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Hand Wound Mechanical Watches (The 8 Best Affordable Models)

Posted on January 12 2021

Hand Wound Mechanical Watches

 

You’d be forgiven for thinking that winding your watch by hand was a thing of the past. But for watch fans, it can still be a daily ritual. In a hectic and high-tech world, it can be a moment of calm. A simple pleasure before the modern world kicks in for the day.

If you’re interested in the history of watches or are enthusiastic about vintage designs, there’s a world of interesting timepieces out there for you. Some of them will be battery-powered, some mechanical and self-winding, and a very small number will be hand-winding.

I’d like to very briefly look at the characteristics of the hand-wound models and then present you with a concise list of the best affordable examples - so that you can then make an informed choice when buying your own.

What is a Hand-Wound or Manual Watch?


In simple terms, a mechanical watch keeps the time through its clockwork engine - what we call a movement. The whole mechanism works from the tension in its mainspring. You tighten the spring and as it slowly uncurls it drives the watches hands.

There are two ways to tighten that spring.

Either you allow gravity and motion to do it for you - that’s an automatic movement.

Or you physically wind it yourself - and that is a hand-wound movement.

You use the crown to fully wind the watch each morning and it runs for the rest of the day.

 



Why Choose a Handwinding Watch?


Let’s be clear. You don’t need a wristwatch to tell the time. Your phone is capable of that and probably within arm’s length twenty-four hours a day.

If you do want a wristwatch for telling the time, a cheap plastic digital watch will do the job. It’ll even do the timekeeping better than a mechanical watch.

You’re here because you like the idea of wearing a charming piece of outdated technology on your arm. You like the design, the brand story and the history.

It’s why we’re all attracted to watches and why we end up with watch collections.

A hand-wound watch pushes that a step further. It requires you to manually wind it before use. There’s a ritual - a one I enjoy - of selecting that days watch, setting its time and then winding the mainspring.

It provides a moment of calm and a few minutes for contemplation. I even find myself more aware of the time and how I intend to use the rest of the day. You’ll do the same too.

I want to highlight some of my favourite hand-winding watches, particularly those that have a great story behind them. And I strongly believe that the story is important - when you’re winding a watch each morning you’re personally engaging with the timepiece - the more interesting it is the more interested you’ll be.

Some of the mains reasons that I enjoy mechanical watches are:

  • The brands producing them often have colourful backstories
  • Vintage-inspired designs are the norm
  • Hand-wound watches are usually small in diameter and relatively slim.
  • Many designs include an exhibition back so that you can see the movement running.

As you’ll see, on this small list I’ve included watches from Russia, China, Switzerland, Germany and the US. I’m confident that you’ll find at least one that is worth a closer look.

 

Vostok Komandirskie Watch

 

I’ll use any excuse to include Russian watches in my posts. They’re quirky, bullet-proof and often inexpensive. I’ve included more of the Vostok backstory elsewhere and I’d suggest that you have a look at some point.

The basics are that the company was created after one of Moscow’s watch factories was moved out of the city during WWII. The new plant produced watches for the military and it’s most successful watch was the Amphibia. A cheap, reliable dive watch that I always champion.

The Vostok Kommanderskie, or 'Commander' is the Chistopol based company's other iconic watch.

Where the Amphibia is one of the worlds best value divers, the cheaper Kommanderskie is one of the best value mechanical watches full stop. If you want to try a hand-wound watch, this an ideal place to start.

Having been first introduced over fifty years ago, there's been a considerable number of variations released, including both automatic and hand-wound models. The current range gives plenty of choice, but for many a Red Army issued used model will have greater appeal. It all depends on what you value – image and reliability or authenticity.

Like the Amphibia, the Kommanderskie is chunky and unsubtle with a slightly awkward looking chrome-coated brass case. It's a mid-sized watch and once you replace the cheap strap looks like a lot of watch for the money.

Importantly, this was a watch that was issued to the military and civilian workers in Soviet-era Russia. In the West, you’re very unlikely to see one of these on someone else’s wrist.

