What does Quartz mean on a Watch?
 

What does Quartz mean on a Watch?

6 min read
Richard Brown

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How To's

Richard Brown

Categories

How To's

Quartz watches are arguably one of the most divisive subjects in the world of watches. Seen by some as technical marvels, whilst to others, they are a throwback to the darkest times of the watch industry. Nevertheless, most watches made today are quartz controlled and, love or loathe them, they are here to stay.

At face value, there's nothing not to like about quartz watches. You can put them away for months and they still work; modern battery technology is good so you do not have to change the cell every year, and they deliver accuracy that mechanical watches can only dream of. Yet offer a watch enthusiast the choice of a mid-range perpetual movement or a high-performance quartz and I wager most would select the automatic.

Geckota Chronotimer Racing Chronograph WatchGeckota Chronotimer Racing Chronograph Watch - Credit WatchGecko

A Bit of History.

Back in 1927 two gentlemen named Marrison and Horton developed the first quartz clock when they worked for Bell, but it was not until the 1950s that this technology was compressed into a wristwatch. The renown US manufacturer Hamilton has the accolade of producing the first electric watch, but it was not quartz technology in the way we understand it today. We did not see this until the year men landed on the moon when Seiko released the Astron 35 SQ in 1969 with the sales line "Someday all watches will be made this way" (and they weren't far wrong).

The Astron was a hugely accurate watch and, according to my research, was priced at over £10,000 in today's money, so it was a far cry from cheap quartz watches seen on the High Street. Nevertheless, the Astron has been unfairly pinned with the title of the watch that almost destroyed the Swiss watch industry.

Fast forward to 2023 and a quartz watch can cost you a few pounds to several thousand pounds, with all modules fundamentally doing the same job irrespective of price. Tier 1 manufacturers such as Breitling and Omega developed "Super Quartzes", which are phenomenally accurate and shielded against heat, cold and radiation.

FORZO G2 EnduraTimer Chronograph WatchFORZO G2 EnduraTimer Chronograph Watch - Credit WatchGecko

So how do Quartz modules work?

Quartz watches are a clever combination of a battery, an integrated circuit and a quartz crystal. The battery releases an electrical charge which passes through the integrated circuit to a microscopic quartz crystal shaped like a tuning fork. The charge causes the crystal to vibrate, or oscillate, up to 32,000 times per second. The oscillation frequency is fed back through the integrated circuit, generating a precise electrical impulse that moves the hands accurately.

Still not convinced? Here are the ten things you may want to consider before taking the plunge and adding a quality quartz watch to your collection.

Accuracy

Quartz watches are super accurate so if that means a lot to you then look no further. Even the most basic quartz should deliver an accuracy of around +/- 20 seconds per month. In comparison, the expected accuracy for an automatic COSC-certified movement will be around +/- 6 seconds per day.

Battery Life

It very good now that lithium is in use. Casio have several 10-year battery life watches and the Ronda 715Li offers the same lifespan. Even the most basic module should get 2 years out of a standard battery. Don't forget that selecting quartz opens up the world of solar power to you and with this eco-friendly technology, battery changes become a thing of the past.

Quartz MovementQuartz Movement - Credit WatchGecko

Tick Vs Sweep

One of the more obvious differences is that the second hand on a quartz watch will tick between each second rather than sweep elegantly around the watch dial. If this small aesthetic really doesn't mean that much to you then spend £1000 less on your sought-after Omega Seamaster and buy one of the excellent quartz variants available. Some meca-quartz movements beat four times per second, giving the impression of a sweep hand. As we have seen on my friend Anthony's quartz Grand Seiko, watching the second hand hit each minute on the track with pinpoint accuracy is beautiful.

Servicing

There is not the same requirement to service a quartz watch as there is an automatic. There are few moving parts so they take away the worry of movement jams, wear or stale oil. Yes, quartz movements can need some attention; however, anything that you require fixed will be infinitely cheaper than a watch smith taking the back off your Superlative Chronometer.

Desirability

To be completely honest quartz is still not as desirable as automatic in the world of watch enthusiasts. But thankfully most people do not feel this way and are quite happy with quartz powering their watch. With the advent of Super Quartz movements desirability deserves to change within the fickle world of watch lovers. How can you not love the Bulova Apollo 15 watch which boasts the same movement as found in the Apollo Capsules and delivers +/- 10 seconds a year accuracy.

Elliot Brown Holton: Land Rover X Elliot Brown Classic EditionElliot Brown Holton: Land Rover X Elliot Brown Classic Edition - Credit WatchGecko

Durability

Quartz movements are far more durable than automatic. They have superior shock resistance and do not suffer from a constant battle against friction from within. We sometimes get lost in the beauty of automatic movements and forget how delicate they are, hence the reason most military forces do not use them. Quartz modules are also significantly less affected by magnetic fields

Complications

Beautiful complications such as moon phase, chronographs and calendars are part of our love of watches. Fitting these within a quartz watch is much easier than building a hugely complicated mechanical movement to achieve the same result. Quartz watches make beautiful complications affordable and they should be applauded.

High end brands

Quartz watches are not the purview of cheap watches sold on the street market. Many high-end brands are producing them. Few typify more than Seiko, Longines or Omega. Their movements are of exceptional quality and will deliver years of solid service. You can be just as proud of them as an automatic.

Technical Interest

Quartz movements are technically impressive machines when you consider what is beating inside. When you start to embrace the world of tuning forks, mind blowing accuracy and thermal compensation, it's really quite exciting.

Geckota Chronotimer Racing Chronograph WatchGeckota Chronotimer Racing Chronograph Watch - Credit WatchGecko

Cost

A factor which revolves around so many watch purchases is cost. You can pick up quartz movements of reasonable quality for around £10 but assuming you could still buy an ETA 2824-2 you would probably pay about £250 for it. If you need a new battery in a quartz watch and you want to have it professionally fitted and the watch re-sealed, you may be looking at £20 to £25. But that's all you need to do for the next two years. If you need to have your Rolex serviced you're probably looking at £600+.

As a general rule, quartz watches will also be cheaper to buy as little hand assembly is required. Even when looking at Tier 1 brands you will normally pay less for a quartz model than mechanical. If you begin to consider some of the mid-field brands you can find some truly fabulous quartz watches at affordable prices.

Conclusion

Everyone should have at least one quartz watch in their collection, be one they have picked up for £50 such as the Casio Marlin Duro or a high-end model that costs several thousand like a Grand Seiko. The technology inside them is fascinating and the more you study it the more you appreciate it so don't be a watch snob next time you're looking to buy a watch. Check out the quartz variants.

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Richard Brown

About the Author: Richard Brown

I truly believe one of the best partners in exploration and adventure is a fine watch. Over 30 years of collecting, my fascination with the technical capabilities of both vintage and modern timepieces has never abated and it is a privilege to be able to share this passion through writing.

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