If you have ever owned an automatic watch, you’ve probably wondered whether it was safe to leave your watch unwound. Maybe you were planning to keep it in a safe box for a while or were just curious.
Well, the truth is that well-made high-quality automatic watches (like these ones) can be left unwound for periods as long as 2 months. In fact, some users have claimed that after receiving a watch that hadn’t been used for months, they simply wound it and it ran like a champ.
The biggest debate now is the length of the period that it will stay safe.
Is it a few days, weeks, months, or years?
What are the risks of leaving the watch for too long?
Similar to mechanical watches, automatic type relies on oil and lube for lubrication. It moves through the fine mechanism by capillary action. So when it remains in the same position for too long, the oil may coagulate or thicken. It’s also possible for thin oil to move out of the right section.
Winding it in this state may cause too much friction between the unlubed sections. This not only increases wear and tear but may lead to delicate parts snapping. Regular winding helps to ensure proper distribution of the lubrication oil.
Many people also say that a timepiece that is wound infrequently tends to be less accurate than that which is done regularly either through adorning or winding it. It’s for this reason that consumers prefer a unit with 2 or more barrels (largest gear that holds power) instead of one.
How long is too long?
You’ve probably heard of watches that worked like a well-oiled machine despite not being used for many months or years. Top notch watches use synthetic oils which are less likely to congeal in comparison to the traditional animal or vegetable based oils. They are also thinner and this allows them to move easily and also last a longer period.
The biggest problem is usually not about the winding but the state of the parts during winding. Little or no oil means more friction and faster deterioration. To prevent this, some watches have a long power reserve of as many as 50 hours instead of the common 24-40 hours.
Swatch Group prides on watches with 80 hours powered reserve (Powermatic 80), while GMT Master by Rolex has a reserve of 70 hours. The Lange 31 by Lange & Söhne uses patented constant-force escapement technology which gives it a power reserve of 31 days.
From the above observation, it’s clear that manufacturers design the watch to be wound occasionally.
It’s clear that top watches will still function okay even after being unwound for days, weeks, or a few months. Nevertheless, a majority of the consumers agree that regular winding helps to maintain accuracy and also minimizes friction and the likelihood of breakage of the internal mechanics.
If a watch has stayed for a considerable period of time and you are planning to wear it, it’s safer to first take it for service before using it. Turning stuck delicate springs may lead to them snapping.