Does My Watch Need a Winder?

Do you need a watch winder? The answer is as varied as the timepieces wound on them.

Useful but often misconstrued, watch winders are mechanisms, usually in the form of a box or a container, meant to mimic the actions of a human wrist. By doing so, winders keep the movement of an automatic watch greased and functioning, and maintain the power reserve. The winder can also shelter a watch from dust and prevent other objects from scratching or rubbing against it.

But not everyone is a fan.

If a watch is manual-wind or quartz, a winder is unnecessary: It won’t wind the manual-wind watch and it won’t help the quartz watch’s battery.

Manufacturers say winders are incredibly convenient and largely necessary for multifunction timepieces like perpetual calendars or other grand complication watches.

Patek Philippe’s Celestial, for example, has a self-winding mechanical movement, and the date is set by hand, as are the hours and minutes of mean solar time; a sky chart; and the phases and orbit of the moon, among other features. The rose-gold grand complication begins at $331,180.

“You’ve just got to keep that on a winder,” said Gary Getz, 67, a watch collector in Northern California. “If not, you’re sending it to a watchmaker to figure out how to set it.”

Mr. Getz said he kept five of his roughly 30 serious pieces on winders.

Some luxury brands, like Audemars Piguet, for example, include a winder with the purchase of specific watches, like its Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar, from $106,000.

“All automatic watches should have a watch winder,” said Sacha Sarkissian, vice president of sales at Totally Worth It, the New Jersey-based North American distributor of the winder brands SwissKubik, based in Switzerland, and Scatola del Tempo, based in Italy. “Collectors of high quality watches use a watch winder as a tool to protect [their watch], and exercise it while in storage.”

For a single watch, a SwissKubik Startbox retails for $540 and a Scatola del Tempo Rotor One for $615, Mr. Sarkissian said.

However, some watch aficionados are unconvinced, saying that the wear and tear potentially sustained with continuous motion could outweigh the benefits.

“Putting a watch that’s not difficult to set on a winder because someone told you so is like leaving a car running 24/7,” said Halim Trujillo, 50, a watch collector and the editor in chief of the website Watch Collecting Lifestyle. “It puts stress on the mechanism. If it’s running nonstop you might as well have it on your wrist,” the Dallas-based Mr. Trujillo said, adding that he keeps three of his approximately 30 watches on winders because they are perpetual calendars.

For others, part of the joy of owning a watch is the ritual of setting its time.

Scott Vogelgesang, 35, wears his Longines Master Collection chronograph ($3,325), given to him the night before his wedding by his bride, about once or twice a month. He looked into buying a winder but then decided not to.

“I don’t find it that painful or difficult to put on the watch and set the time and date,” said Mr. Vogelgesang, an automotive product manager in Santa Barbara, Calif., though he did add that if he “greatly expanded” his collection, he would reconsider getting a winder. For the moment, “it’s a ritual that reminds me of my wedding day, which makes me smile,” he said.

A watch owner interested in purchasing a winder should keep a few details in mind. Winders are either battery powered or plug into an outlet, an important distinction if the winder is being stored in a safe without an interior power source. The owner should also verify that the winder’s motor is shielded so it does not magnetize the watch, causing it to gain or lose time erratically.

The most useful winders, experts say, are those with multiple settings, allowing a choice of speed and duration; an option of clockwise or counterclockwise motion; and a precise selection of turns per day.

“I cannot stress this enough: know your turns per day,” said Michael Jappert, global sales director of Wolf 1834, a maker of watch winders, referring to the ideal number of revolutions for a specific timepiece to work properly. The number should be available on the brand’s website or by calling customer service.

Mr. Jappert said Wolf winders count turns per day, a patent exclusive to the company, and that for every 24 hours each winder maxes out at six hours of motion. “It could be 30 minutes here, 15 minutes there. Humans don’t work out every hour of every day, so your watch shouldn’t either,” he said. Wolf winders range from the entry-level Cub single-watch winder with cover ($349) to a Churchill 24-piece winder safe ($113,995). Some can be set and monitored via Bluetooth.

At Bezel, the Los Angeles-based online and app-based watch marketplace, one of the most frequently asked questions is whether to purchase a winder, said Quaid Walker, its co-founder and chief executive.

“It comes down to personal opinion,” he said.

When clients ask that question, he uses it as a moment to reassure and to educate.

“It’s a tool on your wrist,” Mr. Walker, 29, said. “Enjoy it. Insure it. If you want the tactical connection, don’t buy a winder. If you have a large collection and want to showcase your watches, it’s a convenient and fun accessory.”