mécanisme d'une montre mécanique

Owning the most beautiful watch in the world is pretty much pointless if it doesn’t work properly or can’t display the right time. Unless you only wear it for the way it looks, you’ll probably need to set up your watch at some point, so here’s a guide on things to do and not to do to set up and wind a watch.

Keep in mind that the following advice are of general nature and might not apply to some watches. Some manufacturers like to do things differently, fir technical reasons or simply to set themselves apart, so be sure to check your watch manuel or try to get some info from your manufacturer before going any further.

Usually, watches have three positions for the crown, each one used for specific tasks :

  • The regular position, when the crown is resting against the case. It isthe winding position.
  • The middle position, when the crown is pulled out once but not entirely. It is used to change the date.
  • The third position, when the crown is pulled out twice. It is used to set up the time.

Please note that some models have screw-down crowns, which you’ll have to unscrew before doing any of the above, otherwise nothing is going to happen.

How To Wind Your Watch

An essential thing to do, winding your watch should become a reflex to make sure your watch keeps working. A watch that doesn’t tell time is useless, so make sure to take some time to wind it up properly.

Winding a watch is pretty much straightforward. When the crown is in its regular position, turn it going forward if you have the watch in front of you (clockwise for those that might be confused).

  • For hand-wound mechanical watches, you’ll feel that you’ve turned enough when the crown will start being harder to turn. Do no try to force it if you feel resistance, you might damage the watch
  • For self-winding watches (yes, you have to wind them up as well), about 30 turns should be enough. You might wonder, why winding an automatic watch, isn’t it supposed to do it on its own ? True, but an automatic watch will be more accurate if its wound up manually when first using it and when the power reserve low. When the power reserve is low or even out, a few wrist movements will not be enough to completely wind up the watch.

What Not To Do When Setting Up Your Watch

Before setting up your watch, know that there is a “Danger Zone” where you shouldn’t do it, no matter the type of date on your piece. This zone ranges from 9pm to 3am, when the gears of the date-changing mechanism are engaged. It is a slow and complex mechanical process that starts way before the actual date change at midnight and it should not be interrupted.

If you try to change the date during this time, you might end up forcing the gear and breaking it. Which means you’re good to send it to the manufacturer to get it fixed.

Please note that moonphase watches also have a “danger zone”. Usually it is during the same period as more classical watches, but some models tend to do the moonphase change at noon or during the afternoon to avoid using too much of the power reserve during the night. Check your watch manual or ask the manufacturer before trying to set up your moonphase watch.

How To Set Up The Time And Date

In order to set the date of your watch, you need to know what type of mechanism it uses. There are two main type of dates : the “scrolling” date display and the jumping date, as well as sometimes a quick changing feature.

  • The scrolling date is longer and continuous. Typically dates slowly scroll through the date window and you often can see two dates at the same time when the change is halfway, such as the 3 of 23 and the 2 of 24 for instance.
  • The jumping date is faster. Around midnight the new date will instantly change, “jumping” to display the new date.

If those two type of dates do not have a quick change feature, you will have too change the date by turning the minute and hour hands (usually with the crown in the third position) to go from one day to another until the right one. Then you just have to set the time and you’re good to go.

  • The date quick change is a set up feature. It allows to quickly change the date using the crown, without having to turn the minute and hour hands.

For a watch with a quick date feature, things are a bit different. First you have to pull the crown all the way out to the third position and set the time around 6.30 (or any other time outside of the “danger zone”). Then you need to put the crown in the intermediary position and change the date until the day before the one you want. Then put the crown in the third position again, rotate the hands to go to the next day and set the time.

How To Set The Moon phase

The moonphase ! While it’s probably not the most practical complication in the smartphone era, it sure is a whimsical and beautiful one with something really poetic about it. If you own one, here’s how to set a moonphase watch.

Before setting up the moonphase display on your watch, you’ll obviously need to know the current moon phase. There’s two ways to go about it depending on how you stand on accuracy. If you don’t mind a rough estimate you’ll just have to check a lunar calendar, or look up at the sky if you really know your stuff about moon phases, and use the quick set to display the closest moon phase on your watch.


A beautiful Moonphase indicator on the Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde.

Not the most accurate way, this method might not be the best for those that do not like approximations. If that’s your case you will have to use the second way to set your moonphase, which is more precise but also a bit more tedious. First check a moon phase calendar and look for the day of the last full moon or new moon, depending on which one is the closest. Then set the date of your watch to this day and set the moonphase display on the right moon.

Finally, depending on your watch you will have to either count the number of days between the date and the current day and push the quick set button accordingly or put the crown in the third position and turn the hands to get to the current date, with the moonphase adjusting itself accordingly.