Quartz vs Automatic Watches: EVERYTHING You Need To Know
In the watchmaking industry, automatic and quartz movements are widely employed to power watches. Consequently, the debate surrounding quartz versus automatic watches has become a constant topic of discussion within the watch community. Both seasoned collectors and newcomers will likely encounter at least one of these watch types.
Seiko introduced the first quartz watch in 1969, thereby revolutionizing the watchmaking market and sparking what is now known as the “Quartz Crisis”. Numerous Swiss watchmakers faced financial difficulties as a direct result. Nevertheless, in recent years, driven by the significant influence of social media, automatic watches (and hype timepieces) have experienced a resurgence. For the purpose of this discussion, our primary focus will be on comparing quartz and automatic watches.
About Quartz Watches
When it comes to how quartz watches work, a quartz movement can be described as an electronic circuit board housing coils, a magnet, an oscillator, and a piece of mineral quartz. Powered by a battery, the mineral quartz vibrates multiple times per second. These vibrations, in turn, cause the seconds hand to tick once per second.
The consistent and precise vibrations serve as the foundation for the accurate timekeeping mechanism of the quartz movement. Furthermore, due to their relatively low number of mechanical parts, quartz movements require minimal maintenance, are affordable, and rarely experience malfunctions. These advantages make quartz watches ideal for individuals seeking a simple timepiece that reliably tells the time.
About Automatic Watches
Automatic watches are often known as self-winding timepieces since they incorporate a rotor that automatically winds the watch as the wearer moves their wrist. When the watch is in motion, the rotor spins, transferring energy to the mainspring and effectively winding the movement.
Additionally, regular wear of an automatic watch enables the movement to build and sustain a power reserve, similar to adding oil to a car. This means that even when the watch is taken off and set aside, it will continue to run due to the stored power reserve. The timepiece will only stop once the power reserve is depleted.
Quartz vs Automatic Watches: History & Origin
Quartz watches made their debut in 1969 with the introduction of the Seiko Quartz Astron. This marked a significant milestone for Seiko and a turning point in the Swiss watch industry. The impact was so profound that it led to the demise of numerous Swiss watch brands during the “Quartz Crisis”.
In terms of historical timeline, quartz emerged as a newer technology that effectively replaced the older and outdated automatic timepieces. However, in present times, quartz watches coexist alongside automatic watches.
On the other hand, automatic timekeeping devices have been in existence for over a century. The earliest known automatic watch dates back to the 18th century. Evidence indicates that Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Perrelet was one of the first to successfully design and create an automatic pocket watch. However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that automatic wristwatches gained popularity and captured the general public’s interest. Notable examples from that era include the Cartier Tank Normale and the Rolex Oyster Perpetual.
Fast-forwarding to the present, automatic timepieces have significantly evolved and become more refined. Interestingly, within the watch-collecting community, there seems to be a preference for automatic watches. Despite being less accurate, more expensive, and requiring more maintenance compared to quartz watches, automatic timepieces hold their appeal. This preference could be attributed to sentimentality, personal taste, and appreciation for engineering and craftsmanship, among other reasons.
In today’s world, automatic watches are considered a luxury since we no longer rely on them solely for timekeeping. With smartphones serving as modern-day pocket watches, fulfilling a multitude of purposes in our daily lives, the choice to wear an automatic watch becomes a deliberate choice driven by personal appreciation.
Pros & Cons of Quartz Watches
Every individual has their own preferences and reasons for choosing either quartz or automatic timepieces. Let’s begin by examining the pros of quartz before delving into the cons.
Firstly, quartz watches excel in their timekeeping accuracy, rarely losing or gaining time. This precision is particularly valuable for individuals who rely on accurate timekeeping throughout their day. Secondly, quartz timepieces are known for their reliability and low maintenance requirements compared to their automatic counterparts.
Quartz watches exhibit minimal deviation, ensuring that once the time is set, it remains accurate and less susceptible to environmental and positional factors. Furthermore, quartz watches do not rely on kinetic energy from the wearer.
This means that individuals do not need to engage in physical activities to power the watch’s timekeeping mechanism. Once again, this highlights the low-maintenance nature of quartz watches.
