Watch the Crown: The History of the Wristwatch Crown

EVN Legend History of the Crown

Written by Michael Nixon

First designed in the 19th century to replace the need for cumbersome winding keys, the winding knob - or crown - has been a central component in watchmaking for centuries. 

But why exactly is it called a “crown” - and how has the mechanism evolved over time?

Royal Crown

So, why is it called a "crown?" As it turns out, the term has royal inspiration, as the round, fluted shape of the winding knob reminded many of the crowns of European royalty, and the name "crown" stuck. 

The first design of a knob for winding and setting a watch is credited to English watchmaker John Arnold in 1820 and then perfected for miniature watches by Antoine-Louis Breguet around 1830. 

French watchmaker Jean Adrien Philippe's 1842-44 invention of a sliding pinion mechanism was later widely adopted as the standard.  Replacing easily-lost winding keys was a welcome invention - but it also required fine mechanical work from Philippe and his predecessors. 

Crown Concerns

A watch's crown must be durable enough to withstand being the only part of the watch mechanism that the user interacts with - making it perhaps one of the most vital components in determining a watch's quality. 

Historically, the crown proved to be a unique weakness for watch mechanisms, due to the lack of rubber gaskets or the precision tooling for screwed case backs. 

While winding is no longer needed, the crown is generally the only interactive component of many watches, allowing users to set the various time and date complications of the watch. 

Over time, materials improved, allowing these weaknesses to be compensated for through the use of different passive and active sealing techniques. 

Crown Functions

Even as watches have evolved beyond the need for windings, moved onto the wrist, and gone digital, the crown has actually remained just as vital - and complex. 

Even most modern smartwatches rely on a crown-styled mechanism to allow users to update and explore various features and applications. 

All of the EVN Watches released so far - including the Legend, Manhattan, and Miramar - rely on durable crowns to allow the best user experience including setting each watch's smooth Miyota quartz movement on the Legend series. 

Shape of the Crown

Since the crown's invention, a wide variety of shapes for the knob have developed, including:

  • Straight - maybe the most popular and widely-seen shape, a basic cylinder
  • Onion-shaped - spherical and grooved, like an onion 
  • Conical - developed for aviators, shaped like a rounded cut diamond, and easily operated with thick pilot gloves on
  • Cabochon - ornamented with decorations like precious stones, glass, or polished minerals
  • Push-button - often seen on chronographs to start timing functions (stop, start, reset). 
  • Inset - less visible and set into the case in a sleek, integrated fashion

Crowns in some watches are also placed in different alignments, like 2 or 4 o'clock to allow easier access for divers and pilots, as well as 9 o'clock - ideal for left-handed watch collectors. 

Whatever shape it takes, the crown remains a vital component of watchmaking history to this day.

EVN Manhattan Crown