This is a question that we receive now and then, so in this article, we thought we would answer it in detail.
The answer to this question is first and foremost that automatic watches do not have to be expensive. But in general, automatic watches are more expensive than quartz watches.
The reason why automatic watches have a reputation for being so expensive is that the vast majority of luxury watch brands use automatic movements for the majority of their watches. As a result, automatic has become associated with being expensive. Brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Omega, and many more make mostly automatic watches.
But as mentioned, automatic doesn’t necessarily have to mean expensive, and that is a great thing for watch enthusiasts. Buying an automatic watch doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank. There are plenty of great watch brands that make high-quality affordable automatic watches but at affordable prices, where the most popular are brands like Seiko, Casio, Hamilton, Tissot, and many more.
The list can be made very long. In fact, we love automatic so much that we have dedicated ourselves to exclusively selling automatic watches at Watchbandit where we are partners.
Why are automatic watches so expensive?
This question can be answered in many ways, and we’ll try to cover it from different angles to help you get a good understanding of what makes them stand out.
First and foremost, automatic movements, in comparison to quartz, which is known to be more affordable (although this isn’t always the case) consists of fewer parts compared to quartz watches. A quartz movement can consist of tens of parts, but an automatic movement can consist of hundreds of small and delicate parts.
As a result, automatic movements are much more complex, both to design and develop, but also to assemble. Some manufacturers of affordable watches have streamlined their manufacturing process and found ways to partially or completely automate the process of assembling the automatic movements which help push down the prices. But for the most part, automatic movements with their hundreds of small components are so complex that they need to be assembled by hand. Naturally, this will affect the price of watches with automatic movements.
Since it requires more work and takes more time to assemble an automatic movement this will ultimately be reflected in the price tag. And keep in mind, this cannot be done just by anyone. It requires a skilled and experience watchmaker. But more on this further on.
Automatic vs quartz
Here’s the deal:
If you compare affordable quartz watches with luxury automatic watches, then naturally, automatic watches are expensive. But if you compare affordable quartz watches with affordable automatic watch brands, you will get a fairer idea of their prices. This is also because affordable automatic movements are so different from expensive automatic movements.
If you take, for example, the automatic Omega caliber 8800 and compare that to Seiko’s most basic automatic movement, the 7S26, the differences are substantial.
The Seiko caliber does not have a manual-winding function, it does not have hacking seconds, it does not have an accuracy certification (Like Omega’s METAS certification), it has worse anti-magnetic properties, it is not decorated nor finished, and overall, it does not have an equally good build quality and durability. With this said, comparing affordable automatic movements to expensive movements is like comparing apples to pears - it does not give an accurate and fair picture of their prices.
What you can compare, however, is affordable quartz movements with affordable automatic movements, because here, the price differences are not as substantial. This is great news for us watch enthusiasts because it means that essentially everyone can enjoy the benefits of automatic watches even with a smaller budget. Just keep in mind that in general, pricing does affect the quality
Because automatic movements take longer to assemble, and also requires more watchmakers with the appropriate skills to be able to assemble them, it is more difficult to mass-produce automatic watches compared to quartz. This is a factor that naturally affects the price of automatic watches. Quartz watches can generally be more mass-produced than automatics, which results in lower pricing. Becoming a watchmaker is not something you do just after a few hours of training. A proper watchmaking education usually takes several years.
Take, for example, the Casio Duro MDV106-1AV which is one of the most popular affordable quartz watches on the market. This watch is known for being high-quality, robust, and relatively accurate. And it is also sold at a price of around 50 USD. Finding an automatic watch for the same price with the same performance is virtually impossible due to this factor and the increased complexity of making one.
Another factor that also affects the price of automatic movements is warranty and service. Because automatic movements consists of hundreds of small parts, they are much more complicated to repair for the manufacturer shall there be a warranty claim. To enable warranty repairs, the prices need to cover these costs, and so the prices that are set takes this into account.
On the most affordable quartz watches, it may just be easier and more affordable to just change the whole movement. Also, quartz movements tend to be more sturdy and reliable since they have fewer parts and less room for errors.
With all of this said, automatic watches are not necessarily expensive, but you must compare apples to apples and pears to pears.
Some of the differences that distinguish affordable automatic watches from expensive automatic movements are:
- Expensive automatic movements are of higher quality and need less maintenance to function properly
- Expensive automatic movements (generally) have greater anti-magnetic properties
- Expensive automatic movements generally have greater accuracy
- Expensive automatic movements generally have better and more advanced functions such as quick-set, hacking seconds, manual-winding functions, etc.
- Expensive automatic movements generally have better power-reserves
- Expensive automatic movements are generally better decorated and finished
- Expensive automatic movements are generally more accurate for a longer period of time
Yes, automatic watches will, in general cost more than quartz watches due to the fact that they consist of hundreds of parts which are much more complex to assemble and normally requires hand-assembly compared to quartz movements. But there’s so much more to it than that which you need to take into consideration.
Think about what type of automatic watch and performance that you can satisfy with and then look at how far your budget will get you. Rolex’s watches are COSC certified and generally specified to an accuracy of +2/-2 seconds per day, which, impressively enough, is the same, or better than the accuracy of affordable quartz watches (which are known for being more accurate than automatic watches).
Some affordable automatic Seiko watches may be accurate to +/-15 seconds a day, and that is quite a substantial difference. So although the movements are built on the same principle of being mechanical and featuring a rotor, it’s important to remember that there is a huge difference between different automatic movements. And this is often reflected in the price, hence why automatic watches are known for being so expensive, although that is not the whole truth.
But with that said, when it comes to luxury automatic watches, it’s not solely the movement that affects their prices, either. With luxury watches, you have overall a better watch with greater attention to detail and more premium materials.
They may use ceramic, sapphire crystals, are hand-polished, have greater quality controls, and much more, which all drive up the prices. And lastly, you also have the fact that when you buy a luxury watch, you’re also paying for the brand and prestige that comes with it.