The debate that never ends; quartz verse mechanical movements, which do you prefer?
I guess it depends how long you want to keep your watch and how important the watch is to you.
To be fair and for the most part, it doesn’t matter to the majority of watch buyers who just want a watch to look nice and be reliable.
But should it matter…? I will let you decide for yourself but let’s lay out both arguments first.
What are we actually talking about here?
There are two types of watch movements – quartz and mechanical.
Quartz watches are powered by a battery while mechanical watches, which can be either automatic or hand wound, are powered through the gradual release of energy.
Quartz is actually a crystal piece that creates 33 vibrations per second. These vibrations are fed into a tiny electronic chip that then converts them into impulses. These impulses effectively drive a battery powered motor and together they control the movement of the watch hands. Because of the computer chip component of these watches, they can have a lot more features than mechanical movements. Quartz watches are more durable and extremely accurate as well as very cheap to make, which is the main reason they account for approximately 90% of watches in the world.
Mechanical watches on the other hand, employ old technology, several-hundred-years-old technology. Mechanical watches are more connected to the wearer as they require an action from the wearer in order to work. Mechanical movements have between 50 and 300 parts and are much more delicate compared to quartz movements. They will however last a much longer time if properly maintained and cared for.
In the case of hand wound movements, the wearer must manually wind the crown to tighten the spring which then slowly ‘unwinds’ itself gradually releasing energy which powers the watch. A full wind can work for anything between 40 hours to many days in some cases.
An Automatic or self-winding movement, winds itself using a pendulum that oscillates to put tension on the mainspring through the random motion of the watch wearer’s arm. Impressively, the automatic watch was invented in 1777 by Abraham-Louis Perrelet, who first used it in pocket watches. Back then a 15 minute walk was enough to power the watch for up to 8 days. So, if you wear your automatic each day, you will rarely have to adjust the time at all.
What make one movement more special than the other?
Look, it can’t be argued otherwise, Quartz movements are much reliable and durable. You will rarely have a problem with them except having to change the battery every couple of years in most cases. They are infinitely cheaper and therefore much more accessible for everyone. But be warned, Quartz watches will not hold their value let alone increase in value. With a shelf life of 2-5 years, they should not be considered as a family heirloom as they are based off an ever-changing technology that will run out of spare parts if problems arise. Many people consider Quartz movements as nothing more than a disposable fashion statement to suit this year’s new trends. This is a bit harsh as not everybody is influenced in this way.
Having said this, mechanical movements are considered more special, mostly by those who love watches. They are considered to have more soul and longevity as they are assembled by hand and in some cases, take months to make. Mechanical watches will usually cover hours, minutes, seconds and date, and in some cases the day or a chronograph might feature.
There are also the lucky few who can afford prestigious watches that feature ‘complications’ such as alarms, minute repeaters, perpetual calendars and toubillons. These are all engineered and designed by incredibly creative and talented watch makers. They have no clever computer chips guiding their accuracy, only the precision with which they are created. And this is why they can cost several hundred thousand dollars to make. They will normally increase in value dramatically too.
Mechanical watches are a thing of beauty, both in their conception and design as well as their appearance. You can admire this beauty through the back case of most mechanical movements and often you will find yourself lost in their complexity and elegance. There is something truly special about the sound of the rotor, the sweep of the second hand and the unique ticking sound it makes.
Yes, Quartz watches are less expensive and more reliable than mechanical watches, but they lack the soul, heritage, connection that you get with mechanical movements. There is an experience and emotion that cannot be measured and that is difficult to explain, but those who own a mechanical watch will understand this.
Ask yourself this, if you were to one day hand down your beloved watch to a loved one, would you rather it be a Quartz movement or a Mechanical movement?
I know which I would prefer.
Written by Will, Toc Watch.