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Watch Movement 101: Quartz Vs. Automatic

Published on
Guide
quartz vs automatic watch

There are key factors to consider when choosing between an automatic and quartz watch movement. Quartz watches are generally more affordable and cater to a larger market, while automatic watches appeal to those seeking higher returns on their timepiece investments.

The availability of various watch brands and the intricate engineering involved can also influence your decision. Furthermore, proper maintenance is crucial for ensuring the longevity of both quartz and automatic watches.

While both types fulfill the primary function of displaying time, they differ in features and qualities. It’s important to evaluate practical aspects when selecting the perfect timepiece. The following sections will explore the characteristics, pros, cons, and more of automatic and quartz watches.

Quartz vs. Automatic Comparison Table

This section outlines the main differences between these two types of watch movements.

FeaturesQuartz MovementAutomatic Movement
Power SourceTypically powered by a battery, which sends an electrical current to a quartz crystal. Powered by the wearer’s wrist movement, which winds a mainspring.
AccuracyHighly accurate in timekeeping, typically accurate to +/- 15 seconds per month.The level of accuracy for an automatic watch varies depending on the quality of the movement and external conditions like temperature and humidity.
MaintenanceRequires less maintenance. Often, the only maintenance needed is a battery replacement every few years.Requires frequent servicing, as the mechanical components need cleaning and oiling to ensure smooth operation. 
DurabilityTend to be more durable and less susceptible to shock damage.May be more prone to damage if not handled carefully. 
PriceUsually affordable, making them accessible to a wider range of consumers.Automatic watches, especially luxury models and those with high-quality movements, can be more expensive.

In a nutshell: The wearer’s wrist movement powers automatic watches, are less accurate, and are more prone to damage, but are often more appreciated by watch enthusiasts. 

On the other hand, quartz watches are battery-powered, highly accurate, require less maintenance, and are generally more affordable.

Automatic Watch Movement

automatic watch movement

An automatic or self-winding or mechanical watch movement operates by converting kinetic energy from the wearer’s wrist into potential energy that powers the watch. 

The movement of the wearer’s arm causes the mainspring to wind, which stores the energy needed to keep the watch running accurately. This process involves a rotor, which spins with the motion of the wrist, winding the mainspring and keeping the watch powered.

Pros:

  • Longevity: With proper care and regular servicing, automatic watches can last for generations, making them heirloom pieces.
  • Smooth Movement: The second hand on an automatic watch moves smoothly, a characteristic watch enthusiasts appreciate.
  • Collectability: Automatic watches, particularly from luxury brands, are highly valued by collectors and can appreciate in value over time.
  • No Battery Required: Automatic watches harness energy from the movement of the wearer’s wrist, so there’s no need to replace a battery.
  • Craftsmanship: Mechanical or automatic watches are appreciated for their intricate automatic movements and the craftsmanship required to make them.

Cons:

  • Maintenance: Automatic watches require regular, often costly, servicing to maintain performance.
  • Regular Winding Needed: If not worn regularly, automatic watches can stop and must be manually wound.
  • Price: High-quality automatic watches, especially luxury models, are more expensive than quartz watches.
  • Accuracy: Automatic watches may lose or gain a few seconds daily, making them less accurate than quartz watches.
  • Sensitivity: Automatic watches can be environmentally sensitive and have rough handling, potentially less durable than quartz watches.

5 Best Automatic Watches

1. Rolex Submariner Date 16610

Rolex Submariner Date 16610

About

A classic dive watch that combines functionality, durability, and elegance.

2. Omega Speedmaster Automatic Reduced 3510.50.00

Omega Speedmaster Automatic Reduced 3510.50.00

About

The first watch worn on the moon, known for its precision and iconic design.

3. Seiko Presage SRPG05J1

Seiko Presage SRPG05J1

About

Offering a variety of designs at affordable prices, Seiko Presage is an excellent entry point into the world of automatic watches.

4. TAG Heuer Carrera WBN2111.BA0639

TAG Heuer Carrera WBN2111.BA0639

About

A line of racing-inspired chronograph watches with their roots in motorsports.

5. IWC Portugieser 40 Automatic IW3583-05

IWC Portugieser IW3583-05

About

Blending intricate design and precision engineering, the IWC Portugieser is a refined choice for automatic watch enthusiasts.

Quartz Watch Movement

quartz watch movement

A quartz watch movement is a mechanism for keeping time that utilizes the regular vibrations of a tiny quartz crystal powered by a battery to drive a step motor. When a current is applied, the quartz crystal vibrates at a very stable frequency of 32,768 times per second due to the piezoelectric effect. 

