You don't "need" a watch winder, because — news flash — you don't "need" an automatic watch, either. People wear automatic watches because they like to and want to, and those are the same types of reasons you might also consider supplementing your watch-wearing enjoyment with hypnotically gyrating winder for your living or working space. But then the question remains: which one's right for you?
You can get a cheap one on Amazon of questionable quality or you can spend thousands of dollars on something handmade, detailed and over-engineered. There's a healthy range of watch winders available, but Wolf and Barrington stand out in the space as go-to makers.
To help you better understand the options, we tested a single-watch winder that's representative of each company.
Based in the UK, Barrington debuted with its Single Winder when the brand launched in 2009, and it remains the company's bread and butter. It's boxy, straightforward and elegantly simple but not bare-bones in terms of available settings. This is the brand's entry-level product and roughly equivalent in price to Wolf's more functionally basic series of watch winders called the Cub. Available in a range of colors (currently seven, in addition to a few special editions), but here, you see it in Midnight Blue.
Capacity: 1 watch
Dimensions: 6.25" (L) x 4.5" (W) x 4.75" (H)
Tracing its history back to 1834 and German silver smith Philip Wolf, the company remains family run and has headquarters in three continents. The brand's catalog of winders is large, with multiple variations offering not only different numbers of winders but more features such as additional built-in storage — with even more variety coming from materials and aesthetic options. The basic design of most Wolf watch winders includes a front glass panel that opens downward. The model tested here has only the basic features (no additional storage), and the Axis features a metal grate-like design for the front (this one in "copper") and a faux-leather exterior.
Capacity: 1 watch
Dimensions: 5.5" (L) x 8" (W) x 7" (H)
Some people might be able to choose a watch winder based on looks alone. Barrington's elongated box design offers stylish, modern simplicity, while Wolf goes for a bit more luxury details and pizzazz.
Compared to Barrington's right angles, Wolf's winder is a subtle rhomboidal shape. The front panel tilts the watch face gently upward and this results in a nice angle for viewing and appreciating your beloved watch as it gracefully rotates. It's also larger than the Barrington, and makes its purpose known: this is not simply a functional tool that conveniently keeps your watch wound and set, but also a way of getting more enjoyment from the watch — and an object to appreciate in and of itself as an animated decoration for your space. Those are the more salient reasons I'd personally want a watch winder, anyway.
The Barington Single Winder will offer the same types of enjoyment, but in a quieter way with an aesthetic that feels, if I may, very Gear Patrol. No controls clutter its look (they're around back), and its glossy finish has a contemporary vibe. In contrast, Wolf's "vegan leather" (not my favorite material) exterior has a softer presence that further highlights its shiny metallic elements. The Wolf Axis winder features a steel panel on the front that gives it an Art Deco aesthetic (it's not functional) like an old speaker or something. Both winders feature a little green light on the front that blinks when in operation.
Both winders passed the basic test of keeping my watches wound and set during testing, so thumbs up for that.
They each also feature a range of further settings, where you can get very specific about the direction (clockwise, counterclockwise or both) and number of rotations per day, and in both cases they're controlled by a pair of knobs. The Wolf is a little more involved: you turn the right hand knob to select the mode and then use plus and minus buttons to select your settings, as displayed on the backlit LCD. In addition Wolf also has a "power reserve" mode where you can set a timer in order to allow your watch to rest.
Aside from slight stiffness in Barrington's knobs, these settings are easy to use — even if I was happy to just leave them on the lowest, which proved sufficient. Barrington's design certainly does remain visually clean, but it can be slightly awkward (more so depending on where you keep it) to reach behind the winder just to turn it on and off. Wolf, on the other hand, requires that you open the cover in order to do so, so each has its own quirks, none of which are big deals. The cover on the Wolf does seem like a good idea for keeping your watch dust-free.
Both companies also have their own specific "cuff" systems. The cuff is the spring-loaded pillow that allows your watch to sit securely in its "barrel" as it rotates. For Barrington, you need to squeeze and "unhitch" it when removing or inserting, whereas Wolf only requires that you push or pull — both are easy enough but in either case it's advisable to secure the winder body with the other hand.
Both winders have a solid build, but Barrington's knobs were so solid as to be borderline stiff — you've got to really grip and crank them, even if it's not something you have to do too often. Wolf, on the other hand, offers more moving parts to evaluate with its closing lid which snaps shut with reassuring click and opens smoothly. There's even a "key" (not a real one) that can nominally keep the case "locked."
Sound is an important consideration in a watch winder — the last thing you want is to be annoyed by a motor every time it starts to turn. Happily, both winders, using Japanese motors, are impressively quiet — but the Wolf is quieter. Putting my ear up close to the Barrington winder, I could indeed hear the motor in action; but doing the same with the Wolf I could only detect the sound of my watch's ticking escapement. That little detail was impressive and gave the Wolf winder the feel of a genuine luxury object.
The comparison of these two winders poses the question of whether the more affordable model feels like some kind of compromise, or if the pricier model feels like a worthy upgrade. Both are nice, without major flaws — I guess part of the reason they're the go-to watch winder makers out there — but each with their own style and approach.
In the end, Barrington is totally sufficient for most people, will offer a stylish touch to your decor and will serve you well. It does not feel like a compromise. Paying Wolf more than double the money to wind the same number of watches gets you a little more control, a more involved build and design (including a truly silent motor), a generally swankier feel and the knowledge that it was made by a company with some real history. You don't need any of that, but I wouldn't stop you from following your heart. I also won't stop you from getting that incredible dive watch that'll probably never get wet.