A self-winding mechanical watch only lives up to its name if it’s kept moving. On your wrist, there’s no problem — the motion of your arm keeps the rotor spinning, which winds the mainspring. But leave it on your bedside table for a couple of days and you’ll need to crank it by hand and set the time and date. While that’s no great hardship with one or two watches, once your collection grows to more than that, you’re going to want a watch winder.
A winder has a very simple task: rotate a watch enough to keep its mainspring at tension. So why are there so many kinds? It really comes down to the design, the build quality, additional features (we’re waiting for one that grinds coffee) and the number of watches it can wind. Some winders are made to handle a single watch at a time for the minimalist collector; some are made for the likes of Tony Stark and can keep over 50 timepieces wound and ready to go at a moment’s notice. There are winders boasting silent motors and exotic case materials, USB connections and downloadable programs so you can fine tune your winder to the optimal direction and number of rotations for your precious watch.
So which one to get? The one in the SkyMall catalog should be fine for your $40,000 Patek Philippe, right? Wrong. We’ve rounded up five of the best winders, from $40 to $7,000, to help you choose the right one for your budget and your quiver of timepieces.
Versa Compact Automatic Dual Watch Winder
For the new collector who’s just getting his wrists wet
Looking a little retro, almost like an aftermarket tachometer on the dash of a late ’60s muscle car, the Versa Compact Automatic Dual Watch Winder handles two watches at a time.
The housing of this tidy little unit from Versa can rotate to different positions so you can see your babies whichever way you’d like. It’s got a built-in timer and three rotation mode options: clockwise, counter-clockwise or bi-directional (tip: you need to know which winding mode your trusty automatic uses). And you can augment the directional settings with multiple turns-per-day options ranging from 1,140 to 5,760. The Versa will wind, rest, and repeat the cycle, which is essentially what you do on a daily basis. - Ed Estlow
For the growing collector who’d rather spend his money on watches
We don’t blame you for not wanting to drop an entire watch budget on a pricey winder, but it’s no secret that cheap watch winders are often as unreliable as a Yugo. We’re not sure why it’s so complicated to build a little machine that spins in a circle without breaking down after a few months, but apparently it is, so we were happy to discover an affordable quad winder from Brookstone with a 2-year replacement warranty for just under two Benjamins. It may not be as impressive as pricier winders, but it’ll get the job done, winding four of your timepieces for the price of a bespoke leather strap. - David Shapiro
For the minimalist
A Gear Patrol favorite, the Swiss KubiK is a study in Swiss-made minimalism and quality. As the name suggests, this is the winder Picasso would have owned during a certain phase of his career. But don’t mistake simplicity for simplistic. The KubiK is fully programmable via their website and a USB connection, so you can fine tune the winder to the specifications of your treasured timepiece. With its silent motor and unassumingly modernist aesthetic, this is the perfect winder to keep on a bookcase. Though Swiss KubiK sells multi-watch winders, we’d prefer to stack up the single ones in a sort of grown-up horological game of blocks. - Jason Heaton
Wolf Designs Roadster
For the classicist who likes his winders to look as good as his watches
If you think parking a Ferrari in a garage teeming with boxes of junk is as ridiculous as putting a fine timepiece in a chintzy plastic winder, the Wolf Roadster is worth considering. The black pebble leather-wrapped winder and storage box comes in one- to eight-watch configurations, all with slots above the winders for extra storage. Featuring an exotic ebony Macassar wood veneer face plate and chrome hardware, this winder is far from a simple utilitarian device. Nylon gears enable near-silent operation, so don’t hesitate to display this winder prominently in your bedroom or study. Sure, it can run in your safe for 6 months thanks to the battery power option, but locking something this beautiful up just feels sacrilegious to us. - David Shapiro
Scatola Del Tempo 3RTM
For uncompromising super-collectors with Swiss bank accounts
If you’re going to spend money on a machine that does what you can do for free with your own two hands, then you should do it right, which is why I love Scatola Del Tempo winders. Not only are they the first name in winders — and, indeed, the creators of the original watch winder — but they’re ridiculously expensive, which somehow seems appropriate for this hobby. How expensive? They range in price from $600 to well over $100,000 for armored watch safes that can wind up to 64 individual timepieces. Yeah, we’re talking walking-around money here. If you really want to get fancy, you can even purchase a diamond-encrusted single winder for $400,000.
But our favorite is the mid-range 3RTM, which can wind three watches simultaneously. The 3RTM is crafted from solid brass and leather and, like all Scatola Del Tempo winders (save for the economy line, which we will never mention again), is handcrafted in Italy with Swiss manufactured motors. From an aesthetic standpoint, it’s a steampunk vision come to life, with exposed gears, polished surfaces and a level of detail that stands in stark contrast to the bland, corporatized world we live in today. Simply put, it’s beautiful — che bella!
Of course, all the good looks in the world don’t mean a thing if your Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Equation of Time isn’t staying wound, and in this, the 3RTM has you covered. For starters it’s completely programmable, with 10 different programs that you can tailor to the specific needs of your watch; God forbid you lose power, it features a battery back-up to keep your Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Grand Réveil wound until the lights come back on.
True, you can buy far cheaper winders that do what this one does, if with considerably less style and panache, but why would you? You already ponied up for a Patek Philippe Grande Complication — don’t cheap out on us now. - Adam Craniotes