Whilst we are horology nerds and watch enthusiasts and thus naturally gravitate towards mechanical watches, quartz does serve a purpose in the world of watches and has - just like everything else - both pros and cons.
Even if most watch enthusiasts favor mechanical watches for their craftsmanship and fine watchmaking, the fact of the matter is that quartz watches are more popular. Quartz watches are sold in much greater quantities than mechanical, and so obviously, there has got to be some advantages of quartz. And there certainly are. Specifically, nine out of every ten traditional wristwatches sold today are quartz.
But in addition, when it comes to watches, one does not have to exclude the other. Whilst watch enthusiasts tend to favor mechanical watches, a lot of collectors often have at least one quartz watch in their collection.
Quartz watches actually offer many advantages, which are what make them so popular. In this article, we’ll take a look at the top advantages of quartz watches. But before we do that, let’s dig into the history of quartz watches to understand what they are all about.
What is a quartz watch? history and background
Simply explained, a quartz watch is a watch that is powered by a battery. In other words, it does not feature a mechanical movement that is powered by the energy that is stored in the mainspring.
The name ”quartz” derives from the fact that the battery works in combination with a quartz crystal. This quartz crystal can be mined or synthesized and is used due to its electrically conductive properties.
The battery sends electric currents through the crystal via a tiny pitchfork-shaped crystal to keep it oscillating. The crystal vibrates at 32,768 Hz. In turn, the pitchfork is attached to a microchip. The purpose of the microchip is to translate the 32,768 vibrations per second to 1 vibration per second, resulting in the seconds hand ticking (normally) extremely accurately 1 time per second.
The core principle of the quartz movement is the same almost for all quartz watches, although there are some rare exceptions where manufacturers have taken a different approach to the quartz movement, making it work slightly differently. Furthermore, there are also variations such as solar quartz movements, which are charged via solar panels placed on the dial, and kinetic movements, which are designed to feature a rotor that generates power to the battery.
If you open the back of a quartz watch, you’ll notice that the quartz movement is actually a very simple and basic construction, unlike a mechanical movement, it consists of very few parts, allowing it to be affordable and easy to make. The fact that the construction of a quartz movement also has a number of additional advantages, which we’ll look closer at further on.
A quartz watch can be both analog and digital, meaning it indicates the time either via a digital LCD screen or traditional hands.
The first quartz watch can about in the 1960s and the first production quartz watch is the Seiko Astron, released in 1969. When quartz came about, watch brands almost exclusively made watches with mechanical movements - mostly hand-wound.
But when quartz was introduced, these watches quickly gained traction and popularity, partly due to their innovative and modern interesting technological appeal, but also because of the many advantages, they offered over traditional mechanical watches. When quartz was new, people were impressed with this technology that, on paper, is far superior to mechanical watches. Of course, mechanical watches remain very popular today, but that is perhaps mostly as a fashion accessory, for the appreciation of craftsmanship, and for the growing interest in fine watchmaking. But it’s important to keep in mind that during the 1960s, most people wore watches solely as a means of telling the time. And from this perspective, quartz watches were in fact superior in many ways.
Japan was a country that was very early to start producing quartz watches at scale, and shortly after the launch of the Seiko Astron, quartz watches started to dominate the market. The result was that traditional watchmakers focusing on mechanical watches, in particular those from Switzerland, had a really hard time competing with quartz watches. The Swiss watchmaking industry eventually found itself in what has come to be known as the ”quartz crisis” where many watchmakers went bankrupt due to the huge competition against the more affordable quartz watches.
Thanks to their simple construction, Japanese manufacturers could scale their production effectively, unlike the hand-made watches from Switzerland, resulting in lower costs, and greater production capacity.
Top advantages of quartz watches
Quartz watches offer a number of advantages over mechanical watches. And whilst we are huge advocates of mechanical watches, these advantages are undeniable. However, despite this, mechanical watches still continue to be hugely popular and are gaining increasing interest. But this is not perhaps due to practical reasons. As a matter of fact, we humans base a lot of our decisions on emotions, and buying a mechanical watch is a lot about emotions. We buy them because we appreciate the history, attention to detail, and craftsmanship behind them. Not because they are the best and most accurate means of telling the time.
The main advantages of quartz watches include affordability, extremely high accuracy, durability, and reliability.
Let’s look closer at the top advantages of quartz watches.
1. Affordable prices
Quartz watches are the most affordable type of watch on the market. Yes, there are more expensive alternatives even for quartz, but the most affordable watches on the market will always be quartz.
The reason for this is simple - it’s much easier to manufacture a quartz movement than a mechanical and the process can more or less be fully automated. Quartz movements contain only a few parts - simplified only a battery and a circuit. As opposed to the many parts that sit in a mechanical movement. As a result, quartz movements can be assembled very quickly and in large quantities. With this in mind, if you want a really affordable watch, quartz is the way to go.
The good news is that just because the movement is easier and more affordable to make doesn’t necessarily mean that they are worse watches than mechanical. As a matter of fact, it is thanks to the low complexity of a quartz movement that enables a great cost-to-quality ratio.
