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Winding a watch would appear to be a simple process, as it is not that difficult. But those who have intentionally chosen a watch with a manual winding know what this seemingly simple process entails. It sets a series of mechanical processes in motion, each one of which is an extraordinary feat of craftsmanship. All together they form the masterpiece that is the mechanical watch.



The functioning of watches with manual winding


Whereas in the past, people used to use winding keys to wind watches, today this is usually done by turning a winding crown on pocket watches and wristwatches. This was invented by Patek Philippe and dates back to 1845.

Energy is needed to drive the movement. In hand-wound watches, this energy is provided by turning the crown and stored in the mainspring. The mechanical energy is transferred to the mainspring via the winding wheels and the ratchet wheel. The ratchet wheel prevents the gear wheels from moving backwards. The mainspring serves as an energy storage device in mechanical watches. The wound mainspring now slowly unwinds and transfers its energy to the movement. Tension springs can be considered as simultaneously elastic and extremely hard wire. Nowadays, these consist of chrome-nickel steel or Nivaflex, which is a mixture of cobalt, nickel and chrome and allows a much more even discharge of force than tension springs made of pure steel.


Movement of a hand-wound watch


However, in order to prevent the mainspring from releasing the energy in an uncontrolled manner or at once, the escapement in a watch is necessary. Essentially, it consists of three important components: the escapement wheel, lever and balance wheel. The escapement sets the tempo of a watch by preventing the mainspring from being charged uncontrollably and enabling the gear train to run in steps. The escapement wheel is driven by the movement, which is a gear wheel with teeth on the outside of the wheel. The pallet fork engages these teeth and grips the escapement wheel like a pair of pliers and stops it, so that it only moves in increments of one tooth. The pallet fork, in turn, is connected to the balance wheel and transmits the impulse of the anchor wheel to the balance wheel. The movement of the lever can be compared to a see-saw. It locks the escapement wheel for a moment before the balance wheel is pulled back by a balance spring. The escapement wheel moves again slightly before it is stopped again by the pallet fork. Depending on the movement, the balance wheel moves at about 28,800 oscillations per minute. The impact of the escapement wheel's teeth on the teeth of the pallet produces the classic ticking of a watch. The rapid oscillation of the balance wheel creates the small, step-by-step jumps of the second hand that are characteristic for mechanical watches.

Most models with a manual movement have an average power reserve of 40 hours. If the reserve is nearing its end, the accuracy of the watch may decrease. It is therefore recommended that hand-wound watches be wound once a day, preferably at the same time.



Manual winding – antiquated or timeless classic?


The watch industry is characterized by the fact that it does not ignore technical progress. Ever since time began to be measured, the desire has grown to do this with ever greater precision and ingenuity. Naturally, watches with manual windings seem a bit antiquated. However, they also have their advantages. First of all, there is the possibility to design thinner watches because there is no need for a rotor, which is the mechanism that converts kinetic energy in an automatic watch. This is why they are popular as dress watches and for festive occasions. Moreover, for many watch enthusiasts, winding a watch also has a certain romantic quality and has become a ritual that is performed before the watch is finally put on – a moment of contemplation. On the one hand, this breathes new life into the watch, on the other hand, this reminds us of its true function: to show us that time is constantly advancing.


Rolex Oyster Perpetual 114300 watch with automatic winding next to Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch with manual winding
ROLEX OYSTER PERPETUAL 114300 | OMEGA SPEEDMASTER MOONWATCH 3570.50.00


Here is an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of watches with a manual winding in comparison with automatic watches.


Manual winding Automatic winding
Advantages
  • watches have a rich history of tradition
  • ritual of regular winding
  • thinner construction is possible
  • unimpeded view of the movement for watches with crystal case back
  • higher precision
  • hand winding is unnecessary
  • less wear
  • more durable because the mainspring cannot be overwound
Disadvantages
  • accuracy of the watch may decrease over time
  • regular winding is necessary
  • increased wear on the crown’s seal
  • watches with less history
  • a view of the movement is often covered by the rotor
  • necessary to wear the watch regularly for winding purposes



Classic to extraordinary: Watches with a manual winding


Although the manual movement is said to be less common than the self-winding mechanism, there are some special and well-known models, which have such a mechanism. The three models below could hardly be more varied and yet they have one thing in common: the manual winding.


The Calatrava: A hand-wound watch with eternal elegance

The Patek Philippe Calatrava is considered one of the most aesthetically pleasing wristwatches of all time. The success story of this series dates back to the 1930s. Back then, the watchmakers wanted to create a watch that would achieve a unique, timeless appearance by concentrating on the essential and dispensing with superfluous features. Its perfect, round shape is completed by an understated dial and a modest leather strap. Thanks to its manual winding, the watch is thin enough to be worn not only for chic events but also for everyday use.


Patek Philippe Calatrava 3796 D watch is wound by turning the winding crown
PATEK PHILIPPE CALATRAVA 3796 D


The Moonwatch impresses with its craftsmanship

The Omega Speedmaster series is known far beyond the circles of watch enthusiasts due to its historic past as the first watch on the moon. Although the moon landing was a technical achievement, NASA relied on hand-wound watches like the Speedmaster Moonwatch. However, the newer models of the Omega Speedmaster Chronograph do not have to hide in the shadow of the vintage references of this series. Now equipped with Caliber 1863, a descendant of the movement that was on the moon, and a glazed case back, the Speedmaster has earned its place in the present day.


Extravagance with manual winding by Mouawad

In its exclusive timepieces, the Mouawad family combines technical masterpieces with the most precious materials. Elaborate decoration with precious stones especially makes these models stand out. Less of a reference for everyday use, the Grande Ellipse Chrono Monopoussior Tourbillon with a manual winding is a small work of art in itself due to its complications. The name Monopoussoir (French for "monopusher") refers to another special feature of the model. Unlike normal chronographs, the watch's start and stop functions are controlled by a single pusher (i.e. the monopusher).