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Watches: All Wound Up

James D. Malcolmson

There is a certain threshold at which an addict can no longer deny or camouflage his compulsion. For watch collectors, that moment of clarity comes when they can almost feel their poor, neglected timepieces shivering in the dresser drawer, and decide the time has come to find them suitable housing: a watch winding box.

Now the makers of these devices, which rotate an automatic timepiece and its winding rotor, are eager to point out the many practical advantages of their products. They cite how mechanical watches that are left idle can lose their lubrication, making them less accurate and shortening their life, and how annoying it is to have to continually reset timepieces that have wound down. Sounds sensible enough, but the finest winding boxes—with their exotic burl woods, supple leather, and velvet appointments—are obviously designed for more than mere maintenance. These are, in fact, shrines to your horological darlings, intended to both display and caress them. The winder companies, it seems, have penetrated the collecting psyche in a way many watch companies might envy.

“There can be a little one-upmanship among collectors and their winding boxes,” explains Richard Cefalu, manager of London Jewelers’ Manhasset store on Long Island. “When one of them buys a larger box, the others in the circle want to respond.”

London Jewelers is a dealer for Scatola del Tempo, an Italian manufacturer of supremely elegant winder boxes, whose top-of-the-line model for many years has been a nine-winder box, which, like all of the best winders, compensates for clockwise, counterclockwise, and bidirectional winding timepieces. In the last few months, Scatola has unveiled an 18-unit model ($18,900) and a magnificent 32-slot burl wood winding cabinet ($36,500).

The British company Underwood takes the prize for the largest
capacity with its Italian-made 50-slot dreadnought ($39,000), which makes for a veritable wall of time. Each individual unit is removable and contains its own integral power source, should the owner feel up to leaving the other 49 for a period of time.

The American manufacturer Orbita perhaps demonstrates the most complete understanding of watch maniacs and their foibles with its Bergamo unit. It houses a modest 24 timepieces, but each winder can be programmed individually. In developing the Bergamo, Orbita compiled a database of nearly every automatic movement and its optimum daily winding requirements (most require from 600 to 800 turns per day). The 2003 Bergamo ($19,500) lets you adjust the positioning of each slot with a remote control, should you decide, for example, that the Zenith looks much better to the left of the Franck Muller rather than to the right.

Orbita, 800.800.4436, www.orbita.net;
Scatola del Tempo, 631.776.1135, www.scatoladeltempo.com;
Underwood, 800.364.5441, www.underwood-london.com

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Photo by René Gaens