I believe Shakespeare once said “To automatic or to quartz, that is the question.” Ok, maybe he didn’t say that but if he were alive today he might say that. In fact, thousands of people are asking themselves that very question every single day, although not in such proper old fashioned English. Nevertheless, the sentiment is being thought and said, which is why this article was written : Automatic vs Quartz watch — which movement should you buy? Why does it matter? How does it affect resale value? And so much more.
Automatic vs. Quartz Watches
Choosing the right style for you
There are many signs of elegance in high-end couture: pocket squares, cuff-links, belts and shoes are just some staples of the well-groomed. While all of these accessories have their place, well-made watches have literally withstood the test of time with regard to their functional and aesthetic appeal. Whether you are a rising professional seeking to wear success on, or close to, your sleeve, or a debonaire gentleman in search of a versatile timepiece for any occasion, finding the perfect watch is a worthwhile search.
If you’re like many who are either searching for a first high-end watch or looking to expand your collection, deciding between an automatic vs. a quartz watch may seem like an impossible task. As with any selection, each choice has its merits and disadvantages and ultimately rests on your personal tastes and preferences. If you’re looking for an answer on whether to choose an automatic vs. quartz watch, we’ll guide you through the various attributes that make each watch a timely accessory.
What to watch out for: automatic vs. mechanical watches
For those entering the world of watches, confusion may arise regarding the distinction between mechanical and automatic watches. While quartz watches require a battery to operate, mechanical watches, also known as manual winding watches, require the winding of a mainspring, via the crown, to perpetuate the gears that power the watch. When the force created from the winding of the spring is exhausted, the watch must be rewound.
Within the mechanical watch sub-classification is the automatic watch, which does not require winding to perpetuate the gears in the watch. Instead, the automatic watch uses an off-center rotor that propels the gears and internal configurations of the watch to keep it ticking; while wearing the watch, your natural arm swings help to power the watch. That being noted, when you stop wearing the watch for any period of time, the watch will not be able to continue to generate power for the internal windings.
Some watch enthusiasts find manual winding watches appealing because they are lighter than automatic watches, as they are absent a rotor, and are often made with clear backings and cases that allow you to observe the gears as they operate. At the same time, they require a daily winding to operate which may be too tedious for those looking for a watch for timekeeping purposes, and the regular winding makes the watch prone to greater wear and tear. If you like the mechanical style without the tedium of winding the mainspring, read on to find out more how the automatic watch can satisfy your watch-wearing ambitions.
All about automatic watches
Automatic watches may seem to be as tedious as mechanical watches in operation, but the clever design necessary to operate automatic watches and the various intricate components that simultaneously power the watch as well as facilitate the ornamentation found in many watches continues to generate appeal for automatic watches. Whether you’re looking for an investment option that will withstand the test of time, you enjoy the unique operation of an automatic watch or you can’t resist their classy configuration, automatic watches offer something for everyone.
History of Automatic watches
Automatic watches originally emerged as a response to the tedious practice of winding the mainspring of mechanical watches. Abraham-Louis Perrelet pioneered the design of the self-winding automatic watch in the 1770’s, creating a mechanical system that was able to capture the movement of the human body to power a clock for up to 8 days. Further improvements to the automatic watch were made by French inventors Hubert Sarton and Abraham-Louis Breguet a few years later that offered varying degrees of efficacy.
It was in the early 20th century, however, when the automatic watch really took form. The English watchmaker John Hardwood introduced similar kinetic technology inherent to see-saws and the designs of Perrelet to make the first self-winding wristwatch in 1924. Having already traveled to Switzerland to develop his prototype, the success of this patented technology propelled the automatic watch industry into an international success.
How are Automatic watches made and how do they work?
Automatic watches are similar to mechanical watches with regard to the usage of gears and springs to control the movements of the hands and other features visible on the face of the watch. The key distinction of the automatic watch is the presence of a rotor, a metal weight that powers the mainspring using the swinging motion of the wearer’s wrist.
The mainspring stores kinetic energy transferred from the winding rotor to compress the coils of the spring, transferring the released energy to the winding of the fears within the watch. While winding the mainspring is necessary for purely mechanical watches, many automatic watches continue to use a crown, the small knob/dial on the side of the watch that allows the user to wind the mainspring. Various other components, such as the escapement, the balance wheel and the dial train, help to regulate the transfer of energy between the mainspring and the gear train that powers the hands of the watch; the dial train is another component that is connected to the balance wheel of the watch and facilitates the movement of the watch hands.
Automatic watches also contain jewels, some synthetic and others natural, that act as bearings within the gears to reduce friction and extend the life of the watch’s rotating components. All of these components play an intricate role in the lasting design of the automatic watch.
