Most fine watches collected by enthusiasts are self-winding, or automatic. Instead of running on battery power, automatic watches are powered by the motion of the person’s arm throughout the day. A weight inside the watch, which always tries to get back to its lowest point when displaced by arm motion, drives the mainspring to apply constant pressure on the gears and other mechanisms that keep the watch ticking. So when the watch isn’t being worn, it’s still getting the external motion it would need from a human.

For someone who only owns one watch, there’s no need for a winder. But serious watch enthusiasts often own thousands of dollars’ worth of watches, wearing one for a day or two while leaving the others to wind down. Since a watch winder keeps watches from winding down, the owner can swap watches without having to manually wind them and set the time each time.

Watch winders are designed to keep automation watches ticking when they aren’t being worn. Automatic watches, powered by arm motion rather than batteries, are the type most frequently collected by watch enthusiasts. As a category, watch winders are more expensive than their counterparts in other markets for consumer gadgets, simply because far fewer are manufactured than items like MP3 players or food processors. After all, not many consumers can afford to own a half-dozen watch costing hundreds or thousands of dollars each.

Common Watch Winder Features

You tend to get what you pay for with automatic watch winders. A bare bones winder simply rotates a watch in one direction, and typically features unremarkable design or build quality. Watch collectors usually watch something more distinguished and robust.

Most of the watch winders purchased are in the $200-$2000 range. More expensive versions naturally offer more features. The first is the number of watches the winder supports. Single-unit models are fine for those who only own one additional watch, but more avid collectors can choose anything from double watch winders all the way to 12-piece versions and beyond.

One of the key features to look for in a winder is a healthy array of rotation options that prevent over-winding the mainspring. While a low-end version might only rotate clockwise, a more expensive version might rotate counterclockwise as well, or swing side-to-side, or let the user adjust the number of turns per day as recommended by the watch’s manufacturer. Many winders feature programmable timers that limit the total amount of winding per day, since most automatic watches only need about 30 minutes of cumulative motion to keep it winding for a whole day.

Visual Appeal

Perhaps the more conspicuous features that manufacturers compete on are aesthetics, with fancy woodgrain faceplates, chrome dials, LCD clocks, and leather exteriors. Some of the most expensive winders even have heaters to keep watches warm to keep the oil inside them from coagulating, and to make strapping on metal more pleasant. Some features of high-end winder seem to offer marginal utility, but most collectors would agree that buying a stylish watch winder is a good investment. It not only keeps a watch ready to wear, showcases their collection on a shelf or tabletop with class. Unlike watch boxes, which are essentially non-mechanical jewelry display cases, watch winders keep you watches running in a more visually engaging fashion.