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If you are considering to buy a pre-owned watch, you will generally inform yourself about the movement specifications, the water resistance or, for example, the material used for the model – but rarely about the crown of the watch. In the following article, we would like to tell you about this often overlooked but nevertheless important feature of a watch.

  1. What is a watch crown?
  2. Functions of the watch crown
  3. Breguet’s connection to the crown
  4. Crown shapes and watch models
  5. Weaknesses in the watch crown

What is a watch crown?

The crown is a direct connection to the movement inside a wristwatch and is located at 3 o'clock on most watch models. The watch crown is classically considered part of the case. Seen in this way, it is the end piece of the winding mechanism's shaft and the decisive connection between the outer and inner components of a watch.

Watch crown of a Breitling watch with black background

The functions of the watch crown

In classic wristwatches, the crown has two functions. Its first function is to control the watch’s hands to set the time. This is done by setting the entire hand movement in motion, including the minute tube, minute wheel and hour wheel. By pulling out and turning the crown, the hands of the watch can be moved to the desired position and thus the exact time is set.

The second function concerns watches with a manual winding mechanism. The crown is used for winding the watch, i.e., the winding shaft is set in motion, which sets the winding mechanism's drive wheel, the crown wheel and the ratchet wheel in motion. These tighten the mainspring in the mainspring barrel, which constitutes the power reserve of the watch. In order to switch back and forth between these two functions, there is the sliding system which is a part of the stem. This mechanism rests on the winding shaft and has two differently shaped gear teeth with which it can grip either the hand wheel or the winding mechanism. Because of this function, the crown is referred to as the drive for a manual winding mechanism. This function makes it necessary that the crown can be easily grasped and pulled out, which is why it is usually coarser.

The Breguet family and their contribution to watch history

The crown often has a ribbed surface to make it easy to hold and use in various situations. This design goes back to the first winding crown on a watch. In 1830, the first model with a winding crown was sold by Antoine Louis-Breguet. Until this time, watches were still wound with a small key. The end of the pendant, which was used to set the time and wind the movement, was called the "knob". Fortunately, the much more elegant name "crown" was eventually adopted. The appearance of modern watch crowns still recalls this important stage in the development of the wristwatch.

The invention of the watch crown was not the first innovation to come from the Breguet family. The watchmaking industry owes many essential inventions of the watchmaking industry to Abraham Louis Breguet, Antoine's father, for example the tourbillon.

Watch crown of a TAG Heuer watch with black background

The most common crown shapes

Various crown shapes have developed over time, which often provide information about which watch type or brand the model belongs to. The most common crown shapes include the following:

  • Straight crowns: The probably most popular and at the same time quite simple crown shape, the straight crown, can be predominantly found on Rolex models.

  • Onion-shaped crowns: The onion crown got its name thanks to its spherical appearance and the grooves that are reminiscent of an onion. This crown is often used for pilot watches like the Lindbergh by Longines.

  • Conical crowns: This crown shape is a remnant from the early days of aviation. Pilots appreciated the feel of the distinctive conical crown, which could be operated easily even when wearing gloves. The IWC Big Pilots is an example of a model with a conical crown.

  • Crowns with cabochon: Cabochon means "nail head" and refers to a gemstone cut that is flat at the bottom and domed at the top. A crown with a cabochon is therefore ornamented with a small precious stone or glass and can be seen on the Cartier Tank Francaise, for example.

  • Push-button crowns: This type of crown is often used for chronographs. The pusher can be used to start the chronograph function (start, stop and reset). An example of a crown with an integrated pusher is the Grande Ellipse Chrono Monopoussoir Tourbillon by Mouawad, which already refers to the function in its name ("Monopoussoir" is French for monopusher, a watch with a stopwatch function and only one control element).

  • Inset crowns: The most subtle crown shape is probably the inset crown, which is integrated into the case and therefore less visible. The Chopard Monte Carlo, for example, has such a crown.

The placement of the crown also plays a practical role alongside its aesthetic one. On diving watches, they are usually positioned at 2 or 4 o'clock instead of the classic 3 o'clock position for more protection and avoid any uncomfortable pressure on the back of the hand. There are also models where the crown is positioned at 9 o'clock. This particularly comes to the delight of left-handed watch enthusiasts.

The crown as the weakest point on a watch

The crown is, aside from its practical use, also the weak point of a watch. This is where dirt and water can easily penetrate the inside of a watch. For this reason, watch manufacturers have used various measures to protect their models.

Graham diver watch underwater with protection above the crownGRAHAM CHRONOFIGHTER OVERSIZE GMT - STEEL & GOLD 2OVGG.B16A

In 1926, Rolex started using a screw-down crown on its models and thus introduced the first waterproof watch. The principle is that by simultaneously pressing and screwing the crown down, a sealing ring located on the inside of the crown is pressed against the case, thus ensuring water-resistance. Omega introduced a special form of screw-down crown in the 1970s. In the case of the Omega Seamaster PloProf (Ref. 166.0077), the crown is secured by an additional protective pendant and screwed to the case. Furthermore, the crown on this model was moved to the 9 o'clock position to prevent accidental adjustment. The complicated construction of the PloProf guaranteed water resistance for up to 600 meters. Other manufacturers seal their timepieces with one or more sealing rings in the crown. Depending on how much effort is invested, it is determined whether and how much water pressure your watch can ultimately withstand. In any case, you should know the information about water resistance and its meaning to ensure that you can enjoy your watch for a long time.

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