Unique features and accessories of an automatic watch
To watch enthusiasts, a watch with a lot of complications is a good thing. Complications is another term for the various features visible on a watch’s face. Automatic watches contain a variety of complications associated with modern timepieces, including date, chronographs or stopwatches, tachymeters for measuring speed, moonphase, alarm and even power reserve to inform users how much power is in the watch. Many watch enthusiasts are equally compelled by the casings used for automatic watches, with chrome and stainless steel being popular choices.
For many automatic watch fans, a watch winder is as much a tool necessary for the functioning of the watch as it is an accessory to display your watch when you’re not wearing it. While an automatic watch can most often be reset manually, resetting different features like the calendar feature can be a chore. Watch winders allow the watch to be recharged when not worn using the rotating motion of the watch winder that mimics the motion of the wearer to turn the watch’s rotor. The only caveat when choosing watch winders is to ensure that the watch winder is set so that it winds the watch to the proper amount without taxing the gear structure of the watch.
How long do automatic watches last?
Given the centuries of quality craftsmanship that have gone into the development of the automatic watch and that high-end watchmakers continue to invest in the construction of modern watches, a well-maintained watch under normal use and proper operation can last indefinitely. This is one of the reasons that automatic watches are so highly coveted as investments and heirlooms.
How durable are automatic watches and how do you care for them?
As with any product field, there is variability between different products. That being noted, despite the intricate design of automatic watches, they are relatively durable if properly used. Short of slamming the watch consistently against concrete (which a fine watch wearer would never think of doing!), many, if not most, automatic watches are made to be water resistant, shock resistant and magnet resistant. Further, if any of the components falter or become inoperable, they can be repaired by a watchmaker.
Despite being relatively durable, longevity does require proper care. Various techniques that guide caring for an automatic watch include setting the time forward rather than backward to avoid damaging the mainspring, avoiding excessive temperatures and humidity during storage, and, with vintage models, avoiding magnetic fields that can disrupt the escapement and the watch’s timing.
While many automatic watches can also be wound, it’s recommended to let the watch wind via wearing it or using a watch winder, as excessive winding can potentially damage the crown or mainspring; some automatic watches have mechanisms that prevent overwinding, while others can suffer from being wound more than 20-30 times. For devoted watch enthusiasts, it’s recommended to have your watch serviced every 3-5 years to ensure that all the components are working properly and any damaged mechanisms can be replaced or repaired.
While automatic watches are timeless classics, they are not without their own intrinsic idiosyncrasies. The major disadvantage of an automatic watch is the potential for the time to slow down or lag behind. This can be due to gradually wear and tear of the internal gears due to lack of lubrication, a jolt sufficiently forceful to disrupt the windings, accumulated dirt or grime that enters through the casing or crown, and, in the case of vintage watches, magnetic fields that disrupt the internal components. Some opponents of automatic watches cite their larger size and weight as too gaudy or cumbersome. Some may find that the idea of having a watch that constantly requires rewinding is too time-consuming. Others may find that the overall expense of these classically made watches is a bit exorbitant, whether you purchase a watch winder or not. These are all various considerations depending on your watch wearing preferences.
How much do automatic watches cost?
The question with automatic watches is not how much do they cost but how much are you willing to spend to own and care for one. You can purchase automatic watches for as little as $100, find a quality watch around the $500 range, invest in a high-end automatic watch for between $2,000-$11,000 or stake your claim for being a part of the million dollar watch club. The sky, or your bank account, is the limit with how much to spend on automatic watches.
Ultimately, investing in an automatic watch is for those who are willing to make a long-term investment in their watch. They are as much a fashion piece as they are a means of telling time and stand for craftsmanship as much for quality time-keeping. Below are a few samples of varying brands depending on what kind of an investment you wish to make.
Watches under $500
There are a variety of watchmakers that sell automatic watches that cost less than 500 dollars. Popular models in this category include Timex Men’s Marlin automatic, a popular choice with black leather wristband and gold plated stainless steel that integrates sleek design with high functionality, the Swatch Earth Sistem 51 Irony, an iconic Swiss design with a date display and luminescent face, and the Seiko SRPA21 Prospex X Padi. This Seiko model is just one of the many watches in this price-point that offers classic automatic functionality with modern style. It contains 24 jewels for maximum efficiency, is water resistant to 660 feet and has an automatic power reserve of up to 41 hours with one winding. For less than this $500, this watch, and many others, are a valuable addition to your watch collection.
Watches less than $5,000
Again, there are a bevvy of watches that embody the classic function of an automatic watch while not breaking the bank. Popular choices include Tudor, whose popular Black Bay line features dive watches with in-house movements and stylish 24-hour bevels, Breitling, which blends modern automatic design and 100 meters of water resistance into a vintage dive and surfers watch with its Superocean Heritage ‘57, and Cartier, the renowned jeweler that produces excellently designed and proportioned dress watches such as the Clé. If you’re a Bond enthusiast (as in Bond, James Bond), then the Omega Seamaster Diver 300m will have you living the life of a spy in no time. This watch looks as good in the surf as it does with a suit and includes a ceramic dial and bezel and the highly refined automatic design that comes with the Omega brand.
Watches over $5,000
As noted, automatic watches are a high-end luxury that can fetch high-end prices. Many makers of more affordable watches, such as Cartier and Omega, also manufacture higher end watches with even more precision and style. For those looking for a truly great high-end automatic watch, there is perhaps no name more synonymous than Rolex in the world of luxury watches, and no watch more highly coveted than the Rolex Daytona Mechanical Diamond Dial Watch. With a casing made of 18k White gold, a bezel set with diamonds and a black leather strap, this watch is certain to capture attention. If you’re looking for an equally exquisite, and even more highly coveted, watch, the watches from Jacob and Co, particularly the Oil Pump Tourbillon Automaton, will generate awe for generations. Made with a rose gold and sapphire crystal case, the watch features oil-derrick inspired tourbillons that rotate with the dials. This is a truly unique and extravagant watch with an understandable six-figure price tag. For those looking for investment watches, the watches from Jacob and Co., Rolex and other high-end brands will provide you with a time-tested legacy.
All about quartz watches
As classy and coveted as automatic watches are, they are not the only manner in which high-end watches are made. While a relatively recent development in the history of watch-making, quartz watches have opened a new forum into the world of luxury watches.
History of quartz watches
Mechanical and automatic watches were always considered higher-end goods given the high price tag they tended to fetch given their intricate design and engineering. At the same time, given that they are completely mechanical in operation, they require constant resetting of the mainspring and are prone to lapses in accuracy. Quartz was originally introduced as an alternative to the gear and wheel assemblies of mechanical watches. Quartz has a natural vibration frequency of 32,768 times per second that can be connected to a small motor, providing a precise electrical signal that can power a watch.
Given how entrenched traditional, mechanical watch-making was in Switzerland, it was the Japanese, specifically the watchmaker Seiko, that transformed quartz watch technology and made the quartz watch what it is today. Seiko’s Astron was the first wristwatch created, though it would be another 5 years before mass production and popularization expanded the appeal of quartz watches. During this period, quartz watches shifted from analog time-keeping to digital, with the advent and incorporation of liquid crystal display technology.
Ironically, in the early 1980’s, quartz watches were embraced by what would become the Swatch group and heralded as a means of reviving the diminishing Swiss watch industry. With the competition that arose with the development of international quartz watch-making enterprises, consumers can now enjoy the technological benefits of quartz time-keeping as well as the savings inherent to the cost-saving manufacturing processes quartz watch manufacturers employ.
How are quartz watches made and how do they work?
The simple foundation of a quartz watch rests on it behaving according to the piezoelectric effect. When quartz or other minerals that share this property are bent or compressed, they generate a voltage; the reverse phenomenon is that when a voltage is applied, they vibrate at a specific frequency. Modern quartz watches utilize thin sheets of quartz that are etched chemically into a bar or turning fork shape and compressed in a manner similar to an integrated circuit. When a voltage is applied to the quartz crystal from a battery, the consistent oscillation that occurs can then be converted into a frequency suitable for the digital circuit outputs found in digital watches or to drive a motor for watches with hands.
Ultimately, the quartz watch design is fairly straightforward: a battery, a piece of quartz, connecting circuitry and either a small motor that operates the hands of an analog watch or a LCD display for digital watches.
Unique features and accessories of a quartz watch
Aside from the unique power source, quartz watches are fairly standard with regard to watch parts and features with regard to other high quality watches, such as mechanical and automatic watches. Calendar features, tachymeter, water resistance, high quality casing and durable wristbands are all sought after features for any watch, whether quartz or automatic.
How long do quartz watches last?
Given a reliance on electrical circuitry with a limited lifespan, a quartz watch will last approximately 20-30 years depending on the environmental conditions it is subjected to and its effect on the wear of the internal electrical components. The battery that is needed to power the internal movements of a quartz watch will usually need to be replaced on an annual basis.
How durable is a quartz watch and how do you care for them?
Quartz watches may be considered slightly more durable than mechanical watches with regard to resisting disruptions of timekeeping. Many watches are water resistant anywhere from 50 m to 200 m, and most watches can withstand a substantial impact in the event that they are dropped, though it’s always a good idea to keep the watch securely on your wrist to enjoy the best performance.
