Quartz vs Automatic: What's the difference?

by Jacob Kearnes on July 15, 2020

Quartz vs Automatic: What’s the difference?

When considering the vast world of watches, we can all appreciate the intricate and elaborate artistry of a classy looking timepiece. However, the sophisticated level of craftsmanship and detail that goes on behind the scenes remains a mystery to many people.

Quartz and automatic may be familiar terms, but when looking to purchase…what is the difference, is one better than the other…what should I choose?

Well, this all depends on what you are looking for in a watch. In short, these types of watches differ in many ways. Here we have put together a simple guide to develop a better understanding of the mechanical context of timekeeping, creating insight into what makes them tick!

Watch Movements

‘Quartz’ and ‘Automatic’ are terms that refer to the different types of movements that power a watch. Essentially, the engine that keeps time… well running on time!

Let’s take a look at the differences:

Quartz Movements

Introduced by Seiko back in 1969, quartz movement watches make up 97% of all watches produced each year. Interestingly, when Seiko released their limited-edition quartz Astron wristwatch, it cost as much as a family car. Luckily, due to advances in manufacturing technology, quartz watches are now the most affordable on the market.

Considering time reliability, all timepieces gain or lose a certain amount of time each day. Even a watch with 99.9% accuracy will lose around a minute and a half per day. However, in terms of timekeeping, quartz movements are exceptionally accurate with only a minuscule discrepancy of around 15 seconds per month. Incredible right!

So what makes them tick?

Quartz movements are powered by a battery that passes an electric signal through a tiny quartz crystal. This causes the crystal to oscillate at an almost flawless continuous frequency of 32,768 times per second. The consistency of the vibration is the foundation for the accuracy of time and is why quartz movement watches have such amazing timekeeping superpowers.

Quartz watches are an extremely popular option due to their affordability, simplicity, and reliability. They are a low maintenance, no nonsense time piece that generally only require a battery change once every few years. 

Automatic Movements

 There are two categories of watch movements, quartz movements and mechanical movements. Automatic watches fall under the category of mechanical, or self-winding movements. Mechanical movements with a manual winding system have been around for centuries, however, self-winding, or automatic movements, weren’t invented until the 1700’s.

These movements are very complex and are made up of hundreds of tiny, intricate parts. Fascinating right?

This level of complexity is quite time intensive to manufacture which generally makes them more expensive compared to quartz watches. However, the impressive craftsmanship and artistry that goes into the construction of an automatic watch is where the comparison falls short.

So how do they work?

Automatic movement watches are powered by the kinetic motions of the user’s wrist movements. The user’s movements cause an internal weight to rotate within the watch, effectively transferring energy to the watches power reserve. This means that a simple walk down the street, handshake or nose scratch can keep time ticking on.

The watch will also continue to run for some time after it has been taken off. This is due to the power stored in the watches power reserve with most watches lasting between 30-50 hours. Automatic watches can also be manually wound to ‘power up’ the reserve.

Why Choose Quartz

  • Quartz watches are less labour intensive to manufacture than automatic watches making them significantly cheaper to produce and purchase
  • Quartz watches are exceptionally accurate and reliable timekeepers. A good automatic watch is generally out by several minutes per month compared to a quartz watch of 15-20 seconds a month.
  • Quartz watches are very low maintenance, requiring a battery change every few years. Although an automatic watch does not have a battery, it does require servicing every 3-5 years.

Why Choose Automatic

You may be wondering…if quartz watches are cheaper, more reliable and less maintenance, why buy automatic at all?

  • Automatic watches are popular with watch collectors and enthusiasts for their intricate craftsmanship and artistry.
  • Automatic watches have a rich history and heritage surrounding many mechanical movement makers
  • Automatic watches are captivating and alluring with the impressive nature of the engineering behind the mechanical movements attracting a deep appreciation
  • Many automatic watches have transparent sapphire casing on the back to expose the complex movements and intricate details
  • Mechanical watches also have a mesmerising second hand that moves several times a second giving the illusion of a sweeping motion.

Conclusion

So, when it comes to quartz versus automatic watches, deciding on the right watch for you is largely dependent on your preference. Whether adding to your collection or just looking for an everyday timekeeper both movements are up to the task.

If you appreciate history, complexity and sophistication then invest in a classy automatic.

However, if you are price conscious and looking for a stylish reliable timepiece, you can't go wrong with a quartz.

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