A Bunch of Information on Watch Winders
Posted by Michael Sandler on March 31, 2000 at 12:43:13:
TZ Classics Forum Number: 1185
...I hope it's all accurate. I gave it my best shot!
It seems to me that more and more people are purchasing multiple automatic watches, and thus, a winder becomes a consideration if one wants to avoid re-setting the watch after the power reserve is depleted. Obviously, resetting time and date isn't really a big deal if done occasionally, bu for watches that have day, month, moon-phase, perpetual calendar or other advanced complications, resetting the watch can be a painful task. A winder is also useful for watches with crowns that screw down, since every time the crown is unscrewed and screwed back in, there's wear on the gaskets, etc. After a while, this can actually damage the threads on the crown or case, and can compromise the water resistance of the watch.
There are actually a surprisingly large number of different winders available nowadays, which makes the decision as to which one to buy more problematic. The way I see it, there are several considerations that one should take into account when purchasing a winder:
- The engineering of the winder itself
- Features (Directional control, Adjustable number of turns per day, etc.)
- Number of watches wound
I think for many people, price is the most important factor when initially considering a winder. After all, wants to spend good money on a winder when it could be used towards a watch instead? Assuming price is paramount, the MTE winders are the least expensive.
The MTE winders are generally the least expensive winders on the market. In the U.S., they start at about $100 for the single-head electric unit, and go up to several hundred dollars for the 4-head units. The MTE winders are generally lacking in the refinement seen in some of the higher end (i.e. more expensive) winders, but this is done to keep costs reasonable. I have owned one of the $100 AC powered MTE winders for over a year now, and it has functioned perfectly. There are a few things that should be noted about the MTE winders:
The base model is AC powered, and has no directional control. This means that it is generally unsuitable for winding watches with movements that wind uni-directionally (Valjoux 7750, for example). Each time the winder starts up, it does so in a random direction, which means that approximately 50% of the time, it's doing nothing to wind your watch. This model also has no control for the number of rotations per day, and since its turn rate is high (3 turns per minute = 4,320 turns per day), a workaround is necessary to keep the rotations per day lower. I've found that the best solution is to but a cheap appliance timer (available at almost any decent hardware store) and plug the winder into the timer, and then the timer into the wall. I have my timer set to run 4.5 hours a day, which results in slightly over 800 turns. This has kept all of my automatic watches running.
The next model up the line is a DC (battery) powered winder that costs about 30 to 40% more than the AC powered version. The nice thing about the DC model is that it has a selectable direction switch, so it will work for watches that wind bi-directionally or uni-directionally. It also looks a little "prettier" than the AC powered model. With the DC model, there's also the added advantage of being ale to store the unit inside a safe, since there's no need to plug it in. The DC model rotates at 1 turn per minute (1,440 turns per day), which is more than adequate to keep watches wound, and is actually roughly twice as many turns as are necessary for most of the common movements. There is no way to adjust the number of rotations per day.
The MTE winders use "C" shaped retaining clips to hold the watches on the winders. This method is perfectly functional, although not particularly pretty. Retaining clips are available in plastic or metal. Be careful with the metal ones, since you can easily scratch your watch or bracelet when putting the watch onto the clip. The metal clips are more pliable than the plastic ones, and thus will fit a larger size range of watches. The nice thing about both of these single-head winders is that they can be easily adapted to wind 2 watches with the addition of a modified (duplex) retaining clip. You can upgrade your single winder at any point...it does not have to be done at the time of initial purchase. This level of flexibility is nice.
MTE also makes 4-head units, which start at about $280. These units are also functional, and can wind both uni-directionally and bi-directionally winding movements. The method of winding is not particularly innovative. The winders turn 1,100 rotations per day i each direction, which means for uni-directionally winding movements, the rotor is freewheeling for half a day. They are AC powered, which means that one could use the appliance timer method described above to limi the rotations. If the machine runs all day, it would put 2,200 turns on a bi-directionally winding watch, which is high if the watch is left on the winder for long periods. Domed plastic covers and nice bases are available as add-ons for the 4-head winders.
One final note on the MTE winders: The AC powered unit kept my wife awake at night when it was running on my nightstand. Don't assume it's totally quiet, or you're in for a surprise. It's clearly audible across a large room if the room is fairly quiet. It also is not totally "vibration-free", and I'd imaging that a watch that spent a LONG time on a winder might be prone to some "screw-loosening" if all the screws weren't tightened down properly in the first place.
Here are a couple of pictures of the MTE winders. They are, in order: Single/AC powered, Single/DC powered, Double/AC powered, Double/DC powered, Quad/AC powered.
Beyond the MTE winders, there are a number of brands competing with one another based on features, aesthetics,
ergonomics, brand name, etc. These "high-end" winders vary considerably in form, but are all fairly comparable in function. Obviously I haven't owned many of these, but I'll try to describe what I know about the various brands and models.
Scatola del Tempo
These are really nice winders which are not inexpensive. The base model Scatola (the 1RT) single-head winder retails at $595, and the multi-watch units can cost in excess of $10,000. Granted, the very expensive ones come in nice wood cabinets, and are very nice to look at, but they're not worth the money in my opinion. Then again...if you have a dozen perpetual calendars or tourbillons or minute repeaters, etc., what's $10,000 for a winder? Not much, I suppose.
I own one of the Scatola 1RT single-head units, and a really like it. The exterior surface is predominantly high-quality leather, and feels comparable to the leather on one of my wife's Coach handbags. It's nicely stitched, and looks good. The exterior areas which are not covered by leather are plastic. In these units, the watch is wound completely inside the winder, and is not exposed as is the case with the MTE winders. The winder has a porthole in the front so that the watch can be seen while winding.
