcasing the inner workings of their timepieces, down to the last gear. While they are indeed fascinating to look at, what’s more interesting is how these delicate miniature structures work to tell the time.
Automatic vs. Manual Mechanical Watches
The gears of a mechanical watch are turned by what is called the mainspring, which needs to be wound to store enough energy to power the movement of the watch’s arms. In a mechanical watch, you wind the mainspring by turning the crown, which is a knob on the side of the watch. When the energy from the mainspring runs down, one has to turn the crown again to “charge” the mainspring. A clutch disengages the mainspring when it reaches its “winding capacity” to prevent overwinding and excess tension that may lead to breakage.
An automatic or self-winding watch, on the other hand, has an off-center, weighted rotor that turns on a pivot. This rotor is connected to the mainspring of the watch through a series of gears. Because of its uneven center of gravity, the rotor turns so that the weighted side is closer to the ground. Due to a wearer’s constant movement, the side of the watch that is closest to the ground also changes constantly, ensuring the continuous movement of the rotor and thus winding the watch.
A fully wound mainspring of a mechanical watch can last for about two days. However, watch gears often have low ratios, and one full rotation of the rotor does not mean a full rotation of the mainspring as well. When relying on wrist or pocket movements only, some watches may not last four hours before getting completely wound out. This is where automated watch winders come in.
Winding While Stationary
While most self-winding watches also have the option to be manually wound, most avid fans and collectors have automatic winders to keep their watches turning, even when not worn. Some watch winders can even hold multiple watches, though for the more discerning, they have separate winders for individual watches since they may not have the same amount of time required to keep them fully wound.
Watch winders work simply by moving in (usually) circular patterns to mimic the motions needed to wind the watch. A watch winder is usually powered by a micro brushless motor, which not only ensures a quiet operation, but also precise, evenly distributed motions and long battery life.
More recent models of watch winders also have timers built-in to prevent excessive wear on the mechanisms of the watch. This feature also saves further on battery power, as there is no need to keep turning the watch because 30 minutes to one hour of motion may already be enough to keep it properly wound.
Automatic watches are made to be worn. However, if you’ve been bitten by quite the watch collecting bug and own several units, then investing in high-quality watch winders is the best way to keep your watches in prime working condition.