Quartz vs. Automatic: The Movements
The late 1960s ushered in a new generation of watchmaking with the introduction of the first quartz movement. This technological breakthrough set off a tumultuous time for the Swiss watch industry. These Japanese-made quartz calibers were less expensive, more accurate, and faster to produce than traditional Swiss mechanical movements. They posed such a threat that the period between the 1970s and 1980s has been dubbed the Quartz Crisis. Even today, as strong as the Swiss market is, many still view quartz movements as inferior to their mechanical counterparts. However, it’s worth taking a step back and examining what a quartz movement really is and how it compares to a traditional automatic movement.
What is a Quartz Movement?
Seiko presented the world’s first mass-produced quartz watch in 1969 called the Astron. However, Bell Telephone Laboratories actually invented the first quartz clock in 1927. A quartz movement is essentially another way of saying a timepiece is battery-powered. In simple terms, a quartz caliber operates via an electrical current from a battery that gives power to the quartz crystal within the movement. This causes it to vibrate, and these vibrations cause the movement to oscillate, which drives the motor. Finally, we see this in the moving hands on the face of a watch.
One main advantage of a quartz caliber is accuracy. Quartz movements are far more accurate than mechanical movements. Another benefit is convenience. Aside from a battery change every couple of years, a quartz watch will continue to run without the need to wear it or wind it. Lastly, watches with quartz movements are less expensive than mechanical watches, especially when you’re considering luxury watches.
Notable Quartz Movements
To counteract the influx of Japanese and American quartz movements, twenty of the top Swiss watch brands decided to join forces. Together, they established the Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH). In 1970, the CEH unveiled the famed Beta 21 quartz movement. You can find it in such timepieces as the OMEGA Electroquartz, the Rolex Oysterquartz, the IWC Da Vinci, and the Patek Philippe 3587. Now, vintage luxury watches equipped with the Beta 21 quartz caliber are highly sought after by watch collectors.
Fast-forward to today, and you can find some of the best quartz movements in luxury watches created by Breitling, TAG Heuer, Cartier, and OMEGA. For instance, take Breitling’s SuperQuartz movements. You can find them in their Colt, Exospace, and Emergency models. They boast ten times more accuracy than a standard quartz movement and are COSC-certified.
In 2019 alone, the industry has made some major strides in the evolution of quartz movements. For example, Citizen partnered with Bulova to develop a new concept movement based on the original Accutron. This comes ahead of the iconic model’s 60th anniversary. Citizen also debuted the Eco-Drive Caliber 0100 at Baselworld 2019 – the most accurate wristwatch ever made.
Quartz Movements vs. Automatic Movements
While a quartz movement gets its power from a battery, an automatic mechanical movement uses energy from the motion of a wearer’s wrist. Every time the watch moves, a rotor within the caliber spins and automatically winds the mainspring. This is why you may hear someone refer to an automatic movement as a self-winding movement. Next, the gathered energy releases from the mainspring through a barrel to the gear trains, powering the timepiece. As long as someone wears the watch regularly or keeps it in a watch winder, it’ll continue to have power.
The argument for and against quartz movements is usually a passionate one among watch enthusiasts. However, the innovation that quartz movements have brought to wristwatch production is undeniable. Rather than comparing quartz movements to automatic ones, it’s more sensible to examine and appreciate each as individuals. Both types of movements have brought breakthroughs, discoveries, and advances to the field of watchmaking.
Image Credits: Header, 1-2, 4; Crown & Caliber. 3; HODINKEE.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated in June 2019 for clarity and material
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Ahmed Hakki | July 13, 2020
Yes I like my Victorinox Swiss Army Quartz watch that I received as a gift on my retirement in 2008. I looks and works fine. No need to buy a movement watch that requires cleanning every few years. My mother gave me an 18 carat gold Movado movement watch with day,date and month in French on my 21st birthday. unfortunately some years later the leather strap broke and I was carrying the watch in my trouser pocket and my wife sent the trousers with other clothing to poor people in egypt where our families are from. hopefully the gold movado watch was of more value to a poor family than to me.
Watch battery replacement London | February 22, 2020
Both are the best option if you see from Quartz perspectives. I have both watches but not the favorites.
Keavin nelson | January 26, 2020
My issue with the quartz watches is the battery dying at most inopportune times. i don’t wear my TAG any longer because of that.
william roberts | January 26, 2020
i own both but i prefer automatic. the reasnon being i dont like to open the back of a watch for any reason. no nee to be poking around with a watertight time piece.
Steve Kear | July 7, 2019
LEt’s see, quartz are less expensive, more accurate and more available. While i appreciate the engineering of mechaniCal watches i much prefer quartz. Thanks for the article, very well done.
Matthew Aiden | May 4, 2019
I REALLY ENJOYED FROM READING THE ARTICLE ABOVE, YOU HAVE EXPLAINED EVERYTHING IN DETAIL ABOUT QUARTZ MOVEMENT VS AUTOMATIC MOVEMENT. I FOUND YOUR WEBSITE JUST RIGHT FOR MY NEEDS. THANKS FOR SHARING THE GREAT INFORMATION. GOOD LUCK!
G | July 8, 2019
Great DEFINITION in explaining the differences as well as the POSITIVE traits of each.
desley | April 7, 2019
THIS IS JUST FOR COMPARISON, BUT AS YOU KNOW NOWADAYS PEOPLES LIKE TO WEAR ELECTRONIC WATCHES. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT, PLEASE POST A NICE OPINION ABOUT ELECTRONIC WATCHES LIKE APPLE VS ROLEX. WAITING FOR YOUR GOOD POST ON THAT, THANK YOU.
Tim Carson | February 20, 2019
Very Concise and informative post. Thanks for sharing.
Stella Gough | October 20, 2018
I read your blog. Its quite informative and interesting blog. Thanks for write such a wonderful blog.
Stella Gough | October 13, 2018
Thanks for this post. Its quite very interesting and informative post! I loved it. I will be waiting for the other post related to the watches.
Stella Gough | September 13, 2018
I always prefer Quartz movement watches. These watches looks so stylish and Beautiful. Thanks for this informative post.
Melanie Gibson | September 11, 2018
Nice Post! I used to wear the watches. It’s a part of a fashion which adores my look more than before. Nice Post! Thanks for sharing it.
Kevin Mackay | June 1, 2018
Both are the best in their perspective Quartz as well as Automatic. I used to wear both of them. My favorite brand is fortis. Which MAtched with my all attires. Flourish my look more. So comfortable to Wear.