This is what the winder looks like:
As you can see, the design is very clean and in my opinion is pleasing to look at. The watch is held inside the winder on a very secure, completely adjustable plastic clip (covered in leather along the surface that contacts the watch-head). The clip can be expanded or contracted to fit almost any watch, although I'm not sure that something as large as a Panerai would fit. This is what the clip looks like:
Overall, I find this a very good set-up for holding the watch securely, and there is absolutely no risk of slippage or the watch falling off the mount.
The Scatola winder runs much more quietly than the MTE winders do, and is barely audible at all. The winder has a switch setting to control the direction of wind, and has a separate switch (2 positions) for number of turns per day. Basically, I think it's roughly 1,000 in one position and 1,300 in the other. At either setting, the unit runs continuously for 8 hours per day, and then is stationary for 16 hours before it starts up again.
Overall, I find this winder to be of decent value (I purchased at 35% discount), and my watches seem to like it!
All of the other Scatola winders that I've seen have a comparable mechanism for securing the watch in the winder. The price increase can be significant when moving from a single head unit to a multiple. I believe the least expensive multi-head unit is roughly $2,000 at retail. Scatola also makes winders that have storage compartments for hand-wind watches or accessories, which is a nice touch (albeit expensive) if you want to store everything in the same place. They make winders for 1, 2, 3, 6, and 9 watches. Most of the multi-unit winders are all crafted from really nice wood, and look like small pieces of furniture.
Orbita makes winders that, at the lower end of their range, are priced a little lower than the single-head winder from Scatola. They are also really nicely made, and run very quietly. The least expensive model, the Bellino, was recently introduced. It looks like this:
Note: This image is from the Orbita website. Please ignore the "click here for larger image")
As you can see, the Bellino holds the watch in much the same position as the Scatola 1RT, with the dial in the vertical plane. The Bellino retails at $395, although I'd imagine that you could get them at roughly 25% off retail.
Orbita also makes another line of single winders that use a different physical mechanism to wind the watch. Basically, the watch sits on a conical structure, and is wound through rotation of the cone. An example can be seen here (winder on the left side):
Orbita makes a wide variety of single, double, and higher multiple head winders (wood and leather), some which are completely programmable for turns per day, etc. All the Orbita winders have directional control. Some even have integrated clocks which synchronize with the NIST time signal, which makes re-setting watches more convenient.
On an interesting note, Orbita just introduced the largest watch winder to date. This behemoth retails at approximately $20,000, and winds 24 watches. It also has a number of different motors, so each can be set to run at a different rate, depending on the type of watch being wound. Here is the Bergamo:
Another winder maker is Cyclomatic, which makes winders for 1, 2, 6, 12 and 24 watches. The single- and double-head winders are fairly straightforward and uncomplicated in design. Running full time, they make 36 turns in each direction per hour, or a little over 1,700 turns per day. They can be run on AC power, which means the appliance timer solution can be used to limit the number of turns. Here is the Cyclomatic Due two watch winder, which is also available in a wood box see picture on right):
Price is $490 for the winder and $95 for the wood box.
For higher multiples, there is the Cyclotest 6, which obviously winds 6 watches at a time, and is very reasonably priced at $315. With additional quad-units, this winder can be expanded to wind as many as 24 watches. It's very much more "industrial" looking than the Scatola and Orbita winders previously discussed. The expansion units are $75 each, and 6 are needed. The Cyclotest also contains a programmable timer which allows the owner to vary winding times. A nice addition.
This is what the Cyclotest 6 looks like:
The Windmill is another multiple watch winder that functions similarly to the Cyclotest 6. It also includes a programmable timer, and can accommodate between 4 and 10 watches. The price range for the Windmill models ranges from $530 for the 4-watch model to $750 for the 10-watch model. Seems like pretty fair pricing.
This is what the 4-watch windmill looks like:
The windmill is available in a variety of
wood grain finishes.
The Time Mover boxes seem to be another one of the Scatola/Orbita class winders. The two-watch Time Mover retails at $695.
This is what the Time Mover looks like:
The Time Mover Executive winds 4 watches, and retails for $1,295. It also has a storage drawer for other watches and accessories.
This is what the Executive looks like:
I don't really know too much about this unit, other than the fact that it's distributed through the same company responsible for Chronoswiss distribution in the United States. Dr. Walt Odets wrote an excellent review of this unit, which can be found in the Classics section at http://www.timezone.com.
That's about all I can think of right now. In summary...the first thing you should decide is how much you want to spend on a winder. Based on price, you can then limit your choices to a few models, and go from there. It's also important to know whether the movements in the watches that you want to wind do so uni-directionally or bi-directionally. Several of the winders described above rotate a fixed number of turns per day in each direction (clockwise & counterclockwise). For a uni-directionally winding watch....this could mean ~1,000 turns winding, and another ~1,000 turns with the rotor "free-wheeling". For a watch that winds in both directions, however, this winder would put 2,000 winding turns on the watch, which is too high. Know your watches, and know how many turns they need for optimal winding. The various manufacturers are usually happy to give you that information.
I hope you found this post useful.
MTE winder images are from the site of their U.S. Distributor.
Orbita images are from the company website at http://www.orbita.net and from http://www.watchbuys.com, an authorized Orbita dealer.
Cyclotest, Windmill and Time-Mover photos are from the Superior Watch site. Superior is a dealer for these brands.