The winding crown is an important part of a watch; aside from its functionality, it can be an exquisite piece of art. An unattractive winding crown may distract from the beauty of the watch; this could affect its value and price. The winding crown is used daily; it winds and sets a manual-wind watch. It is the only part of the watch’s movement that a wearer can touch.

The winding crown sets the time of a watch; it also functions as a winding mechanism. The winding crown protects the watch from water; it makes it water resistant. The design and style of many winding crowns can often be beautiful masterpieces of art; others are purely functional.

The winding crown got its name because of the pocket watch; it was horizontally mounted to the cases with a protective ring surrounding them; this made them resemble a northern European royal crown. The winding crown is attached to a watch’s movement by a threaded cam.

History Of The Winding Crown

The winding crown was developed because of practicality. The keys used in pocket watches before the winding crown were susceptible to damage and could easily be misplaced. Jean Adrien Philippe, the French watchmaker, developed the winding crown in 1842; he was also one of the founders of the Patek Phillippe watch company.

The winding and setting key allowed dust and other residues to build up inside the movement and didn’t provide much protection. The resulting winding crown used caps to screw over the crown; eventually, threads were integrated into the design of these crowns. By 1881, the screw-down crown appeared for the first time.

By July 1926, a spring-loaded, screw-down crown with gaskets was introduced by Hans Wildorf; he bought a patent granted to Perregaux and Perret on 17 May 1926. The original design by Perregaux and Perret was modified and improved considerably by Hans Wilsdorf and his team at Rolex; the waterproof Oyster wristwatch had arrived.

The new seal patented by Hans Wildorf provided insulation between the case and the crown. The waterproof system included a crown with a metal gasket screwed into a tube inside the watch case; the tube is also known as a futor.

By 1953, the Rolex Submariner was manufactured; it was designed as a diving watch. Rolex became the pioneers with their twinlock winding crown; this replaced the previous single metal gasket. The twinlock system created two sealed zones; most Rolex watches use the twinlock crown.

The twinlock ensures a waterproof system to 100 meters depths or 300 feet. There are two dots under the crown logo on a Rolex watch. The system uses two rubber gaskets; one rubber o-seal is inside the watch’s tube, and the other is on the watch case; even if the crown is unscrewed, the watch’s tube stops water from getting into the case.

The triplock crown system was launched by Rolex in 1970; it has three sealed zones, first introduced in the Sea-Dweller diving watch. Ten years later, in 1977, Rolex used the triplock crown in their Submariner watches. Today, all Rolex diving watches include the option of the triplock crown.

The triplock design uses ten different components and four gaskets. The thicker tubes and extra gaskets allow for greater water resistance. A Rolex triplock crown is indicated by three dots under the crown logo on the winding crown.  

The Submariner provides a waterproof system to depths of 300 meters (1000 feet), the Sea-Dweller to 1220 meters (4000 feet), and the Deepsea to 3900 meters (12800 feet). Rolex uses the triplock crown in other watches, like the Daytona in 1972, the GMT-Master II in 2007, and the Yacht-Master I and II; these watches have 100-meter (around 300 feet) water resistance.

Functions Of A Winding Crown

The main functions of the winding crown in watches are:

  • Wind the watch
  • Set the time of the watch
  • Activate the chronograph for the stopwatch function
  • Protects the watch from water and ensures water resistance
  • Design and styling
  • The winding crowns of some watches are iconic in their design and style; many famous names have logos or cabochons on their crowns depicting the brand.

Winding And Setting A Watch

If a watch is not worn, it shouldn’t be left unwound for long periods. The oils and lubricants in the movement of unwound watches may thicken and cause the watch to stop functioning correctly. Wind the watch once every two or three weeks.

Winding a watch that hasn’t been worn in a while requires unscrewing the crown and winding it fully before setting the time. Turn the crown clockwise until resistance is felt; the watch is would when this resistance is felt. Overwinding a watch can result in damage to the watch.

The best way to wind a mechanical watch is to rotate the crown when it is nearest the case; in this position, the watch is closed. Winding should be done clockwise, never anti-clockwise. These watches should be wound fully daily or every forty hours. Watches with a tourbillon movement must be wound every three days or every eighty hours.

In an automatic mechanical watch, it should be wound about twenty to twenty-five times every morning. An unworn mechanical automatic watch probably needs to be wound about thirty times every two or three weeks.

It is simple to set the time on a watch; pull the crown out to its furthest position from the base and set the time accurately. To determine whether a watch is set to AM or PM, wind the crown clockwise until the date starts to change; this is a sign the watch is at midnight and is set for PM.

If the watch is set incorrectly, never turn the crown counterclockwise; this could damage the watch’s movement. Continue to wind the watch again until the correct time is reached. Once the time is set correctly, push the crown back into place.

Mechanical watches usually have three positions for the crown; each has a different function: in its first position, a watch can be manually wound, or the crown can be unscrewed. The second position changes the watch’s date, and the third is to change the time.

The Chronograph Function

Chronograph watches have stopwatch functions; it is possible to set the moon phase and some other operations. The chronograph function is available to make intermediate time measurements; it is often used with a chronometer, an additional mechanism added to the main movement.

Chronographs can be either integrated or modular; integrated chronographs are built into the base movements and work together. Modular chronographs are independent units that operate through the second wheel pinion.

Common Crown Shapes

  • Straight crowns: the straight crown is very popular because it is simple in appearance and can be used easily. Most classic collector-exclusive watches have this type of winding crown.
  • Onion-shaped crowns: the onion crown gets its name from its shape; it has a pronounced bulb shape and is popular with aviators as it is easy to use with gloves.
  • Conical crowns: these crowns are rounded with a ribbed top and sloping sides. The shape of this crown resulted from aviation, where a watch could be wound while wearing gloves.
  • Crowns with cabochon: the cabochon crown consists of a small round or oval decorative gemstone placed on top to add luxury to a watch.
  • Push-button crowns: push-button crowns have a stopwatch-style button; this style is common in chronographs. The button can be tapped easily to start, stop, and reset the chronograph.
  • Inset or screw-down crowns: these crowns are a feature of water-resistant watches; they create a seal between the watch movement and the outside world.

Components Of A Winding Crown

Approximately eleven components form part of the winding crown system in a watch. 


Watch gaskets are usually made of special rubber or neoprene; some are made from plastic. Gaskets protect watches from dust, water, perfume, oil, and other residues. There are several types of gaskets in watches:

  • Tube gasket: this component guarantees water resistance between the tube and middle case.
  • Crown gasket: this is the second waterproof barrier that is compressed against the tube when the crown is screwed down.
  • Outer waterproof gasket: the first waterproof barrier outside the tub also works when the crown is screwed down.


  • First inner o-ring: this component of the third waterproof barrier is located inside the tube; it also works when the crown is screwed down.
  • Second inner o-ring: another component of the third waterproof barrier, also positioned inside the tube and functioning when the crown is screwed down.

Piston components

  • Piston clutch ring: this component forms part of the crown sleeve and restricts the piston until the crown is unscrewed; once unscrewed, the piston will engage.
  • Piston: the piston is the moving part between the crown spring and the clutch ring.

Winding stem

The winding stem joins the watch movement and the crown to manually wind and set the watch.

Crown components

  • Crown tube: the crown tube screws onto the case, and the crown screws into the crown tube.
  • Crown spring: the crown string pushes out the crown when it is unscrewed; it enables the piston to engage with the winding crown stem.
  • Crown: the crown screws down onto the tube to ensure water resistance.

Winding Crowns And Brands

The winding crown sometimes gets damaged or broken but can be replaced easily and at a reasonable price. However, if the crown has a brand logo, it may be more costly to replace. Some brands sporting winding crown logos include Rolex Submariner, the Cartier Tank, the Patek Philippe Nautilus, the IWC Big Pilot, and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.

In 1972, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak appeared on the watchmaking scene in response to the quartz crisis. The quartz crisis describes the upheaval in the watchmaking industry with the advent of quartz watches in the 1970s and early 1980s. The winding crown on the Royal Oak watch replicates the shape of its case; It displays the AP logo on the crown.

Similarly, the Rolex submariner displays the iconic Rolex coronet crown logo with three dots to indicate the triplock crown. Rolex, now based in Geneva, was established in 1905 in London by Hans Wilsdorf, 24.

The Patek Philippe Nautilus was introduced in 1976; its unique octagon-shaped bezel competed directly with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watch. The watch’s unusual shape, inspired by a ship’s porthole, is 3mm larger than the Royal Oak; the name comes from the submarine featured in Jules Verne’s classic novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Nautilus has a flat sapphire crystal on its crown.

The Cartier Tank watch, created by Louis Cartier in 1917, is recognizable and has sharp square lines; the crown is a blue cabochon sapphire. Louis Cartier, the jeweler, loved military tanks from WW1 and was inspired to create the Cartier Tank.

Another wartime watch is the IWC Big Pilot; this timepiece was created specifically for wartime pilots in 1940. The IWC Big Pilot has a large conical crown that lets pilots set the time while wearing gloves. The IWC watch was relaunched in 2002; the crown has kept its classic conical design.

Since around the mid-1950s, branding became popular; in older pre-1950s watches, logos were rare. Logos should be considered when buying older watches. Logos on the winding crowns of older watches will have been an add-on to the original timepiece.

Waterproof Vs. Water-Resistant Crowns

With the advent of the Rolex Oyster watch in 1926, watches became waterproof. In 1927, Mercedes Gleitze wore a Rolex Oyster watch in her second attempt to swim across the English Channel; she wore the watch around her neck. After 10 hours of swimming, she had to be taken out of the water; the watch withstood the water.

The term ‘waterproof’ was used at the outset; today, it is not a term that is used; instead, ‘water-resistant’ is used. Two international standards regulate the testing of watches: ISO 22810:2010 Horology – Water-resistant watches and ISO 6425:1996 Divers’ watches.

Watches can never really be waterproof; conditions will always lead to a watch being flooded. Watches must be pressure tested to determine whether they are water-resistant; special machines are used for this process. A bar / Atmosphere (Atm) is a measurement of pressure 1 bar/Atm = approximately 33 feet or 10 meters. A watch rated for 10 Bar is the same as 330 feet or 100 meters.

The machine to pressure tests a watch has a sensitive sensor that measures tiny changes in the watch’s size while under pressure; this indicates whether a watch is water-resistant or not. A watch must specify the depth to which it is water-resistant; if there is no specification or the watch is vintage, it is probably best to assume that it would not be water-resistant.

Rain and splashes are acceptable at a depth of 30 meters, but no shallow swimming or submersion, and no surfing, snorkeling, or spearfishing is possible. At a 50-meter depth, a watch can be water-resistant to rain and splashes and shallow swimming or submersion but not surfing, snorkeling, or spearfishing. From depths of 300 meters, rain, splashes, shallow swimming or submersion, surfing, snorkeling, or spearfishing is possible.


Winding crowns are attached to a watch’s movement; they are multi-functional. Winding crowns are used to wind, set a watch, and make it water-resistant. A watch’s winding crown is delicate, robust, and easy to use. Combining a threaded stem compressed against the synthetically made o-rings makes a watch more water-resistant. The winding crown may not be the most elaborate part of a watch; it’s what makes a modern watch possible and is a crucial part of the functioning of a watch.


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