Thirdly, when it comes to reliability, the durability of quartz timepieces is worth noting. The inner workings of a quartz watch involve an electronic system comprising coils, mineral quartz, a microchip, an oscillator, and a battery. As a result, if a quartz watch is subjected to impact or dropped, the likelihood of damage to the quartz movement is significantly reduced.
In comparison, an automatic movement relies on mechanical components that can potentially become displaced or dislodged due to impacts. Such occurrences can adversely affect timekeeping or, in the worst-case scenario, cause the movement to stop functioning altogether.
Furthermore, regular servicing is typically not necessary for quartz timepieces, apart from the occasional battery replacement every 1-2 years or as needed. This aspect brings about less concern for the wearer in terms of maintenance and upkeep.
Fourthly, affordability is another advantage of quartz watches compared to their automatic counterparts. As an example, let’s consider the Omega Seamaster Professional 300m, which was released in the 1990s in both quartz (ref 2541.80) and automatic (ref 2531.80) models.
I personally own the Seamaster Professional 300m ref 2531.80, which was my first luxury watch purchase. It is an exquisite timepiece that has accompanied me on my travels around the world.
Returning to the topic at hand, the quartz and automatic versions of the Omega Seamaster Professional 300m share the same appearance, differing only by a line of text above the 6 o’clock position on the dial. However, when they were initially released, the quartz version was more affordable than its automatic counterpart.
Even in today’s secondary market, the automatic version commands a higher price. Consequently, if you find a watch you like and it is available in both quartz and automatic versions, opting for the quartz model can save you some money.
Lastly, quartz watches are typically thinner and lighter due to their simpler movement design without any additional mechanical components. With fewer parts, they weigh less, allowing for slimmer watch cases. This results in quartz watches feeling more comfortable on the wrist and, at times, barely noticeable in terms of weight.
On the other hand, it’s important to acknowledge that quartz watches have their fair share of disadvantages as well. Firstly, there exists a stigma within a segment of the watch community that considers quartz watches to be cheap and disposable timepieces.
This perception is more prevalent with fashion watches, where prices are often significantly inflated compared to the actual manufacturing cost. These watches lack value and can end up costing more to repair than the sum of their parts.
Secondly, quartz watches typically feature a seconds hand that ticks once per second rather than sweeping smoothly like the seconds hand of automatic watches. This has led to a misconception perpetuated by pop culture and media, with phrases such as “Rolexes don’t tick” becoming common. These misconceptions reinforce the notion that quartz watches are cheap.
However, as you have learned, this is not always the case. Additionally, quartz watches are often influenced by fashion trends. Many fashion brands that sell watches incorporate quartz movements into designs that align with specific trends or styles.
However, these styles are often short-lived and quickly become outdated. Consequently, the watch may be perceived as disposable as fashion trends come and go. Additionally, fashion brands often lack historical significance within horology and typically exhibit a noticeable lack of quality control in their watches.
What’s more, there is often an association of lesser craftsmanship and quality with quartz watches when compared to automatic watches. Automatic movements consist of a greater number of parts, requiring more time and attention to assemble, whether done by machines or humans.
However, with a few exceptions (such as the FP Journe Elegante), most quartz watches are assembled by machines on a production line. Consequently, the level of skill and effort involved in producing a quartz timepiece is generally lower than that required for an automatic counterpart.
Finally, it’s worth noting that quartz movement watches utilize lithium batteries. If a quartz watch is not worn for an extended period and stops running, there is a possibility that the battery could leak. This leakage can lead to damage to the watch movement, requiring a major overhaul or even replacement of the quartz movement itself. As a result, servicing costs for quartz watches can be higher than usual.
Below is a summary of the Pros of quartz watches:
• Highly accurate
• Reliable & low maintenance
• Lightweight & thinner
Below is a summary of the Cons of quartz watches:
• Stigmatized as being cheap
• Fashion influenced
• Lacks craftsmanship and quality
• Battery Leaks may damage movement
Pros & Cons of Automatic Watches
Now, let’s delve into the pros and cons of automatic watches, starting with the positives first.
