Wristwatches consist of many different parts that all work together in harmony. In general, there is not one part that is superfluous or unnecessary. Of course, some parts are more important than others - some for function, some for design - but each part still has its place and its purpose.
An important part of a watch, that you’ll find in almost all of them, regardless of the design, is a watch crown.
In this article, we will look closer at this crucial part of a wristwatch and discuss its purpose and what it is all about.
What is a watch crown?
The crown is the part of the watch with which you set the time of the watch. This is the most important aspect of the crown and why it can be found on almost all timepieces. The crown has traditionally been positioned at 3 o’clock, and this is where you will find most watches having it, but different brands and manufacturers also use different positions of their crowns for various purposes. In general, when the crown is large and positioned at 3 o’clock, it can dig into the wrist and negatively affect the comfort when wearing it. This is why some watches have a left-hand design, with the crown positioned at 9 o’clock or even 4 o’clock. Placing it in a different position also allows for a distinct look that stands out.
Oftentimes, the crown can also be used for hand-winding the movement (if it is an automatic or manual movement), assuming the movement is built with a hand-winding function. Furthermore, the crown can in some cases also be used for setting additional functions such as the date, moon phase, or the day functions and many more functions (if the watch has such).
The crown on a time-only watch that has no hand-winding function will only pull out to one position. But if it has additional functions, the crown will pull out to several positions in order to engage the different functions.
Crowns come in all kinds of different designs. Some are screw-down, others are recessed, some are waterproof, others aren’t.
But regardless, the watch crown is a part of a watch that is there because it serves a purpose and a function (or multiple). Note that in most cases, you will only find crowns on analog watches, not digital (in these cases, you normally have buttons), but they are both used on quartz and mechanical movements.
If we are going to be a bit more technical, the crown of a watch is attached to a stem that goes to the movement.
Different manufacturers use different crown designs. Some manufacturers have additional gaskets and safety measures to make them more robust and secure, whilst, in general, more affordable watches have less advanced and complicated constructions. As an example, this is what Rolex’s crown looks like:
Can a watch work without a crown?
Well, yes and no. The movement itself does not need the crown to function. You can view the crown as a lever or button for different settings on an engine. The engine will still run, but sometimes, you may need to use the lever to set different functions and modes. Without the watch crown, you are not able to set the different functions, nor operate the watch. The exception, however, is manual watches, which need to be hand-wound consistently in order to generate energy for the movement. If the watch is not wound, the movement will eventually run out of energy and stop.
Types of watch crowns
In general, you could say that there are three types of watch crowns:
- Screw-down crown
- Recessed crown
- Regular (push-pull) crown
Screw-down crown: A screw-down crown is, as the name suggests, a crown that screws down into the case by using the same principle of a bolt and a nut. The purpose of a screw-down is to prevent water from entering the crown tube and the movement. This is why you usually find screw-down crowns on dive watches, but also other types of watches where the water resistance is an important aspect. A screw-down crown also protects the case from dust.
Recessed crown: A recessed crown is a crown that is naturally recessed into the movement. This usually creates a seamless and ”hidden” look which keeps the crown out of the way and keeps it from harming the overall look and design of the watch. There are also some practical benefits of crown guards. First and foremost, when the crown is recessed into the case, the case actually works as a sort of crown guard. Thanks to this, the crown sits protected, but without using large and perhaps clumsy crown guards which extend from the case. In addition, it also helps improve the comfort of the watch since the watch sits close to the case and doesn’t protrude.
Regular (push-pull) crown: A regular crown is, well, exactly what it sounds like. It’s neither a screw-down crown nor a recessed crown. This is perhaps the most common type of crown which is just there to serve the purpose of operating the functions without anything special about it. You pull it to engage it, and push it back into position when you are done.
Different functions of a watch crown
As mentioned, a crown may have different functions. Some may just have one (setting the time), others can have several functions in addition to that.
Setting the time
Setting the time is the most obvious and central purpose of a crown. By pulling the crown out, you move it into position to set the correct time on the watch. All watches that have a crown and are analog have this feature.
Winding the watch
Another common function that the crown has is to wind the movement. This is of course obvious when it comes to manual movements (which are only powered by manual winding), but many automatic movements can also have a built-in manual winding function as well. When you wind the crown, the mainspring in the watch is wound and thus is able to store energy and keep the watch ticking. In most cases, you wind the movement of your watch when it is in its first position and you rotate in a clockwise position.
On that note, a common question that people ask is if you can overwind a watch when winding it. The answer to that question is yes, but it depends on the watch. Today, many manufacturers design its mechanical watches with protection against overwinding. Manual watches, however, do not have this feature and can be overwound. Automatic watches, on the other hand, have the function that can protect it from being overwound.
Set the time and date
If the watch has a day and/or date function, chances are you set these by using the crown. By setting the crown in the correct position, you can adjust the time and the date of the watch so that they are displayed correctly.
Last but not least, we have the hacking function of a watch. What is this? Well, when pulling out the crown to its last position, the movement will hack and stop. Not all watches have this feature, and in general, the cheapest mechanical watches do not incorporate a hacking feature. But it is still a rather convenient function that allows you to set the correct time down to the second when you push in the crown again and the movement starts.
Watch crown designs
As you may also have noticed, different watches have crowns with different designs. Some crowns are oversized, some are tiny, and others have special shapes. Crown designs are normally used to match the design of the watch and/or reflect the purpose of a watch. In other words, some crowns may be more functional than others. For example, pilot’s watches are known for using big, oversized crowns. The reason for this is that it should be easy for pilots to set the time on the watch whilst wearing gloves. On the contrary, large and clumsy crowns do not align well with the purpose and design of dress watches, hence why they aren’t used. With this in mind, the crown of a watch is a central part of a watch’s design and purpose and is usually carefully thought out.
The purpose of crown guards on a watch is to protect the crown. The crown guards protrude from the case and prevent the crown from receiving shocks and bangs. When the crown is subject to hard knocks, it may break and the function may be compromised. The water resistance of the watch may also be compromised. Therefore, the crown guards work as a shield to protect the crown.
Crown guards are normally found on sports watches that have a higher risk of being subject to shocks and bangs. Because crown guards mean a larger size, they are generally not found on dress watches since they do not align well with the design of dress watches, and are not necessarily needed.