Buying a Watch? Choosing Between Quartz and Automatic
November 16, 2016
So you've decided to buy yourself a new watch and you walk into a large watch store and the salesperson asks if you prefer quartz or automatic? You have no idea what he's referring to so he explains that a quartz watch runs by battery and are generally very precise, while an Automatic (Mechanical) runs by the movement of your wrist. Armed with this information you now have a decision to make. But why would anyone buy a less precise watch? Aren't you buying it to keep track of the time?
Let's take a closer look:
As you can see, this quartz movement is not very exciting. No decernable moving parts, just a very simple battery and coil. If you look closely, you'll notice a couple of gears. It is called a quartz movement, because a small quartz crystal is actually integrated into the electronics. Why? Because every timekeeping device needs something constant to measure time against, and when you run a current through a quartz crystal, it oscillates at an almost perfectly constant frequency. Because of the simplicity, most quartz watche are not very expensive. Maintainance means going to your jeweler every two years and changing the battery. Even many of the least expensive quartz movements will keep very precise time!
Immediately, you can see a huge difference; tons of moving parts as opposed to close to none in the quartz movement. The top piece that looks like a semi-circle is the piece that winds the watch. As your wrist moves, this piece flies around and around keeping the watch moving. This is why when you take the watch off and throw it in a drawer for a day or more, it stops. It is not being wound. Most automatics will hold a reserve of 12-18 hours. Mechanical watches employ technology several-hundred-years-old. Mechanical watches are powered by springs, which turn gears, a regulating mechanism and eventually the hands. A mechanical movement will have somewhere between 50 and 300 parts, depending on the movement, and are somewhat delicate compared to quartz movements. They will however last a long, long time if properly maintained and cared for. These are the types of watches you see handed down from generation to generation. Most of the finest watches made are Automatic. Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Ulysses Nardin, IWC, Vacheron Costantine, Piaget and Cartier all employ automatic movements-( although most also offer quartz, but are very unpopular). Automatics contain true craftmanship, the reason many of these timepices are givien the tiltle "Masterpiece".
So if precision or affordability are your main gols, Quartz is the way to go. If your looking for a true item of workmanship that can be passed down from generation to generation, and don't mind the added expense-go with an Automatic. You may have to set it more often, but you are getting a superior mechanism by far!
We have not covered true Mechanical movements which need to be hand wound and are becoming very rare, although Patek Phillipe probably makes the finest movement in the world. Nor did we touch on Citizen's Eco-Drive which uses light to charge an internal cell. Citizen has done an excellent job creating their own niche and offer a 5 year warranty, so they stand firnly behind their technology. Perhaps we'll get to these in the future!