Self-winding watches, better known as automatic watches, are powered by human motion rather than a battery. As long as the person wearing one walks and moves for at just under half an hour a day, an automatic watch will keep ticking. As long as the person wearing the watch only owns one watch, there's no problem.
The Role of a Watch Winder
For the person who owns and wears a variety of watches (like someone else might do with shoes), the watches that aren't being worn will need a small amount of external motion each day to avoid winding down; otherwise the time will have to be set each time on the watches is worn again. A automatic watch winder, often just called a watch winder, avoids this annoyance by slowly turning a watch (or set of watches) over the course of a day.
A side benefit of watch winders is their stylish showcasing of the owner's watch collection. Even most of the nicer watch boxes for men are rather bland compared to a good 8-watch winder with a burlwood faceplate, chrome-plated motion controls, a leather bound chassis, and perhaps a pair of drawers for cufflinks.
There are three main features that sell a watch winder: the number of watches it accommodates (e.g. a triple watch winder), the look and feel of the unit, and the number of rotational settings. The latter is the most important feature that distinguishes a quality watch winder from the low-end versions that sell for under $100. Since they only offer clockwise rotation, cheap winders run the run of over-winding a watch by putting too much stress on the mainspring. It's better to err on the side of letting the watch wind down rather than having to repair it.
Quality watch winders have two additional directional settings: counterclockwise and bidirectional. This variety keeps the mainspring for accumulating excessive stress in one direction, and arguably keeps the oil for coagulating.
Mid-range and high-end watch winders usually have user settings for the number of turns per day. Different watch mechanics have different sensitivities, so some watches can over-wind at a TPD setting that would be recommended for other models. Some watch owners mistakenly think they have to buy a watch winder branded by the manufacturer of the particular watch they favor. You only need the manufacturer's TPD recommendations.
A time delay is a useful feature to look for in a good watch winder. A short delay, often 10 seconds, gives the user time to take of his or her watch and mount it on the cuff. A long delay, often 12 hours, gives the watch's mainspring time to release some of the tension it has accumulated if it was recently worn.
There are other features that are luxury value adds, such as heater coils to keep the watches warm (supposedly good for the oil), or a digital clock synchronized to the atomic clock. While nice to have if you can afford the premium, it's more practical to pay attention to the functional features of a watch winder. It's definitely a good idea to read a few watch winder reviews to survey the types of features offered by a state-of the art model.
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