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Do Mechanical Watches Need To Be Wound Regularly To Prevent Damage?

Empiricus T. from Singapore asks:

I’m from the small island state of Singapore where we have quite a small but active group of watch lover. I am a budding collector myself and I want to ask if automatic watches will be damaged if I do not wear it regularly nor do I place it on a watch winder? I read that if automatic watches do not move over a certain period of time, the lubricating oil and synthetic rubies in it will wear down. True? If this is the case, then many retailers might be handing over ‘damaged’ watches to us since many leave their watches in the shelf without much TLC. Thanks!

The short answer is “yes,” watches need to operate regularly in order to prevent damage. But again, the type of movement and the climate you live in can effect this greatly. Most mechanical watch movements use a variety of oils and greases applied in tiny amounts for lubrication. Some of these can get hard and prevent a movement from operating normally (or at all) if the watch is left sitting for too long. The question is, “what is too long?” We wouldn’t say that you need to leave your automatic watch on a winder or wind your manually wound timepieces daily. However, at least each couple of weeks you should wind them up a bit to get the oils flowing.

We’ve suggested this to a few brands in the past, but as of now, we don’t know of winder makers that have a “long term storage” function that simply moves a watch a few times a week in order to keep it operating. This is because it is a balance. You want to keep the oils in the watch ready, but you don’t want to prematurely put wear-and-tear on a movement.

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  • Thanatos42

    Could you explain the physical process that causes oils inside a sealed watch to chemically age and harden more when they are not being subjected to forces inside the movement?  This never made any sense to me.

  • John Smith