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Are wind up watches making a comeback?

Who wants to wind their own watch rather than let a battery take the strain? Not many, we bet

Published: 12 Jun 2024

The manually wound movement is having a moment. Let's get this straight – as we charge further into the world of AI, a mechanical watch that needs powering up via the crown is getting more popular. The question is, why?

All mechanical timepieces once had to be wound up by hand. The automatic movement, where a rotating weight winds the mainspring, was first put into pocket watches back in the 1700s, but did not come into regular use until the proliferation of the wristwatch in the Twenties. For the first few decades of the wristwatch, the majority kept on with the manually wound movement. But automatic was the cutting edge and steadily became more widespread. By the time automatic chronographs were introduced at the end of the Sixties, auto winder had become the watch engine of choice.

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Shortly after that, though, Roger Moore wore a flashy digital watch in 1973’s Live and Let Die and officially ushered in the electronic age. At that point, people would happily pay the price of a new car for a watch that made them look like James Bond.

It didn’t last, of course. By the Eighties, digital watches – along with all battery powered watches – were no longer the preserve of plutocrats and super spies.

This left a gap in the market. People who wanted fancy watches started to turn back to mechanical. By the Nineties, a mechanical watch renaissance was underway that has seen traditional watches not only refusing to disappear, but becoming ever more popular.

That rebirth was led by automatic movement. But then someone said “hang on, what is even more old school than automatic?” Various brands starting marketing ‘hand wound’ in the same tone as ‘handmade’, as something desirable, extra posh, even though all they’d really done is take a step back in time.

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There are some advantages to a hand wound watch, which has fewer working parts. Nerdy types argue endlessly over automatic versus manual. But the same as with cars, people mostly choose manual for the involvement and the feel. And as we all spend more time tethered to various screens, it’s no wonder that lots of us are falling for a bit of retro charm.

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