Here’s What Happens When you Wind a Watch Backward

Winding and setting the time backward on a watch is done from time to time. Is it harmful to wind the watch backward? It’s a big discussion for many watch enthusiasts who don’t want to damage their watches.

Since it’s very important to take care of your watches, it’s also essential to know how to care for the watches, including the small weird kinks like the backward winding and time setting. Another closely related topic is whether you can overwind watches. I have written a whole article on that as a separate topic.

Winding a watch backward can be harmful to the internal components of the watch. A movement of a watch is made to go forwards. Watches are made with a disengagement setting that disconnects the winding stem from the winding mechanism when wound backward to prevent damages.

In the following sections, I will disclose why it can be harmful to the watch and why it’s not most of the time. Because watch manufactures know how consumers behave, and they don’t have returning customers complaining about their product, they have done some simple tricks to prevent damages.

Is it Bad to Wind a Watch Backwards?

When winding a mechanical or automatic watch, the winding is done with a clockwise rotation of the crown.

You can’t wind a watch backward. Mechanical watches have a mechanism that disengages the gears when wound backward, meaning the crown will spin with no effect. Since batteries power quartz watches, it’s not possible to wind the watch.

The winding is what makes the mechanical and automatic watches tick. Whereas quartz watch owners will have a battery to do the work for them. This is also one of the reasons mechanical watches are so expensive.

Winding the movement of a watch is very easy and only requires the clockwise rotation of the crown. However, when winding a mechanical watch, it’s important to stop when you start to feel resistance.

In contrast, an automatic watch will wind itself from the wrist movement. However, if the watch has been lying around for some time and has stopped, a good way to get it going before putting it on the wrist is by winding it.

Furthermore, automatic watches have a slip-clutch, which means the winding will stop when the watch is fully wound. This way, you won’t damage the watch by overwinding, like you can with mechanical watches.

However, when you are going to wind a watch backward (by turning the crown counterclockwise), the winding mechanism won’t move. This is easily seen with watches that have a transparent case back.

The reason the winding mechanism will stop moving is because of disengagement between the stem and the first gear.

If you want your watch to be wound and ready, you can get a watch winder. Just take your precautions (I have a post about it). You can read more about it HERE.

The Process of Winding a Watch (And Why You Can’t Wind it Backward)

The first step in winding a watch is turning the crown forward (clockwise rotation). When turning the crown (labeled number 1, you can’t actually see the crown), the stem is turning the first gear in the watch’s movement.

Winding an automatic watch: The process
Winding an automatic watch: The process

The first gear of interaction is called the winding pinion (labeled 2). This gear converts the vertical rotation to a horizontal rotation. Every time you turn the crown, the stem and the winding pinion will engage in winding the watch.

The crown wheel (labeled 3) will start to make a horizontal rotation and transfer the winding energy further in the winding mechanism.

The crown wheel is what turns the ratchet wheel (labeled 4). The ratchet wheel has a squared center connecting the arbor to the mainspring.

Therefore, when the ratchet wheel is turned, the squared center will rotate the center of the mainspring, causing it to wind.

The repair of a watch movement. Visually see the crown wheel, ratchet wheel, mainspring barrel, and how they are connected.

The ratchet wheel is what winds the mainspring that is inside the mainspring barrel (labeled 5). The mainspring barrel holds the mainspring, wound from the center of the barrel through the ratchet wheel.

So Why Can’t It Wind Backward?

The reason the winding mechanism can’t wind backward is due to the connection between the crown and the stem.

When the crown is turned counterclockwise, you will experience that the crown will start turning with no counterforce.

Although this feels very wrong, it’s very right.

This is done to prevent you from turning the mainspring backward. Since the mainspring is coiled in one direction, forcing it to twist in the opposite direction would permanently damage the mainspring and result in a costly repair.

Can You Adjust Time Backwards?

There are many different opinions regarding setting the time and winding the watch, some are facts, and some are myths.

The first fact is that mechanical watches with a date shouldn’t be adjusted when the hour hand is between 9 PM (21:00) to 3 AM (03:00). This is only one way you can damage your watch (link to another of my articles).

Setting the time backward won’t cause any damage to modern watches. The mechanism that would usually turn the gears and mainspring will be disengaged from the movement of the time setting.

How to change time correct

The mechanism in a watch that makes it possible to set the time backward is the cannon pinion. The cannon pinion is what turns the hands on the dial by the movement of the gears.

The cannon pinion acts as a slip clutch. When you are moving the hands backward, you won’t actually be turning the wheels and gears, only the hands.

Jonas Henriksen

AllInWatches is founded by Jonas, who has a great interest in mechanical watches. All aspects of manual and automatic (mechanical) watches is a big interest and have been a passion since 2015, where the first automatic watch was purchased. Seeing the transparent case back and discovering the heritage of watchmaking piqued an interest in horology.

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