2. Easy and affordable maintain
Thanks to the few parts that are required to create a quartz movement, they are easy and affordable to maintain. A mechanical watch - just like an engine, will need regular services and maintenance in order to function properly and accurately. But quartz watches don’t require the same level of maintenance. In general, you just replace the battery when the watch stops and you are ready to go.
Servicing your mechanical watch can become quite costly over time due to the complexity of disassembling and assembling the movement. But replacing the battery every other year or so will only set you back like 20-50 USD if you have a watchmaker do it.
Furthermore, because a quartz watch consists of so few parts, it is much less likely to fail or lose accuracy. With a mechanical watch, you have hundreds of parts working in harmony to create perfect accuracy. As a result, if only one of these parts slowly but surely stops performing as it should, it may mean a loss of accuracy.
Also, because quartz movements have so few moving parts that are subject to friction, it means that the movement will not wear out as quickly and any moving parts will rarely need to be lubricated to ensure the proper function of the watch. But in the rare occasions that a quartz watch needs to be serviced, it is usually an easy and affordable fix that only costs a fraction of what it costs of repairing a mechanical movement.
3. Great Accuracy
Quartz watches are the most accurate type of watches on the market. Yes, there are mechanical watches that are more accurate than some quartz watches, but if we compare watches in the same price range, quartz watches will essentially always be more accurate than mechanical.
Quartz watches are extremely accurate, even those that are extremely affordable. For those who solely wear their watch as a means of telling the time, quartz, therefore, becomes a given choice.
Oftentimes, quartz watches lose (or gain) a few seconds per day or week at max, whilst some mechanical watches can lose or gain as much as 15-30 seconds per day.
If you always want to be able to trust the time that your watch is indicating, then quartz is definitely the way to go. It will work as a trusted companion to make sure you are always on time.
Another advantage of quartz watches is the slim profile and thickness they are able to achieve. Since mechanical watches consist of hundreds of parts, their thickness will become much greater than that of a quartz watch.
Now, there are some exceptions of ultra-slim mechanical watches, but in general, to achieve this, it requires great craftsmanship, which naturally also means that these mechanical watches come with substantial price tags.
With quartz watches, on the other hand, you can get ultra-slim watches for a really affordable price.
Since making a mechanical watch slim is rather complex, affordable mechanical watches tend to be quite thick. If you want a slim watch or have a small wrist and aren’t willing to spend a lot of money on your watch, opting for a quartz watch is the best (or only) choice.
5. Long battery life
Quartz watches are powered by batteries, unlike mechanical watches that usually get their energy from the mainspring which is either manually wound by hand or automatically wound via a rotor.
The issue with mechanical watches is that when they are not worn or wound for some time, they will run out of power and stop. Mechanical watches normally have a power reserve of around 24-48 hours.
Quartz watches, on the other hand, will tick for at least a year, usually, at least 2-3 years before the watch runs out of battery. This means that you can stop wearing the watch for some time and when you then decide to start wearing it again, it is ready to go. You won’t have to set the time or adjust the functions due to the fact that the watch has stopped, unlike with a mechanical watch.
This convenience ensures that quartz watches are ready to go whenever you are. The fact that quartz watches will run for years without you having to think about it is a very convenient thing.
6. Design alternatives - versatility
The selection of quartz watches is huge, and that’s partially what makes them so popular. Regardless of the style, you are looking for, there is a quartz watch for everyone. Dress watches, sports watches, and everything in between.
In addition, there is also a huge range of quartz watches in all price ranges and qualities. On one hand, we have super-affordable quartz watches like Casio, priced at less than 100 dollars or even 50 use, and on the other end of the spectrum, we have luxury choices from brands like Breitling and Omega. With this said, even if you prefer luxurious and qualitative watches but also prefer the advantages of quartz, there are watches for you.
As we have discussed briefly earlier, quartz watches are in general very robust, durable, and long-lasting. Because quartz watches contain much fewer parts, they are much less sensitive than mechanical watches that contain hundreds of tiny and delicate parts.
This makes quartz watches very robust and suitable for harsh conditions. They are in general able to withstand shocks, bangs, and harsh conditions to a much greater degree than mechanical timepieces.
With fewer parts, it also means that the watches are less sensitive to shocks that affect the accuracy.
The bottom line is, with a quartz watch, you don’t have to be as sensitive and careful as with a mechanical watch. They can, in general, withstand shocks and bangs much better than mechanical timepieces. Quartz watches are simply great ”beater” watches and excellent everyday timepieces.
This brings us to the next point.
8. Cheap to Replace
First of all, as concluded, quartz watches are normally very robust timepieces. But if anything would happen, they are fortunately very cheap to replace. This is something that a lot of people appreciate with quartz watches because they can simply knock and bang the watch without having to worry - because if anything was to happen, they can easily replace it without having to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
When wearing an expensive and delicate luxury watch, the fear of damaging or scratching the watch can remove a lot of the enjoyment of wearing one in the first place. Luckily, since quartz watches are so affordable, you won’t have to worry about this.
Also, with this in mind, quartz watches are highly suitable for those who are in manual or rough work that can subject the watch to a lot of knocks and bangs. If you’re working in a tough environment but also want a watch that makes it easy to tell the time, an affordable quartz watch will be the best alternative.