To clean your watch so that you get the most out of it, keep it in a cool, dark and dry place, as UV rays can discolor and deteriorate watch bands. Humidity is also a problem and should be avoided to preserve the integrity of the watch’s movement. Similarly, watch movements, the rotating components of the watch, can be disrupted by exposure to magnetic fields, so it’s recommended to keep your watch in an area separate from any electronic devices. It’s always a good idea to be aware of how water resistant your watch is so that you can clean it properly and not worry about excessive submersion, but wiping your watch with a damp cloth, especially if you’ve been in a maritime location, is always a safe way to keep it clean and remove any salt, grime and dirt.
Disadvantages — Quart Watches
The major disadvantage of a quartz watch is that you will eventually need to replace the battery. Batteries can last anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, though 1-2 years is the average life span. Some watches also do not have the smooth rotating movements of an automatic watch that has a constantly rotating gear, as quartz watches are powered by the frequency of quartz oscillations that generates a ticking motion. For some people this may be a detraction. There are others who consider quartz watches unsophisticated because they are of a much simpler construction, which for some watch users and collectors may lower their value.
How much do quartz watches cost?
If there’s any main distinction between quartz and automatic watches, it’s that quartz watches have a simpler operational design that lowers production costs, allowing them to be mass produced for a lower price. For example, you can get a solid watch such as the G-shock for $40 dollars. If luxury timekeeping coated with diamonds, platinum and rubies is your style, then there are also a variety of designer watches that range anywhere from $1,000 to $174,000 and include such renowned watchmakers as Bulgari, Omega, Hublot and Patek Phillippe.
Major Watch brands
Watches less than $500
Just because quartz watches can be produced for less doesn’t mean that you need to skimp on style. A variety of watches that sell for less than $500 offer incredible performance as well as sleek style features. The Victorinox Men’s fieldforce stainless steel has analog quartz features and Swiss made movements with water resistance to 100m as well as a hypoallergenic steel casing and a leather wristband for a luxurious feel.
Citizen is another renowned quartz manufacturer and the Eco-drive corso quartz provides plenty of neat features, such as a rechargeable light-powered power cell that re-powers the battery with exposure to any light source, 100m of water resistance and a brown leather strap. Being the originator of the quartz design, you would expect Seiko to continue its pioneering trajectory, and the Prospex SNE441 provides the features you expect from this leading quartz watch manufacturer. The Prospex is another watch with a solar powered battery reserve that can extend the battery life upwards of 10 years while featuring 200 meters of water resistance and hardlex crystal casing that makes the watch exceptionally easy to read without glare.
Watches less than $5,000
If you’re looking for a little bit more quartz for your money, then there are plenty of quartz watch options to choose from. The Tag Heuer Formula one, inspired by its racing affiliation, offers 200 meters of water resistance, brushed steel and flat sapphire casing and accurate Swiss design that is within 2 seconds of accuracy for each month of ticking. The Longines Conquest VHP offers a variety of different color and strap options, including stainless steel and rubber, with an anti-reflective, sapphire crystal, scratch-resistant face and 50 meters of water resistance. For an exceptionally durable watch, try the Sinn UX with a rotating diving bezel readable underwater, 5,000 meters of water resistance and functionality in temperatures ranging from minus 25 to over 60 degrees Celsius.
Watches over $ 5,000
If you’re a high roller with an affinity for quartz, then there are plenty of choices to suit your tastes. The Cartier Tank Louis Date Yellow features a yellow gold case with a yellow gold bezel and brown leather bracelet. The Patek Philippe Steel 5064 Aquanaut Black Tropical showcases a steel casing with rubber bracelet and sapphire crystal. For the essence of elegance, try the Piaget Limelight that features a white gold case with a white gold bracelet. These watches are the ultimate in quartz designer watches and have limited water resistance given their primary objective as a fashion accessory.
Which one to choose: automatic vs. quartz watch
At the end of the day, if you are looking for a reliable, stylish and sophisticated watch and can’t decide between automatic vs. quartz watches, then you need to ask yourself the following questions. Are you trying to pass down your watch to your heirs and have the watch increase in value? The answer will lead you to an automatic watch and their timeless design that requires relatively little upkeep since the original designs were unveiled hundreds of years ago. Are you looking for a functional watch that is very accurate and stylish? Quartz watches provide precision time-keeping while also providing a range of functional features, such as solar recharge and high water resistance, that allow these watches to perform well wherever you go.
Regardless of your choice, investing in a watch is ultimately a reflection of your personal tastes and style. No matter how you wear your watch, it’s hard to go wrong when choosing between automatic vs. quartz watches.