Quartz vs. Mechanical: An Ultimate Guide to Watch Movement
The discussion about the best watch movement is common in many watch forums, more so when it comes to quartz vs. mechanical. This becomes even more interesting when the focus shifts to accuracy, reliability, and price of the watch movement.
It is for this reason that I want to do an in-depth comparison of quartz vs. mechanical movements.
But first, even before I begin the main subject of this article, let me make this clear:
A watch movement is a system or mechanism that moves the arms of a watch, besides other functionalities such as a stopwatch, time zone or calendar. The complexity of the watch movement depends on the functionality of the timepiece.
So basically, a movement is the engine of a watch.
Broadly, there are three main types of watch movements and they include:
- Quartz watch movement
- Manual watch movement
- Automatic watch movement
Remember, the last two are mechanical watch movements. You will learn about the differences between manual watch movement and automatic watch movement later in this article.
Miyota watch movement – Image source: Miyota Movement Website
Now, let’s go straight to the main subject of this article.
Quartz Watch Movement
Quartz movements are unique for their tick-tick motion of the second arm of the watch. That is, the arm moves every second.
Below is an illustration of a quartz movement watch:
Video courtesy of Jonathan Lang.
Normally, quartz clocks or watches use a battery to achieve the tick-tick motion of the second arm. The quartz movement battery life may vary from 12 to over 24 months, which will depend on the battery brand and features of the watch.
When you look at the back end of any quartz watch or clock, it is quite clear that this movement is an assembly of various parts and components. This is why I want to take you through a quick overview of the various parts of a quartz movement clock.
Parts and Components of Quartz Movement Watch/Clock
These types of watch movements may have many features and components depending on the design and functionality. For, the scope of this section, I will focus on the following 5 parts of quartz movement:
Basic components of quartz watch – Image source: Swiss Arma
Quartz crystal; this is the main component that makes these watches, hence the name quartz movement or quartz watches. It has an integrated circuit that supplies the electric current from the battery thus causing vibrations.
Again, as quartz crystal vibrates, it generates the voltage. It is this mechanism that is responsible for the tick-tick movement of the second arm of the watch.
Battery; this is the main power source of the quartz movement clock. Without the battery, there will be no vibrations in the quartz crystal.
Integrated circuit system; it is the circuit system that carries an electric charge to different components of the quartz clock.
Dial train; these are series of gears that transmit mechanical power from the stepper motor to the arms of the clock. Basically, the dial train moves the arms of the watch.
Stepping motor; it transforms the electric signal from the quartz crystal to a mechanical force that drives the dial train.
Now, let’s go ahead to discuss how quartz movement works.
How Quartz Watch Movement Works
The working principle of quartz movement is quite simple and I will explain everything you need to know here.
First, your quartz watch should have a reliable source of electrical energy. In this case, it will have a battery to supply sufficient electric current to the quartz crystals.
In quartz movement watches, an integrated circuit will transmit electric energy to the quartz crystal.
Second, the electrical energy will then make the quartz crystal vibrate. In most cases, the vibration is about 32,768 every second.
The behavior of quartz crystal is basically a piezoelectric effect. That is, whenever you exert a certain threshold of force or pressure, it produces an electric current.
So, for the first phase, the opposite of the above statement applies to these types of watch movements.
That is, when you apply an electric current to a piezoelectric element, the element gets squeezed, resulting in constant vibrations.
In our case, quartz is the piezoelectric element where an electric current triggers vibratory motion.
Third, it will then transmit the electric energy pulses due to the vibratory motion of the quartz crystal to the stepper motor via an integrated circuit.
In most quartz movement watches, the quartz crystal takes the shape of a double-pronged fork. With this shape, it is easier to determine the vibration due to electric current and pulses to the stepper motor.
The stepper motor will then send a mechanical signal (rotary motion) to the dial train. It is the dial train that drives the arms of the watch besides other functionalities.
As you can see, the quartz crystal is the heart of these types of watch movements.
Whether you are a watch enthusiast or just owning one to indicate time, one of the most fundamental questions will be:
Why should you buy quartz watch movement and not the others?
That is exactly what I am about to discuss next.
Key Benefits of Quartz Watch Movements
Below are some of the main benefits of quartz watch movement you should know:
Minimal maintenance; with the right battery specification, your quartz watch will function without any frequent maintenance. In fact, once you set the time and date (depending on the features of the watch), they require virtually no human intervention.
Very accurate accessories; quartz watches are very accurate and precise. For instance, you can easily maintain an accuracy of +/- 10 seconds/year with quartz movement.
Low cost watches; this is because they have few moving parts and simple construction. For example, you can still get an ebony wood watch with a Citizen Miyota quartz movement for less than $50.
Shock resistant; quartz watches are more shock resistant than those with mechanical movements. This makes this type of movement a perfect choice for everyday use.
In short, this is the most accurate, reliable and affordable type of movement available in the market.
Even with all these benefits of quartz movements, there are some reasons why some people opt for mechanical watches.
To begin with, quite a number of watch enthusiasts do not go for quartz watch movement. Of course, this is due to their simple construction design.
They believe that the quartz watches do not reflect real engineering and technical craftsmanship in the watch industry. It is for this reason that you will find most expensive and luxurious watches featuring mechanical movement.
Although quartz movement is very accurate, temperature fluctuation may affect it. Therefore, advanced quartz watches feature thermal compensation features.
Such features detect fluctuations in temperature and adjust the frequency at which the quartz crystal vibrates.
At this juncture, I am sure you can see some clear differences between quartz vs. mechanical movements.
Now, let us explore mechanical watch movements:
What is a Manual Watch Movement?
The manual watch movement is one of the oldest technologies in this industry. This is why you will find it in collectible and expensive watches.
In most cases, they are a perfect choice for most watch enthusiasts.
A manual watch movement is a good example of the mechanical watch movement. It requires frequent winding to store enough energy that will power the watch.
This is the main reason why at times, we refer to this mechanical watch movement as a hand-wound movement.
They are popular due to their high level of technological advancement, craftsmanship, and engineering in the watch industry.
Unlike the quartz watch movement, manual or mechanical watch movement features a spring driven mechanism. So, it does not use a battery as a source of energy to power the watch.
Furthermore, you can also distinguish mechanical watch from quartz watch just by looking at the second-hand motion.
That is, the second hand of a mechanical watch has a smooth and a sweeping motion. The movement is kind of continuous without any tick-tick motion like in the case of quartz movement.
Parts and components of mechanical watch – Image source: Britannica
I am sure, now you can see the differences between mechanical and quartz watches.
With all these in mind, let’s see how to achieve this kind of motion. Let’s have a quick overview of what makes up a manual watch movement.
Parts of a Manual Watch
Mechanical watch movements have more parts that the quartz movements. Some of these parts include:
Mechanical watch crown; this is a small knob located beside the watch for winding the mainspring and setting time.
Mainspring; it stores the kinetic energy as you turn the crown. This makes the mainspring a power source for the for the mechanical watch movement.
It is a spring-shaped coil that will store energy as it gets tighter and tighter.
Gear train; these are series of tiny gears that transfer energy from the mainspring of the manual watch movement to the escapement.
Escapement; it is this section that takes the mechanical energy from the mainspring via the mechanical movement gear train and pushes it out equally to other components. That is, it transfers energy to the mechanical movement’s timekeeping element thus making it easy to count oscillations.
Balance wheel; it receives energy from the escapement and oscillates in a circular motion. The oscillation may range from 5 to 10 times/second, this will depend on the design of the manual watch movement.
Dial train; these are series of gears responsible for the precise motion of the various hands of the watch. It receives energy from the balance wheel.
Jewels; they act as “bearing” between moving parts, thus preventing possible wear and tear thereby improving accuracy and performance. Besides, they will also absorb excess heat.
Ideally, these are the main parts that form the mechanical watch movement. Now, let’s have a quick overview of how a manual movement works.
The Working Principle of Mechanical Movement
First, you will turn the crown to tighten the mainspring. As you go about this process, you must pay attention to the following:
- Tighten or turn the crown to a point where you can feel some tension. Do not go beyond that point since you may damage the mainspring of the mechanical movement.
- Always remove your mechanical watch from the wrist before you begin winding the crown.
Remember, it is this wound spring that powers the watch, unlike the quartz watches which depend on a battery.
Depending on the design of your hand-wound movement watch, you may wind it after 24 hours or after 3 days. Of course, there are some watches that go for over 5 days.
Next, the mainspring will begin to unwind, thereby transferring the stored kinetic energy to the gear trains and then to the escapement.
It is the work of the escapement to meter out this mechanical energy into various regulated parts of the mechanical watch. The balance wheel will then use this regulated energy to oscillate at a constant rate.
With every oscillation, the system dial train will move the hands of the watch. Again, you can see the process is straightforward thou it involves a lot of parts and movements.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Manual Movement
The main advantage of a manual movement is that you do not have to replace a battery every time. You will simply turn the watch crown to keep it running.
Besides, manual watches are specifically designed for watch enthusiasts who want to appreciate the craftsmanship and technological advancement in the watch industry. It is for this reason that most luxurious watches feature mechanical movements.
Quite a number of watch enthusiasts find rewinding to reenergize the manual watches a hobby. They do this to appreciate the art of constructing timekeeping instruments.
On the other hand, the main disadvantages of watches with manual movement include:
- Watches with manual movements are more expensive than those with quartz. This is also due to the many parts and components.
- Winding the watch can be cumbersome at times if you are not used to the process.
- They are accurate, but not as the quartz watches
Apart from the watches with the manual movement, another type of mechanical movement is the automatic movement.
Automatic Movement Watches
This is yet another type of mechanical watch movement. At times, you may refer to these types of watches as “self-winding”.
With these types of mechanical watches, there is no need of winding the watch every time. Their design is such that they automatically wind themselves when the hand is in motion.
Of course, this is the assumption that you have the automatic movement watches on your hand.
However, in case you don’t wear it for some time (the watch is not subjected to any form of motion), then you will have to wind it just like the watches with manual movements.
Ideally, automatic movements share the same features with the manual movement. This includes parts and components, except for a unique feature called the rotor.
Automatic Movement Rotor
The rotor is a small metal attached to the mainspring via series of gears. In most cases, it is a semi-circular shaped weight.
This rotor can rotate freely through an angle of 360°. It is such that, whenever your hand is in motion, the rotor rotates thereby energizing the watch.
Once the mainspring is fully wound, there is a clutch that disengages the rotor. Therefore, it cannot tighten the mainspring beyond a specific threshold.
Basically, this is the only unique feature of automatic movement in watches. Otherwise, all the other processes and procedures are similar to that of the manual watches.
So, in short, whenever you are buying watches with mechanical movement, it is important to specify whether to go for manual or automatic movement.
Again, it is upon you to choose whether you want very accurate and affordable watch movement, such as quartz or luxurious and high-end designs such as the mechanical movements.
In short, you will be comparing quartz vs. mechanical watch movements.
At OwoodWatch, we offer a range of wood watches available many designs, surface finish, and styles. They mainly use accurate and affordable quartz movement.
For any free consultations on wood watches or the different types of watch movements, feel free to contact our technical staff.