The most frequent question anyone who is looking to buy a watch will ask is: What are the differences between quartz and mechanical movements? The watch movement acts as a powerhouse that makes the watch and its functions work. This mechanism drives all of the timekeeping and other functions which makes it essential for accurate timekeeping.
Mechanical movement preceded quartz technology by several hundreds of years. This is the same technology that people used in 15th- 16th century, while quartz watches were discovered in second half of 20th century, back in 1960s. Mechanical mechanism is powered by winding a mainspring. This spring turns gears that scale down its movement with help of a balancing wheel to keep accurate time. There are two types of mechanical watches – manual and automatic. The quartz watch runs on electricity, powered by a battery that sends electric pulses through quartz crystals. During the 80s quartz watches flooded the market and today they make up about 85% of all wristwatches in the world.
Many watch enthusiasts and producers of luxury watches choose mechanical over quartz mechanisms. The reason is simple – level of craftsmanship required to make a mechanical movement. Skillful watchmakers create these movements that contain series of tiny gears and components working together to power the timepiece. Although general design of watches hasn’t changed much in centuries, new technologies allow greater attention to detail but also craftsmen are able to design and engineer watches more precisely. To power the watch, mechanical movement uses a wound spring, unlike quartz watches that are powered by a battery. Function of this spring is to store energy that is later transferred through series of gears and springs that regulate the release of energy in order to power the watch. Despite the fact that nowadays quartz watches represent 85% of the watches, they are much more affordable, while luxury producers still make watches with mechanical movement as their trademark products. There are two different types of mechanical movements.
Manual movement is the oldest type of watch movement. It is also referred to as “hand-wound movement” since you have to manually wind the mainspring in order to store potential energy. Once you do so, it will unwind slowly releasing the energy through complex series of gears and springs. This mechanism regulates the release of energy and scales the movement which is transferred to turn the watch’s hands. Obviously, this type of mechanism has winding intervals depending on the power reserve capacity of the movement. These intervals can vary from daily to one week period, however many manual watch owners have a habit of winding their watch each time they put it on their wrists.
Automatic movement is often referred as self-winding movement since it harnesses the natural motion of the wearer. This feature makes them very popular because it doesn’t require daily winding to make sure the watch works constantly. It is largely similar to manual movement except one clever implementation of a metal weight called a rotor. The rotor is connected to the movement and is able to move freely, generating energy as it spins which is transferred to the mainspring winding it automatically. However, if you leave your watch aside for a longer period of time, it will require winding up, because the lack of movement. Although this can be a nuisance, you will encounter it dramatically less than with a manual watch. If you want to avoid this issue of winding the automatic watch you can use a watch winder – this gadget will keep your watch fully wound when it is not being worn.
Quartz movement is a whole different game. It relies on what is known as the “Piezoelectric Effect”. Nature has arranged that each time you apply pressure on quartz crystal a low electric current appears on its surface. This interesting behavior of quartz works vice-versa as well. If you pass a particular amount of current through the crystal, it will vibrate at a constant rate. The electronic devices in the watch measure oscillations and convert the pulses into convenient unit of time – one second. Each watch contains a tiny piece of fork shaped quartz, about the size of a grain of sand. This shape allows watch circuits to measure the number of vibrations with ease. A quartz movement utilizes battery as the primary power source to electrify crystals and create vibrations, which drive the motor to move the watch hands. Quartz watches are very reliable and require low to none maintenance. You just need to replace the battery every 3-10 years depending on the manufacturer. They are also more resistant against breaks and mechanical damages. However, most watch enthusiasts avoid them because they lack craftsmanship and engineering that their mechanical counterparts have.
Both mechanical and quartz watch movements have their pros and cons. The easiest way to spot a difference at a first glance between these two types is to look at the second hand. If it “jumps” from each second to the next one, you are looking at a quartz watch, however if it has a smooth trajectory it means you have a mechanical watch at your hands. Also, as we mentioned quartz watches have a battery which you can see on the back of it, while mechanical movements sometimes have a see-through background that allows you to look at its mesmerizing mechanism work.
Quartz movements are definitely more affordable and you can get them at much lower prices. They are being mass produced, but some of the brands make these watches that meet the highest quality standards. They are very reliable and less prone to mechanical damage. However, if the electrical circuit burns out in some case, your watch is beyond repair. On the other hand, it requires almost no maintenance at all, except changing the batteries. They are very accurate timekeepers and have estimated margins of error of +/- 5-10 seconds yearly.
Mechanical movements offer a more classic timekeeper. These watches tend to be more expensive since they require lots of skill and effort invested by the watchmakers. The sound of the second hand is also different from quartz movement. You can hear constant turning of the gears while quartz movement has distinct clicks that you can hear each second the electric pulse moves the hand. You will have to wind them from time to time and service them regularly, since they need some lubrication to work correctly. They are still much less accurate than their cheaper quartz counterparts with a margin of error depending on the manufacturer being 1-10 seconds daily. However if you are into mechanical things and enjoy skillfully crafted mechanisms, despite the higher cost this movement is a right choice for you.