A pocket watch is truly a treasure and worthy of every penny it costs. It is a great investment that will bring joy and prestige to the owner for many years. However, this will only happen when the watch is properly taken care of. 

 A pocket watch is wound by properly turning the mainspring which is embedded in the mainspring barrel. A key-wind watch is wound differently from a stem-wound watch.

When it comes to taking care of a vintage watch, the most important thing is knowing how to wind it. In this article, you’ll discover how to wind your pocket watch and take proper care of it. 

What does it mean to wind a pocket watch?

Vintage pocket watches come in two types: a stem-wound watch or a key-wound watch. Winding a watch means you are turning the mainspring embedded inside the mainspring barrel. The barrel is a small metal can that protects the mainspring from exploding like a slinky.

How to wind a stem-wind pocket watch?

A stem-wind watch is wound by turning the winding crown in a clockwise direction. The winding wheel has a ratcheting mechanism that makes the watch wind in just one direction. 

The opposite direction ratchets backward to make winding it easier. If you’re right-handed, you must hold the watch in your left hand and wind it with the right. The winding stroke is the forward stroke of your thumb.

If you hear or feel any grinding noise when turning the winding knob, then stop winding immediately. It’s a sign that something in the winding mechanism is wrong or is not being engaged properly. It may also be a sign that it needs professional services. 

Many wheels and gears are involved in winding a pocket watch, and when any of them are damaged, it can result in a rough winding. The best option is to have the watch checked because if you continue finding it forcefully, it will cause damage.

How to wind a key-wind watch

For this kind of watch, you find the mainspring by turning a key that fits through a hole in the back of the watch case. The key is cut with a square hole at the end that fits over a square winding arbor in the watch. 

When you turn the key, it turns the mainspring automatically. A key-wind watch can be turned in either direction, clockwise or anticlockwise, depending on the watch. However, it’s usually clockwise. 

You can determine this by trying to turn the key gently in a clockwise direction. If it’s easier to turn against the spring section and you hear or feel the click of the ratchet, it means you’re turning in the right direction. 

However, if you gave resistance, or you feel like something is slipping, it means you’re trying to turn in the wrong direction. People with bigger hands may find it easier to hold the key and turn the watch. I’d you’re not sure about the right key size for your watch, you can check it online.

What should I do if I lose my pocket watch winding keys?

If you have a vintage watch or a key-wind watch but have lost the key for it, you can always buy replacement keys. You can get full sets of winding keys at. Visit their page and head straight to the  HYPERLINK “http://www.pocketwatchrepair.com/acc.html” \o “http://www.pocketwatchrepair.com/acc.html”Watch Accessories section. They also have custom keys in different sizes. 

What are some common winding problems with pocket watches?

If you’re having difficulties winding your watch, there are several reasons for this:

  • If the winding crown or key keeps turning and you can’t feel any tension on the mainspring, then it might be broken or missing.
  • If you can’t get the key or winding crown to turn in any direction, the watch is fully wound. The watch may have some other problem, and that’s why it won’t run.
  • If the hole in your watch case is not in line with the winding square in the key-wind movement, it means your watch is not in the appropriate case. It would be best if you got the proper case for your watch.

How many times should I wind my vintage pocket watch?

Normally, a mechanical pocket watch should run for at least 24-28 hours in the mainspring’s full wind. Thirty hours or more is excellent. Some watches can run for much longer periods. 

For instance, higher-grade watches can run for 36-48 hours. Dalvey’s modern pocket watches can run for 30-40 hours.Models such as the Illinois Bunn Special “Motor Barrel* can run for 60 hours.

Watches can run for longer times due to the efficient, low-friction movement that enables the watch to run on low mainspring power. This ensures that a thinner mainspring can be used and will allow a longer mainspring to fit into the same size mainspring barrel. 

Ideally, a vintage pocket watch must be wound once a day if you use it regularly. Get used to winding your watch at the same time every day, for instance, every morning as soon as you wake up. It will teach you consistent timekeeping and prepare the watch for the bumps and bangs that accompany everyday use.

Whenever you wind your pocket watch, wind it to the end. However, don’t wind it forcefully or use a set of pliers to crank it beyond the endpoint, or you’ll break something. 

You shouldn’t be afraid of breaking your mainspring if you’re hand-winding the watch. It’s surprising how many people are so afraid of breaking something that they don’t wind their watches to the end. You may begin to wonder why your watch stops every few hours. If you wind it properly, it will run.

What about pocket watches with winding indicators?

Many high-quality pocket watches were designed with a wind indicator, which is also known as an up-down indicator. This indicator is a small dial that tells the amount of power reserve left in the wound mainspring.

Suppose you’re lucky to have a winding-indicator watch, then you must know how to use it properly. Many uptown indicators come with a scale that points to zero when the world is fully wound and gradually increases to hard numbers as the water runs down. The numbers can also signify the number of hours that have elapsed since the watch was wound last.

If your watch is a wind indicator watch, you must stop winding when the needle on the indicator reaches zero. You can wind a little past the zero mark on many watches, but the spring was designed to provide the best timekeeping by stopping at zero.

In the same way, you must wind each before it drops below 30 to maintain its operation in the middle of the mainspring. Up-down indicators are very rare and expensive. They’re also highly prized by collectors.  

How Can I determine the right key size for my pocket watch?

If you have a key-wind pocket watch with no key, you must make sure that it’s the right size before purchasing one. You can determine what key size is right for winding your pocket watch by measuring the winding square’s size. The winding square is the shaft that is used to set and wind the watch. 

You have to measure the square with a caliper or micrometer accurately. Most times, key-wind watches use a singular key for both winding and setting the watch. 

Modern reproduction keys usually vary from these precise measurements, so if you think you need a #5, you may get a #4 or #6 to ensure that you have the right fit for your watch in case the #5 doesn’t fit your winding square. 

If you use a key that’s too large, it will round off the corners of your winding square, and when this happens, you will not be able to set or wind the watch. On the contrary, using a key that is too small will not fit over the winding square. The best thing to do is buy a complete set so that you can choose the key that perfectly fits your watch.

Below is a pocket watch key size chart with all the keys marked in Euro sizes:

Size of a square (mm) English Key Size Euro Key Size (for instance, Bergeon)
0.90 00 12
1.00 0 11
1.10 1 10
1.19 2 9
1.29 3 8
1.38 4 7
1.47 5 6
1.54 6 5
1.61 7 4
1.68 8 3
1.75 9 2
1.85 10 1
1.90 11 0
2.00 12 00



Having a vintage pocket watch is like having a treasure. It’s a great investment that will stand the test of time if you take proper care of it. Knowing how to wind a pocket watch properly is extremely important in ensuring its longevity. With this information, your vintage pocket watch is certain to last for a very long time.


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