Vostok Komandirskie 431171

  • 39mm Diameter
  • 18mm Lug Width
  • Chrome Plated Brass
  • Vostok 2414A movement
  • Acrylic Crystal



Sea-Gull 1963 Chronograph

 

Perhaps unjustly, Chinese manufacturing hasn’t the best reputation. But that should very much depend on the product, and importantly, the budget. There’s no end of cheap Chinese mechanical watches offered for sale online and the quality can vary greatly. There’s also the reality that some of the great watches we love are made in Chinese factories, particularly the Microbrands.

How good are Chinese watch brands?


Let’s look at the history of Seagull, arguably China’s foremost watch brand.

Their factory has been producing watches since the 1950s, with the company focusing on mechanical only models since 1997. They’ve supplied the Chinese military with reliable watches for decades and their Tianjin factory is currently the largest watch manufacturer in China.

This brand has stood the test of time, producing watches to be used in tough environments. It has now successfully adapted to supplying the international consumer market.

My first Seagull watch was the M177S, a Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control homage. Now discontinued, it’s a great dress watch and my first experience of a piece from a Chinese manufacturer. Then I picked up this 1963 Chronograph, a watch that Seagull had reissued.

Like the Russian watches I’ve collected, this watch seems to shout out its heritage.
It’s a remake of the watch that Seagull made for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and it looks like I’d expect it to. It’s unashamedly Chinese, and like the Vostok, part of the appeal is the history.

It displays both the Red Star and the Made in China text on the dial. It comes in 42mm and 38mm versions, with the latter being the more authentic of the two. I bought mine from a friend so I have the 42mm, but if buying new I would have chosen the 38mm.

Of course, this is a mechanical watch with Seagull’s own ST19 Chronograph movement inside. It’s a complex and attractive movement that is visible through the exhibition back.

If you want a watch with an eye-catching movement - this would be my choice. The movement is stunning.

Sea-Gull 1963 Chronograph

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 12.5mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Chinese Mechanical movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 



Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical Watch

 

Hamilton is a US brand with a fine history of producing watches for the railroads and the US army. Their marine chronometers were also used by both the US and Allied navies in WWII.

Having ceased manufacturing watches in America in 1969 the company is now Swiss-owned, and like Tissot and Certina, a part of the Swatch Group. This American heritage and Swiss ownership mean that Hamilton is a well respected and popular brand.

They are available on the high street which is always helpful.

I can’t stress enough the enjoyment that you get out of watches with a story. The Khaki has that. It was a soldier’s watch - tested in combat and now an iconic design.

This new release is a faithful recreation and like the Sea-gull, it has a 38mm case. By today’s standards that is small. But if we were shackled by today’s standards we’d be using our phone for telling the time - not a reissue of a 1960s military watch.

I value the authenticity.

The design is slightly spartan, with a black dial, canvas strap and a simple case. Above all, it is legible and functional. With the previous two watches were saw how the Russians and Chinese built their military watches.

This is how the American’s used to build military timepieces.

Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical H69439931

  • 38mm Diameter
  • 9.5mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Hamilton Calibre H-50 Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance



Timex Marlin Hand Wound Watch

 

A while back I asked the question, are Timex watches good value for money? I was pretty confident in answering yes. They are one of those brands that it’s easy to overlook - particularly as you disappear down the rabbit hole of watch collecting.

As you discover new brands you tend to forget about the bigger, more obvious names. As I’ve argued recently, using Rotary and Bulova as examples, these popular high street brands continue to release interesting watches.

I, along with many others, really took to Timex’s reissues, specifically the 1970s Q models. The Marlin collection is another line that has repeatedly drawn my interest. It’s a reworking of the 1960s watches that the brand describes as iconic.

Bear in mind that during the 1960s a third of all American watch sales were Timex. Not bad for a brand that can trace its roots back to the late Victorian period.

The current Marlin comes in a few versions. There’s a 40mm automatic watch. And this small, 34mm variation. That could be a dealbreaker. 34mm is very small - entirely representative of the era - but very small nonetheless.

