Seagull ST-5 MovementSeagull ST-5 Movement

Every watch enthusiast has to start somewhere. Normally at the beginning. He may begin his collection with a quartz watch, figuring out how to use all its functions before wondering how one transitions from a quartz watch to something a little more technical and intricately built? He might wonder how one tells the difference between a quartz watch and an automatic watch. Luckily there are introductory articles like this one, outlining the pros and cons of the quartz vs mechanical watches.

Quartz vs Mechanical Watches: A Beginner’s Guide

The debate between quartz vs mechanical watch does cause some division. Some prefer the ease of a quartz watch, which requires no winding and no servicing, others will argue that the beauty of owning a nice watch is all about appreciating its complexity and craftsmanship. More often than not, you’re either on one team or another. But 21st-century watchmaking is doing a lot to merge those lines.

A quartz watch isn’t merely just a cheap compromise on a mechanical watch anymore. There is a remarkable level of skill and technique behind the manufacture of some quartz watches – all the more reason why a guide to differentiating the two is a much-needed thing. That said, there are still plenty of affordable versions on the market just like there are top-of-the-range mechanical watches that you can pay six figures for. If you’re undecided here’s the difference between a quartz watch and a mechanical watch…

Quartz watches

Quartz movment
A typical quartz watch movement

Quartz watches are very low maintenance. Most run on a battery which lasts anywhere between 2-5 years. Aside from being durable, they’re also an affordable option because their engines aren’t made from hundreds of little hand-assembled parts like a mechanical movement.

The quartz movement uses a low frequency and lots of tiny pieces of quartz crystal which serve as an oscillator. The battery sends electricity to the quartz through an electric circuit. The quartz vibrates very quickly at an average frequency of 32,768 times/second.  Regular electric pulses are created as the circuit counts the pulses which in turn drive a small rotor that spins the hands.

Japanese quartz movements are remarkably accurate, hence why industry-leading experts like Seiko have been building on their reputation for quartz precision since 1880. Japanese watchmakers were the founders of quartz movements, after all.

Solar-powered watches

Seiko Solar Diver
Buy a Seiko Solar Diver at Amazon

Not all quartz watches have replaceable batteries, however. Solar-powered watches use a quartz movement, like Citizen’s Eco-Drive Technology, which can charge indoors as well as outdoors and can run for months without additional exposure to light once fully charged.

Mechanical watches

First built during the 17th Century the mechanical movement, as its namesake suggests, was driven by mechanics and required no battery. Mechanical watches are powered by a mainspring and are generally more expensive than a quartz watch. They also need to be serviced regularly.  The spring, once wound, manually releases itself to drive a chain of gears. This spring needs to be wound periodically, so for some collectors, an automatic watch is preferred.

watch movements
A hand-winding watch movement

Automatic watches

The use of a weighted gear and ball bearings in an automatic watch enables the movement to harvest energy from the natural movements of the wearer’s wrist. The individual parts of the movement, whether hand-wound or automatic, are often put on show through a sapphire-backed case, showcasing their complexity and attention-to-

Automatic watch movement
An automatic watch movement

detail. You can also hand wind an automatic watch movement if required. The wearer’s wrist movements, however, will cause the watch’s rotor to turn and wind the mainspring through gears. The gears in the gear train transfer this energy to the escapement which provides energy to the balance wheel at intervals.

The lever pallets push the balance wheel in alternating directions to maintain the balance wheel’s oscillations with reserved energy. Each swing of the balance wheel drives the hands mounted on the gears via the geartrain, generating the movement of the hands on the dial. Mechanical watches are a fascinating tool to own for many an avid enthusiast, but also make for great investment pieces too.

Quartz vs Mechanical Watches: the exception to the rule

Lastly, adding a little more complexity to the debate is the Spring Drive developed by Seiko for its Grand Seiko wristwatches. Thee movement combines the high torque of a mechanical movement with the high precision integrated circuit (IC) control system of an electronic watch. The Spring Drive is generated by a mainspring but drives a precision that cannot be matched by any mechanical movement.

By Nina Scally

Aside from juggling nappies, tantrums and failing at pastry-making, Nina has been writing for the luxury watch industry both as a hobby and for a living for the past 8 years. Writing to a male-dominated audience can be challenging at times. But she likes a challenge. Just not pastry.

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