Watch

Should You Buy A Quartz Or Mechanical Watch?

Exploring the differences between the Quartz watch and Mechanical watch.
A Quartz watch movement (left) and a Mechanical watch movement (right).
Image from: https://www.watchmatchmaker.com/

I know what you’re thinking, “Why not both?”. Well, for the sake of this article, let’s just pretend we are denied the luxury of thinking that way. It is an age-old question though, should you buy a Quartz movement or a Mechanical movement? They both have their pros and cons and we shall explore what those are and hopefully help those of you who might be facing this dilemma right now.

Before we begin to compare the two, let’s take a deeper look into their backgrounds, history and functions to better understand what distinguishes both of them from each other.


How Are They Different?

So what is the main difference between a Quartz movement and a Mechanical one? Simply put, the main difference is how each movement generates energy to power the watch.

An ISA K63 Quartz movement.

A Quartz movement makes use of a battery to send electrical energy through electrical circuits to the namesake quartz crystal in a watch. This causes it to oscillate, moving the components of the watch.

A mechanical movement. The balance wheel visible at the bottom left and the ratchet wheel at the top right.

Mechanical movements on the other hand, utilise potential energy stored by a spring mechanism which releases said energy into the different parts of the movement, powering the watch.

We shall later discuss how these differences affect various aspects of the watch and the decision making process.


The History

In this segment, we take a look at the history of the two movements, how they were conceived, and how this information might affect your decision between the two.


Mechanical Watch

Up until the quartz revolution of the 1970s, all watches were mechanical by nature. If you were to compare a modern day piece with the first egg-shaped pocket sized clock of the 1500s, you would be astounded by the similarities.

The first watch from around 1505, invented by Peter Henlein.
Image credit: CC BY-SA 4.0

The invention of the aforementioned egg-shaped-timekeeping marvel is credited to Peter Henlein, a German locksmith and clockmaker.

The watch is no stranger to evolution though. Timepieces back then were terribly imprecise, compared to those of the modern day. We owe this to how technology has developed and evolved over this extended period of time.

A vintage Omega pocket watch of around 1950’s origin.
Image by: Alexander T Carroll

By the 17th century, pocket watches began to take shape into the flat ones we are more familiar with today. This was to suit the need of fitting them into waistcoat pockets to protect them as they were quite susceptible to exposure to the elements.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the necessity to have a hands free watch began to arise amongst military men as using a pocket watch during a battle was considered impractical. So came about the birth of the wristwatch.


Quartz Watch

As technology continued to advance at an accelerated rate, the use of electricity in the construction of a watch was unavoidable.

In 1959, Seiko, together with their daughter company, Epson, began development of the first ever Quartz watch. By 1969, a mere ten years later, the Seiko 35 SQ Astron was made available to the public. It was at the time the most accurate wristwatch ever made.

The Seiko 35 SQ Astron beside its caliber 35a quartz movement.
Image from: https://www.watchuseek.com/ (By Michael Weare)

A technological marvel, the Quartz movement brought about a revolution in the world of horology. Losing all the small moving parts of the then, traditional mechanical watch, meant the watch was a lot more durable than its predecessor.

Replacing physically moving springs and wheels in the mechanical movement with electrical circuits also reduced the amount of friction created when a watch was being powered. This meant that less energy was being loss as the watch ran, unlike a mechanical movement. This resulted in greater accuracy.

The Seiko Sports 100 7A28 is the first Analog Quartz Chronograph Movement.

By the 1980s the watch manufacturing industry was dominated by quartz production. Because of the ease of manufacturing a quartz watch in comparison to a mechanical one, their production made up the majority of timepieces being made. This era in the industry is referred to as the ‘Quartz Crisis’.


In-depth Comparison

We now understand a little more about the differences between the two types of watches. We can begin to compare them and hopefully help those trying to make a decision between the two.

Convenience

A huge factor for people when deciding on a watch would be how convenient it would be in their daily lives. This is a very important aspect you have to consider when deciding between a quartz or mechanical watch.

Decisively, a quartz watch offers a lot more convenience in everyday living. Because it runs on battery, it continues to run continuously until said battery dies. A new battery can last a basic watch with simple time and date functions about three to four years before it requires a replacement.

Mechanical watches require manual setting and winding after not being worn for awhile. Rolex Submariner. Image from: https://www.hodinkee.com/

On the other hand, a mechanical watch requires time-setting or winding every day or so. The mainspring requires this winding to store enough energy to distribute into the watch to run.

When fully wound, most automatic watches can run for 40 to 50 hours. An automatic watch is a mechanical watch which has a rotor in it which uses kinetic movements created by your arm to wind the mainspring. This extends the power reserves in the watch.

This means that leaving a mechanical watch untouched for three days or so would result in you having to set it up again the next time you feel like wearing it. It is important to note though, that some high-end models can run for days or even weeks before their power reserves are drained.


Craftsmanship

Without a hint of bias, I can safely say that the mechanical triumphs the quartz watch in terms of craftsmanship. As we covered earlier in the history of their development, the quartz watch rose to fame because they were cost efficient and easy to produce.

The stunningly beautiful movement of the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Tourbillon. The mechanical movement is composed of 262 parts.
Image from: https://www.ablogtowatch.com/ (By: Zen Love)

But where lies the value of craftsmanship in a time-telling device? The beauty here truly lies in the eyes of the beholder. Whilst some look at a watch as simply, a time-telling device, others look at it as a form of art. Therefore, the value of craftsmanship in a timepiece really depends on the priorities of the consumer.

The reason mechanical watches are still in production even after the quartz crisis lies in the industry’s ability to continue to encapsulate us with beautifully handcrafted works of art. The mechanical watch is, after all, a manufacturing marvel. So much so that well made mechanical watches with proper maintenance can last a lifetime, maybe more.

Albeit a milestone in technological development, the fact that most parts are mass produced shows how the craftsmanship of a quartz watch pales in comparison to a mechanical watch.


Accuracy

On average, a modern mechanical watch gains or loses a few seconds a day. The same inaccuracy in a quartz watch would occur in the length of a month instead of a single day. So it’s really no competition when comparing the two.


Price

Perhaps one of the most important considering factor in the decision when purchasing a watch is the price tag. The price differences between that with a mechanical movement and those with a quartz can be gargantuan.

A watchmaker working on a mechanical Railroad Watch.

Mechanical watches are more expensive simply because of the amount of expertise required to put one together. Numerous small moving parts all require precise assembly to ensure the watch works properly, if not at all. It is, therefore, not uncommon for mechanical watches from reputable brands to cost thousands if not hundreds of thousands.

Quartz watches are usually not too expensive because their parts are all mass-produced. It would not be difficult for you to find a quartz watch for as little as $15. Some reputable brands do make quartz watches which can cost you a few thousand dollars. This is nothing compared to the astronomical prices which mechanical watches can outstretch.


In Conclusion

Deciding between the two is ultimately a personal decision. When purchasing a timepiece, it should always be about buying a watch you feel good about.

With the information provided in this article, hopefully you will be able to make a well-informed choice when deciding between a quartz watch or a mechanical one.

Or you could just go for the best of both worlds.

Do check out my guide to watch straps here to find out more about the many different types of straps available to compliment your new watch.

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