Firstly, automatic watches have the potential to last beyond one’s lifetime if they are properly maintained and kept in good condition. Regular servicing, including seal changes, ensures the continuous reliability of the timepiece, making it usable for many generations to come. This longevity makes automatic watches a worthwhile investment.
Secondly, automatic watches possess a distinct sentimental value and carry a sense of soul. They are often cherished as family heirlooms, passed down from one generation to the next. Just imagine the significance of receiving your grandfather’s watch on your 18th birthday or wedding day.
These truly special occasions in one’s lifetime are made even more remarkable by the presence of an automatic timepiece, which adds a touch of history and tradition to these cherished events. Thirdly, automatic watches boast a higher level of quality and craftsmanship compared to quartz timepieces. This becomes more apparent when one removes the case back and observes the intricate mechanical components of an automatic movement.
The gears, cogs, bridges, and screws are meticulously assembled within the movement with specific and precise tolerances. Even the slightest dislodgement or looseness of a small piece can significantly impact the timekeeping accuracy of an automatic watch. Therefore, a high degree of engineering is involved in creating each automatic timepiece to ensure it operates according to the manufacturer’s specific timekeeping standards.
While not every automatic watch reaches the same level of Swiss excellence, for those that do, there is an undeniable sense of owning something truly exceptional. Such watches embody the dedication of time, effort, and mastery that goes into their production.
Fourthly, automatic watches feature sweeping seconds hands, which are often perceived by the general public as a hallmark of higher quality and craftsmanship. As mentioned earlier, many individuals believe that all Rolex timepieces have a sweeping seconds hand, but the Rolex Oyster Quartz collection challenges this perception.
Furthermore, automatic watches possess a timeless and traditional design and essence. Automatic timepieces were invented several decades prior to the introduction of the first quartz watch in 1969. As a result, there is an artisanal heritage associated with the craftsmanship of automatic watches. They are often characterized by a refined and enduring design.
For example, automatic wristwatches gained greater popularity in the 1920s, and vintage models from that era are still cherished and worn by watch collectors today. This demonstrates that the designs of early automatic watches have stood the test of time and remain relevant even in the present day.
Lastly, automatic movements are visually appealing. They consist of numerous mechanical parts such as the mainspring, cogs, screws, bridges, rotors, and more. While the level of finishing may vary across different watches, in general, the intricate interplay of these mechanical components is captivating to behold. Automatic movements offer a dynamic and engaging visual experience, contrasting with the seemingly static nature of quartz movements when viewed with the naked eye.
Nevertheless, there are still drawbacks to automatic movements, despite their popularity among watch collectors. Firstly, automatic watches are generally less accurate in terms of timekeeping compared to quartz watches. The advancements in quartz movement technology have far surpassed automatic technology regarding basic timekeeping.
A notable example is the Citizen Caliber 0100, introduced in 2019, which is considered the world’s most accurate quartz movement. This exceptional movement is housed within the Citizen watch reference AQ6021-51E. With an accuracy rating of +-1 second per year, this quartz watch sets a remarkable standard that cannot be matched by any automatic movement.
As someone who has owned several Citizen watches, I have come to trust the brand’s quality and believe in the reliability of their bold timekeeping claim. Secondly, automatic watches rely on winding or kinetic movement from the wearer to power the automatic movement. The most common automatic movements have a power reserve ranging from 38 to 80 hours.
However, watches with a shorter power reserve may pose a challenge. For instance, if you stop wearing your watch on a Friday evening, by Monday morning, the watch may have stopped running, requiring manual winding to restart the movement.
Furthermore, some owners of Seiko watches powered by the newer 6R automatic movement (with a 70-hour power reserve) have reported that when the power reserve runs low, the timekeeping of the watch becomes erratic and lacks stability compared to the older 6R15 Seiko movement (with approximately 50 hours of power reserve).
Additionally, not everyone enjoys the inconvenience of needing to regularly engage with their watch. Some individuals prefer to set the time once and have it maintain accuracy for an extended period without the need for regular winding or involvement.
Thirdly, owning an automatic watch entails greater maintenance requirements to ensure its longevity. Regular servicing intervals are necessary to maintain the accuracy of the movement at a high standard. Additionally, automatic watches may require more frequent changes of gaskets or seals, especially if the timepiece is frequently exposed to aquatic environments.