This frequency is converted by a circuit into a single pulse per second, providing the watch with a very consistent beat or rate, resulting in high accuracy. The pulses drive the step motor, which moves the watch hands, converting the electrical signal into mechanical function. The process enables a quartz watch to keep accurate time, often within a few seconds per month.

Pros:

  • Accuracy: Quartz watches are incredibly accurate, often keeping time to within a few seconds per month.
  • Low Maintenance: Quartz watches require very little maintenance beyond battery replacements, typically every 1-2 years.
  • Convenience: Quartz watches are practical and convenient, as they continue to run and keep time without needing to be worn or wound.
  • Durability: They are generally more durable and less prone to damage from impacts or movement because they have fewer moving parts.
  • Affordability: Generally, quartz watches are less expensive to produce than mechanical movement watches, resulting in a more affordable price point for consumers.

Cons:

  • Environmental Impact: The production and disposal of batteries can contribute to environmental pollution.
  • Less Craftsmanship: Quartz movement watches lack the craftsmanship, engineering, and tradition of mechanical watches.
  • Lack of Prestige: Quartz watches generally have less prestige and may appreciate less value than luxury mechanical watches.
  • Lack of Smooth Movement: The second hand on quartz watches moves in individual ticks, unlike the smooth sweep of an automatic watch.
  • Battery Replacements: The need for battery replacements can be inconvenient, and improper replacement can compromise the watch’s water resistance.

5 Best Quartz Watches

1. Rolex Datejust Oysterquartz 17000

Rolex Datejust Oysterquartz 17000

About

The Rolex Datejust Oysterquartz 17000, with its iconic angular case and integrated bracelet, stands out as a rare quartz-powered Rolex known for its precision and unique design.

2. Seiko Quartz Astron 35SQ

Seiko Quartz Astron 35SQ

About

The Seiko Astron, the world’s first quartz watch, remains a classic timepiece with modern features like GPS timekeeping.

3. Cartier Santos Dumont WSSA0023

Cartier Santos Dumont WSSA0023

About

This quartz watch features a crocodile skin strap in a case that comes in a 38mm size.

4. TAG Heuer Formula 1 WAZ1110.BA0875

TAG Heuer Formula 1 WAZ1110.BA0875

About

A luxurious option, the TAG Heuer Formula 1 features a quartz movement and sleek design.

5. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 51675TR

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 51675TR

About

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak is a versatile, luxurious quartz watch, perfect for casual or formal wear.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why Is Automatic Movement Better Than Quartz?

Automatic movement watches are often considered better than quartz for several reasons. First, they are powered by the kinetic energy of the wearer’s wrist, which means they don’t require a battery to function. This is an eco-friendly and hassle-free alternative to frequently replacing batteries in a quartz watch. 

Secondly, many automatic watches are generally constructed with high-quality materials and craftsmanship, leading to a more durable and long-lasting timepiece. Watch enthusiasts also appreciate automatic watch movements for their intricate mechanical engineering and craftsmanship, making them a piece of art and a functional accessory.

2. Is Rolex Quartz or Automatic?

Rolex, a prestigious Swiss watch manufacturer, is primarily known for its automatic or mechanical movements, which are powered by a self-winding mechanism harnessing the motion of the wearer’s wrist. 

However, there was a period from the late 1970s to the early 2000s when Rolex produced a quartz model known as the Oysterquartz. This quartz model is now discontinued, and Rolex has since refocused its attention solely on crafting automatic watches, celebrated for their meticulous craftsmanship and precision.

3. Does Quartz Watch Last Longer Than Automatic?

In terms of functionality, quartz watches have a longer lifespan compared to automatic watches. Quartz movements have fewer moving parts, translating to less wear and tear over time. However, automatic watches can be serviced and maintained more readily than quartz watches, preserving their mechanical movements for extended periods.

That being said, when properly maintained, high-quality automatic watches can last for decades or generations. In contrast, the battery and electronic components in quartz watches may fail, leading to the need for replacement.

Final Word

In conclusion, the debate between automatic and quartz watch movements ultimately boils down to personal preference and priorities. While automatic watches offer a sense of craftsmanship, collectability, and appreciation by watch enthusiasts, quartz watches excel in accuracy, convenience, and affordability. Each type has its own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s important to consider factors such as longevity, maintenance, price, and durability when making a decision.

Key Takeaways

  • Quartz watches are known for their supreme accuracy compared to automatic watches. If precise timekeeping is a priority, quartz might be the better choice.
  • Automatic watches require regular maintenance and servicing to keep them running smoothly. In contrast, quartz watches only need battery replacements every few years.
  • Generally, quartz watches are more affordable than automatic ones, but luxury options are available in both categories.

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