Like all of the Marlin range, this is a classically styled and stylish watch. I prefer the California dial option, but this is still a great looking piece.

What the size really does well is capture that vintage ethos. It doesn’t just look vintage. It feels vintage. In addition, the crystal is acrylic and that further adds an element of authenticity.

If you can manage a modestly sized watch, this could be a great place to look to recreate a true vintage experience.

Timex Marlin TW2T18200

  • 34mm Diameter
  • 10mm Thick
  • 18mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Mechanical Hand-winding Movement
  • Acylic Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance

 



Junghans Max Bill Hand Wound Watch

 

Swiss artist Max Bill was a student at the German Bauhaus school during the mid-1920s and went on to produce work as an architect, artist, painter, typeface designer and graphic designer. Beginning in the 1950s German watch manufacturer Junghans worked with Bill on a number of Bauhaus inspired clock designs.

By the beginning of the 1960s, he'd also began to design wristwatches.

The Max Bill range has been a mainstay of Junghans, indeed it's probably the series of watches that they're most famous for. Bills design for these watches is slightly less minimalist than the other German brands, Stowa and Nomos for example, but the appearance is no less impressive.

The line of watches that Max Bill created for Junghans is largely unchanged. They’ve retained the purist dial, simple case and domed glass.

This hand-wound version, although German-made, is powered by a reliable Swiss ETA movement. It’s priced significantly higher than some of the other watches on this list, and the German production and Swiss movement are the main reasons for this.

Stylistically, this is pure Bauhaus. Simple, elegant and recognisably German. I don’t want to spoil things - but this is a small watch. Again, 34mm wide and under 10mm thick.

Junghans Max Bill 027.3700

  • 34mm Diameter
  • 9mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Mechanical Hand Winding Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal



Aristo 3H143 Hand Wound Watch

 

Unlike the previous companies, Aristo isn’t a brand that I’ve featured on the blog much. Despite writing specifically about German watches, Aristo got a little lost in my search for Flieger or Bauhaus designs.

I’ve begun to address that, as they’re an interesting brand with some notable watches.

Founded in the early 1990s, the company is now owned by Vollmer, a German strap and bracelet manufacturer that has been involved with Arito since 1927. The new company, Aristo-Vollmer, still makes straps and watches and now owns a number of other brand names including Messerschmitt.

Most Aristo designs, including this one, are recognisably German. Pilot and Bauhaus designs being the most prominent. Aesthetically, this hand-wound model is a very typical German aviation piece.

It’s as we’d expect. The dial is black with bold off-white numbers - in this case, we have the Flieger Type-A style layout.

There are a couple of points to note with this watch.

Where some of the others are very small - this is over-sized. It’s 47mm wide.

Additionally, this is a German-made watch. What is more, the Vollmer factory in Pforzheim avoided the worst of the bombing WW2. The factory is, therefore, an intact old-school watchmaking facility that handmakes these watches. That’s a big plus if heritage and authenticity are influential in what you buy.

Another point to take into consideration is the movement. Aristo uses Swiss mechanical movements and in this model that means a Sellita engine. So we have a 47mm German-made pilots watch, with a heavy-duty handmade German strap and a Swiss movement. 

Aristo 3H143

  • 47mm Diameter
  • 13.5mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Mechanical Hand Winding Movement
  • Mineral Crystal

 



Sturmanskie Gagarin Watch

 

Central to the Sturmanskie brand is their association with the Russian space program and their watches are built around this Yuri Gagarin signature model.

Gagarin cemented his place in history when he became the first human in space. His Vostok 1 made one orbit of Earth in April 1961. It was a significant victory for Soviet Russia and a personal victory for Gagarin, a model communist.

That 108-minute mission had provided a number of firsts, most importantly demonstrating that a human could survive in space and cope with the zero-gravity environment of space and the high speed of re-entry.

Gagarin wasn't just the first man in space. He was also the first man in space who needed a watch. The watch that he wore hadn’t been designed specifically for use in space - it was a military issue Sturmanskie

This new, and improved reissue, is larger than the 33m original.

