Quartz vs Mechanical Watches: A Horological Exploration

by JUNJIE ZHANG on Jun 04, 2024

Quartz vs Mechanical Watches: A Horological Exploration

In the realm of modern watchmaking, timepieces are broadly categorized into two distinct categories: quartz and mechanical. While both serve the fundamental purpose of timekeeping, the underlying mechanisms that power these watches are vastly different. This article delves into the key distinctions between quartz and mechanical movements, shedding light on their respective intricacies and characteristics.

Quartz Movement:
Quartz watches operate by harnessing an electrical current from a battery to power a quartz crystal oscillator. This crystal oscillates at a precise frequency of 32,768 times per second, which is then divided by a circuit to drive the motor and oscillating weights, allowing the second hand to advance once per second. Renowned for their remarkable accuracy, quartz movements may only deviate by a few seconds per month, making them a reliable choice for those seeking unwavering precision.

Mechanical Movement:
In contrast, mechanical watches are powered not by batteries but by a wound mainspring that transmits energy through an intricate configuration of gears, springs, and an oscillating balance wheel. This mechanical movement requires periodic rewinding of the mainspring, either through manual winding or via an automatic winding rotor that transfers motion from the wearer's wrist movements. The beating heart of these timepieces, mechanical movements represent a triumph of engineering and craftsmanship.

While quartz watches boast exceptional accuracy straight out of the box, thanks to their quartz crystal's metronomic oscillation, high-end luxury mechanical movements are finely tuned and can achieve impressive accuracy within +/- 5 seconds per day when serviced regularly.

Quartz watches are primarily designed for simple timekeeping, while mechanical movements offer the opportunity to incorporate increasingly complex functions and elaborate "complications" such as perpetual calendars, chronographs, tourbillons, minute repeaters, and more.

Quartz movements are inherently production models made through automated processes, while mechanical movements found in luxury watches are micro-engineered marvels with tiny components individually inspected and assembled by skilled artisans.

Power Reserve:
Quartz watches rely on battery power, which must be periodically replaced every few years. In contrast, mechanical watches, once fully wound, can run for days on their internal mainspring's power reserve before requiring rewinding.

At lower price points, quartz watches are generally more affordable and require less servicing. However, as one ascends the horological hierarchy, intricate mechanical movements demand premium pricing associated with haute horology and the artistry involved in their creation.

Both quartz and mechanical movements have distinct strengths that appeal to different collectors and enthusiasts. However, for those drawn to the microengineering mastery and rich horological heritage, there is an undeniable charm to the tiny, traditional mechanics inside a beautifully crafted mechanical watch.