These maintenance tasks are crucial for preserving the water resistance of the watch case. The cumulative effect of various maintenance-related work can lead to significant expenses associated with owning an automatic watch.
Fourthly, automatic timepieces tend to be more expensive than their quartz counterparts due to the craftsmanship and engineering involved in their production. As mentioned in my previous example of the Omega Seamaster Professional 300m, you may find a more affordable option with the same appearance in a quartz model. By opting for the quartz version, you can save money while still enjoying the brand heritage and prestige associated with it.
Lastly, the presence of numerous mechanical parts in automatic movements results in thicker and heavier watch cases compared to quartz timepieces. The increased thickness may impact comfort on the wrist or hinder the watch from sliding under a dress cuff, especially in the case of thicker automatic dress watches. While the thickness may be appropriate and desired for certain timepieces like dive watches, many individuals would appreciate a thinner automatic movement and watch case if given the option.
Moreover, the weight of an automatic watch can become an issue if it is particularly heavy and worn for extended periods. This can lead to discomfort depending on one’s activities throughout the day. Additionally, there is a myth that the weight of a watch is a common indicator of its quality.
While this may hold true for precious metal watches (e.g., yellow gold, white gold, rose gold, and platinum), it is not always the case. For example, Richard Mille employs titanium as the primary material for the watch cases of several of their models, which challenges the notion that weight alone determines quality.
Below is a summary of the Pros of automatic watches:
• Reliable long term
• Heirloom factor
• Higher quality & craftsmanship
• Timeless & traditional
• Aesthetically attractive movements
Below is a summary of the Cons of automatic watches:
• Less accurate
• Requires winding
• Higher maintenance
• More expensive
• Heavier & thicker
Quartz vs Automatic Watches: Which One Should You Choose?
Below, we will explore additional factors that are relevant to both quartz and automatic watches. Considering these factors can help you determine which type of watch best suits your needs.
There is no doubt that quartz is the more accurate movement. When you set the time on a quartz watch, you can be confident that it will maintain a high level of accuracy. On the other hand, automatic watches require either regular winding or consistent wearing to keep the power reserve from running empty.
Price & Availability
Once again, quartz timepieces come out on top in terms of price and availability. They are generally more affordable and easier to find compared to automatic watches. Quartz watches offer great value for money as they perform the same essential function of telling time. Additionally, due to the higher demand for automatic watches, quartz timepieces are more readily obtainable in the market.
Once again, in terms of affordability, quartz watches come out on top in this category. Quartz watches typically require a battery change every 1-2 years, which is a simple service that can often be done at home with the right tools to open the case back and replace the battery.
There is no need for major overhauls or oiling of mechanical parts with quartz watches. In contrast, servicing an automatic watch can be costly due to the complexity involved in disassembling the movement and replacing any broken mechanical components.
It usually requires taking the timepiece to a professional watchmaker who will carefully examine and service the watch. Even for watch enthusiasts like myself, the most complex service I have performed on my own timepieces is to remove the case back and regulate my watches by adjusting the regulation screw or pin.
This is a category where automatic watches excel over quartz watches, particularly due to the longer history of automatic watch production compared to the introduction of quartz watches in 1969. Automatic watches offer a greater variety of options, as mentioned earlier.
However, it’s important to note that they are also in higher demand, especially when it comes to “hype” watches and models from renowned brands such as Patek Philippe, Rolex, and Audemars Piguet. This popularity can be a double-edged sword for luxury watch brands, as it creates both opportunities and challenges in meeting the demand for their coveted timepieces.
In conclusion, quartz and automatic watches each have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Quartz watches are known for their superior accuracy, while automatic watches often exhibit a higher level of craftsmanship. However, comparing the inner workings of quartz and automatic watches is akin to comparing apples and oranges.
Rather than favoring one type over the other, it is important to appreciate the diverse range of watches available to us as consumers. As a fellow watch collector, I welcome the growth of the watch community, whether it is driven by the popularity of automatic or quartz watches.
Alternatively, we could delve into the realm of Seiko’s Spring Drive movement watches, but that discussion can be saved for another time.
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