There are stainless steel and titanium versions of the watch, with the latter being more expensive - both utilising 40mm cases.

In keeping with the original, this reissue has a Russian made hand-winding movement. Of course, it’s not the specifications that really interest us, rather it’s the beautiful Soviet-era design. But the hand-winding movement is in keeping with watches of that era.

Of the dial variations, I prefer this authentic beige version. The dial is simple and legible, with bright green numerals, blue hour and minute hands and a red second hand. It’s quite colourful for a military watch.

A nice touch is a case back which features a portrait of Gagarin, again confirming that this is a tribute to the era, rather than an exact homage.

Sturmanskie Gagarin Heritage 2609/3745128

  • 40mm Diameter
  • 11.7mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Russian Handwinding Movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance

 



Luch 77471760 Watch

 

In the west, the One-handed Luch watch is the design we’re most familiar with by the brand. Its appeal is obvious. It has a minimalist, almost Bauhaus design. Runs by hand-winding its in-house mechanical movement and it’s very cheap - other than the Vostok this is the most affordable watch on my list.

I’d suggest there are some other subtle reasons that this watch has proven so popular with watch fans in the West. It represents more than just a vintage aesthetic - in a sense, it is a rebellion against the digital age we now inhabit.

And that is one of the reasons you’re looking for a mechanical hand wound watch.

We like mechanical watches despite them not being as accurate as quartz models. As I noted here, we may want a watch capable of going to the bottom of the ocean, despite never taking it anywhere but the office.

The Luch wins me over for one reason. It only roughly tells the time.

Without minute or second hands, you’re unable to get a precise time. Forget how many seconds a mechanical watch may lose in a day - the Luch One-handed watch has markers around the dial showing five minute periods. That’s the best you can get - the time, give or take five mins.

You wear a Luch when every second doesn’t count. When the design of your watch is more important than the exact time. When you have the freedom to not be a slave to the clock.

This model is the original Luch One-Hand watch.

It has a simple, dateless, uncluttered dial and one hand. There are variations of this model, with black or silver dials and with the logo and text in Cyrillic or English. For me, this is the most authentic version - a white dial and Cyrillic text.

One of the first things you notice when you see this watch in the flesh is the size. It’s 38mm and slim in profile. Although Luch produce watches specifically for women, I’d suggest that this makes for a suitable unisex piece.

Indeed, it has a small Luch mechanical movement that was originally created for small women’s watches.

Remember though, this is a cheap watch and has been built to a budget. So it does have a real leather strap, but the case is brass with a chrome coating. For me, that isn’t a deal-breaker. It just means that the watch is built the way that it always was - if anything it adds to the charm.

I’ve looked at the brand in detail here if you want to know more.

Luch 77471760

  • 38mm Diameter
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Chrome Plated Case
  • Handwinding Mechanical movement
  • Mineral Crystal

 


Conclusion


Hand-wound watches are for the purist.

It’s wearing a wristwatch like they were originally designed. Small, almost delicate, clockwork devices that need to be coaxed into life each morning.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there is something soothing in the daily ritual of winding your watch. Getting yourself set for the day as you set your watch for the day.

My list shows my favourite hand-wound watches. They’re a quirky bunch, with a strong emphasis on vintage military pieces. By lacking the rotor of an automatic watch, manufactures are able to keep the thickness of the watch down.

As you’ll have noted, a few of the watches are small. I’d suggest you give some of the smaller, inexpensive models a try - you might be surprised.

And let me know how you got on - add a comment below.


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1 comment

  • Step: July 08, 2021

    You should also have mentioned the Merkur Wuxing watche reedition (1955). In my opinion a real effort has been made by the company to reproduce as exactly as possible a vintage watch, including the flaws and approximations that should be seen on an affordable 1955 watch, but while eliminating the flaws that are not visible. (for example the replacement of the plated case by 316L steel, more refined movement). The strap chosen to equip the watch is also an imitation of a relic from the early 1960s.

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