Despite the popularity of quartz movement and self-winding mechanical watches, manually wound watches are still treasured and preferred in many watch aficionado circles. The unique mechanical movement requires winding every so often so that it doesn't lose time, date or other functions.
Is It Even Possible to Over-Wind a Mechanical Watch?
The term "over-winding" is a bit of a misnomer. It's possible to wind a watch until its mainspring is wound as tight as it could possibly get, but it can't be overtightened unless you apply some extreme force to the winding mechanism. Doing just that could break the watch in a variety of ways.
For the most part, it isn't possible to "over-wind" a modern watch with manual mechanical movement. For starters, most modern watches are equipped with winding limiters that actively prevent wearers from bringing the mainspring past its fully wound point. You can feel the limiter kick into action as the winding stem comes to a stop when the mainspring is fully wound. At this point, the only way to over-wind the watch is by forcing the stem past this stopping point.
Older movements, as well as lower-quality movements, often lack these protective limiters. This means the wearer has to be mindful of how many turns were used to wind the watch. However, there's really no such thing as "over-winding" a watch. The mainspring, on the other hand, can be wound completely tight and winding the watch past that point could result in damage to the winding mechanism and other associated components.
What Do People Really Mean When They Say a Watch is Over-Wound?
It's commonly assumed by many people that winding a watch completely tight somehow stops it from working, hence claims that a watch isn't working because it's "over-wound." However, it's not the excessive winding that puts a mechanical watch out of commission. A completely-wound watch can still function as long as the winding stem is released.
There are usually other underlying issues that are preventing the watch from working properly. One of the most common issues involves years of neglect and a lack of lubrication. Old grease and oil can thicken and harden over time, causing it to bind the gears or mainspring coil. In most cases, the watch has to be disassembled, properly cleaned and lubricated to restore original function.
If your watch doesn't work no matter how much you wind it or if you buy a watch and the seller claims it's "over-wound," then it's a good idea to have a watch repair specialist, like the ones at Jewelry Clinic, give it a thorough inspection.