This one is rather simple. Quartz watch movements, popularized in 1969 by Japanese company Seiko, hold a synthetic quartz crystal, known as an “oscillator,” that responds to vibrations from electricity provided by a battery.
A tell-tale sign that a watch is powered by a quartz movement is a ticking seconds hand, rather than one with a fluid, “sweeping” motion. Moreover, the ticking of quartz movements is generally quite loud when compared to other types of watch movements.
Quartz Movement Watch
Advantages Of A Quartz Movement
Quartz watches, which are more cost-effective to produce than other types, make up over 90% of the watches produced and sold today.
A Rolex Quartz Watch (Ref. 19019). Image: Phillips.com
The batteries in quartz watches can last from one and a half to three years, depending on what other complications are in the watch such as a date window or a chronograph. Why? Because these additional functions drain the battery power quicker than a watch without these features.
A quartz movement is quite efficient at keeping time with minimal time loss; they usually lose only a couple of seconds every month, if that. In fact, a quartz movement can be far more accurate than a more expensive automatic or mechanical movement because the oscillator is more consistent than those found in automatic/mechanical watches.
Another big advantage of a quartz watch is that the movement needs no winding, and it’s far easier to maintain and service.
Maintaining A Quartz Watch
Maintaining a quartz movement mostly consists of replacing the battery. This can be done almost anywhere for a minimal charge. However, there is something important to keep in mind: if your quartz watch is classified as ‘water-resistant,’ you should bring it to a jewelry store or watchmaker that works on water-resistant watches.
Bremont Water Resistant Watch (Automatic)
How can you tell if your watch is water-resistant? It’s easy to tell as this will be stamped on the caseback. Notably, water-resistant watches possess gaskets (O-rings) inside the case that help maintain water resistance. When the watch is opened, these gaskets can tear and compromise the waterproofness of the watch.
An experienced jeweler or watchmaker will be aware of this and, in completing battery replacements, will also exchange the old/worn gaskets and then put the cased watch through a pressure test that ensures the seal is secure. Often, places like SEARS that offer battery changes will not have this type of specialized equipment on hand.
Additionally, you should change your batter shortly after it stops. Keeping a depleted battery in the watch for extended periods of time can become a big problem if the battery corrodes and leaks onto the movement. Luckily, in most cases, the entire movement itself can be replaced; such repairs are not as expensive seeing as how most quartz movements are inexpensive.
Better said, they’re relatively inexpensive when compared to other watch movement types, namely an automatic or mechanical movement.
Mechanical Watches: Automatic & Manual
These types of watch movements are a little more complex than a quartz movement, and they should be.
Mechanical movements are powered by an intricate collection of many moving parts including gears, jewels, and a mainspring that power the watch. Indeed, they are completely mechanical – there is no electrical current whatsoever running through the watch.
Mechanical movements are broken down into two subsets: Automatics (self-winding) and Manual movements (hand-wound).
Brief re-cap: There are two main types of movements, quartz (battery) and mechanical (no battery.) Mechanical movements can be further subdivided into automatic/self-winding or hand-wound/manual movement.
Simply put, automatics are powered by the natural movement of the wearer’s wrist. That’s right! Your own movements provide the energy to an oscillating rotor (winding rotor) that runs the watch.
The rotor spins when the watch is in motion and sends the needed kinetic energy to the mainspring to power the watch. The gear train in turn transfers that energy to the escapement, which regulates that energy to the balance wheel. The regulating job completed by a quartz crystal in a battery-powered watch is performed by the balance wheel in self-winding or hand-wound movements.
Automatic Seiko Movement With Winding Rotor
Due to this mechanism, automatic watches require movement to continue running. Most automatic watches are able to store energy – this is known as the power reserve. It is the watch’s mainspring (mentioned earlier) that stores this energy when it is compressed. On average, an automatic watch movement will have a power reserve of 40-50 hours; if the winding rotor is not rotated by movement, this energy will deplete until the watch stops completely.
Power Reserve Indicator. Image: Jaeger-lecoultre.com
After running down its power reserve, an automatic watch can be restarted by powering it up again (with movement) or by manually winding it through the crown, though this latter option isn’t a universal feature of automatic movements. There are no negative consequences to having a mechanical watch run out of power other than the fact that it will stop ticking and you’ll have to set the time when you wear it the next time.
Manual Watch Movements
Hand-wound or manual-wind watches are very similar to automatic watches except for the fact that they do not possess a winding rotor.
Instead, this type of movement is powered up by manually winding the mainspring via the crown. The mainspring then transmits energy to the gear train, through an escapement, which regulates that energy to the balance wheel. The wheel draws power to the dial train, which makes the hands move.
Like automatic watches, manual watches also possess a power reserve. On the other hand, periodic manual winding is necessary to ensure the watch hands keep moving. More expensive mechanical watches possess longer power reserves with some running anywhere from 10 days to as much as 30 days.
F.P. Journe Hand-Wound Watch (No Winding Rotor)
The service and maintenance of an automatic movement are much more involved than with a quartz watch. This is because of the intricate inner workings of an automatic watch.
There are many points of friction that must be properly lubricated. With time and wear, the lubricants can dry out and cause automatic movements to run erratically. Additionally, any of the small parts can break and cause the watch to stop.
Watch enthusiasts are usually told to have their automatic movements serviced every 3-5 years, though newer watches have stretched this as far as 10 years. These services or overhauls are quite labor-intensive; the entire movement is separated into its individual parts, all are cleaned in an ultrasonic machine, and then the watch’s movement is reassembled and freshly lubricated. Depending on the brand and who completes the maintenance, such a procedure can cost as little as a couple hundred dollars or as much as thousands, depending on the complication.
What Type Of Watch Movement Is Best?
A mechanical watch, either with an automatic movement or manual movement, is the most revered of all the movements and is highly regarded by luxury watch enthusiasts for its history, tradition, and intricacy. Properly maintained (serviced), mechanical watch movements can last generations.
This being said, the mechanical movement in most luxury watches is unlikely to be as accurate as an inexpensive quartz timepiece. This is just a fact.
With this in mind, the answer to the question of “What type of watch movement is best?” is a very personal one. The answer will be rooted in what you want the watch to do for you.
Watch enthusiasts often purchase a mechanical watch to mark a personal or professional achievement. Likewise, others purchase these watches because they are appreciative of the mechanical intricacies and engineering that allow their mechanical timepiece to tick on relentlessly. A third group, this writer included among them, is enthralled by the design and style of luxury watches.
Collecting watches is a hobby, and the type of movement is only one aspect of what separates one watch from the other.
Atelier Wen Xi
Ultimately, if none of these characteristics ring true with you, then a relatively simple quartz watch may fulfill your needs. Yet, this hobby is a truly rewarding one that is marked by a global community of different cultures and languages that is able to communicate through the universal language of mechanical timepieces.
Overwhelmed? You shouldn’t be. You’re now armed with the basics of differentiating between watches. Take your newfound knowledge, head into that store, and strike up a conversation! Watch guys love to talk.
If you want to keep learning, make sure to check out some of our other popular watch guides below: