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Watch 101: What is a Watch Crown and Why It is Important?
A small ribbed knob or a rounded cut diamond mostly located at the 3 o'clock position, the watch crown is an essential and integral part of wristwatches. Despite the evolution of watches from manual winding to digital ones, a watch crown remains a vital and complex yet underappreciated part of watches. Even in a certain type of smartwatch, a crown is still used to allow the wearer to update or adjust features in the watch.
What is a watch crown?
Shortly, a crown is the obvious part of a watch that everyone would know and notice in the first place. It commonly functions to adjust the time on the main dial but the function becomes more diverse and complex depending on the features offered by the watch. In a mechanical watch, a crown certainly plays a significant role as it is used to make the overall function of the watch work. The crown allows the wearer to wind a watch mainspring and gives power to the watch's internal movement.
In the common cases, the crown is mostly positioned at the 3 o'clock position but different positions can also be spotted in many watch brands depending on the purpose it offers. It is actually part of the watch’s internal movement and this is the only part that can be touched. Considering its position that is somewhat exposed on the watch case, it can sometimes negatively affect the comfort of wearing a watch. Therefore, a watchmaker comes with a solution to provide a left-hand design with the crown located at the 9 or even 4 o'clock position.
Although this small part seems to be hard and can withstand tough conditions, it could also be worn down and break from harsh knocks as they protrude out of the side of the watch case. Therefore, despite the invention of crown guards to protect the crown, regular service is still necessary.
A brief history of the watch crown'
A watch crown didn't start its invention with a humble recognition. Its function was largely high-praised with an important function for a watch. Before the 1800s, using a key was the only way to wind watches as can be seen in grandfather or mantel clock watches. The first concept of having another way to wind and set the time appeared in 1820 by John Arnold. However, John was not the only important person in the development process. The mechanical system was perfected by Antoine Louis-Breguet in 1830 and he simply called it a knob.
From that point onward, the invention, however, was patented in 1838 by Louis Audemars in Le Brassus. The development to make a better one was still continued until a French watchmaker, Jean Adrien Philippe(co-founder of Patek Philippe), invented a sliding pinion mechanism in 1844. This invention was the one that replaced all other systems and was widely adopted as the standard design. The knob was permanently attached to directly interact with the watch movement instead of the ubiquitous winding key.
That was also the time when the little knob gained a title that somehow feels like a royal one called a watch crown. The resulting shape introduced by Jean Adrien somehow resembled the royal crown seen on kings and queens for centuries. In addition to that, the name could be largely accepted considering the fact that, back then, most pocket watches had the winding knob at the 12 o'clock position (the head of the watch).
Therefore, the name "crown" could be utilized as the interpretation of the knob's position and the shape that share a striking resemblance to the crowns of the northern European royalty. As for now, they even come in a high-quality design with special shapes and are well-polished.
Why is the watch crown important?
The name itself simply defines how significant its function for a watch is -- it is the ‘crown’ of a watch and the head position. With that being said, I've ever received an astonishing question of can a watch work without a crown? The most possible answer is that it depends on the condition, especially when it comes to the type of watch movement.
For a quartz movement with the most basic features, it might only be used to set the time but as long as it works correctly, everything would be fine. The movement itself, which is the quartz, does not need the crown to function. However, for manual winding watches that need to be hand-wound consistently in order to function properly, the crown is the most essential part. Without a crown, the movement will stop working as there isn't any energy stored in the mainspring.
As to how the design and placement evolves, their function also becomes more varied, aside from adjusting the time and hacking function, as the watchmakers keep making new inventions and adding complications to a watch. In mechanical watches, a crown allows the wearer to wind a watch's mainspring to provide energy for the internal movement. While in a more complex function, a crown is used to do some configurations for the watch complication such as in world-timer watch, GMT watch, and moon phase watch. On a diving watch, a screwed-down crown with a water-resistant seal helps to assist in keeping moisture out of the watch’s internal movement.
Types of the watch crown
A watch crown also comes in different types and, basically, it is divided into three types. There is a screw-down crown, recessed crown, and regular (push-pull) crown. As the name suggests, a screw-down crown goes down in the case using the same principle of a bolt and a nut. This crown is common in dive watches as it prevents water from entering the internal part of watches.
A recessed crown is just another type that is naturally recessed into the movement, resulting in a seamless look and clear design -- keeping the crown out of sight. Thanks to this crown type, it also helps to improve the comfort of wearing a watch since the crown stays inside the case and doesn't protrude. The last type is the most commonly used design which is a push-pull crown. It's simply used to operate the features in the watch -- pull it to engage it and push it back into position when done.
How to wind a watch crown
Winding a watch crown would be a casual sight for mechanical watches. The wearer should wind the watch regularly in order to make the watch tick. An adequate turning in a clockwise position when the crown is in its first position will make the watch mainspring store and provide energy for the internal movement. Make sure to turn the crown until there is resistance in the turn. This resistance ensures that the mainspring is wounded. It will continue to unwind and release its power when it's needed in the whole process of a watch movement.
As in this case, some might wonder whether an overwinding could happen. Well, once again it depends on the watch movement. If it is an automatic watch where the watch can automatically wind itself along with the wrist movement, it wouldn't be possible to overwind it. The watch has the ability to stop powering the mainspring once it is fully wounded. The rotor inside the watch will simply stop spinning and disengage itself from the mainspring. Therefore, overwinding is not possible in an automatic timepiece.
What about in a manual timepiece where the wearer needs to wind their watch in regular intervals? It could be, but hardly any. The watch mainspring is made with strong materials that are tough to break. So, it's really hard to reach the point where the wearer could possibly wind the mainspring too much. But, if there is a part that coincidentally breaks by winding the watch, it means that the winding goes way too far over the resistance of the watch. Therefore, the key to winding a watch is that you need to feel the resistance.
With all that being said, how often a manual winding watch should be wound? Most manual watches provide about 40-hour of power reserve so that once a day would be fine and the watch will be still working for a day. The common number of windings could be varied but mostly it falls between 30-40 times for a mainspring to be fully wounded.
Watch crown replacement
Getting a watch crown replacement can be done at ease if it is done by professionals. In that case, whenever something unusual happens, it would be better to leave it to the experts. A common problem is when it is detached from the watch and when that happens, don't even try to reattach it. Trying to push it back might cause damage to the watch movement. By that means, the damage would just be worse.
A small part of watches that can be easily spotted and touched, the watch crown could be a delicate part yet should be robust and easy to use. In modern watches, the crown design is also essential to complete the overall look of the watch. The function of a watch crown might be simple, as trivial as turning a knob, yet essential as it could be the main part to make the watch get the power source. It is certainly crucial to the whole functioning of the watch.