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Quartz vs. Automatic

 

Rolex Caliber 6620 powering the Rolex Cellini model 6623/9

Rolex Caliber 6620 powering the Rolex Cellini model 6623/9

Quartz the very mention of this word can make a seasoned watch enthusiast cringe. It is hard to refute that your average quartz movement is superior to even the most expensive of automatic movements in terms of reliability and accuracy. It is incredible to think that quartz movements power the vast majority of wristwatches across the world, and for three very good reasons; they are highly accurate, they are less expensive to manufacture and they take less time to manufacture than their automatic counterparts. However, no matter how compelling these arguments may be, they are wasted on some seasoned watch connoisseurs. Such connoisseurs look at quartz a bit like a Michelin Star chef gazing contemptuously at a ready-made meal. 

But is this really fair? Pragmatically speaking, no it is not. The primal purpose of a watch is to tell the time as accurately as possible and, as it happens, quartz is the best choice for doing just that. This, however, might be a flawed argument, especially in this day and age where we have accurate time keepers in abundance 

Over 2 billion of us carry a smartphone, a timekeeping device  which will keep us straight and read us the time with extreme accuracy and for all timezones. Devilishly brilliant you might say. Meanwhile, the utility of the watch as a keeper of time has shifted to that of a fashion item, sometimes acting as a statement of wealth or arguably as a statement of personality, expressing the way we view the world. In whichever light you choose, the demand for extreme accuracy has diminished. Today you will probably survive the very best, even if your watch is a minute or two behind.  But back to the original question at hand, after all we are in the business of watches, not smartphones In order to understand why a connoisseur of watches may look down upon the humble quartz watch, it is important to look at their differences, historically and in their construction.

What are the actual differences between automatic movements and quartz movements? 

The ETA 2824-2 Movement

Automatic movements are 100% mechanical, relying on the energy generated from the motion of your arm. The movement of your arm and wrists triggers a rotor (which is sometimes visible on watches with a see-through caseback) which then winds the mainspring. The gathered energy releases from the mainspring through a barrel to the gear trains, powering the timepiece. This winding, storing and releasing of energy is why you may hear someone refer to an automatic movement as a self-winding movement. Depending on the quality of the movement, the power reserve can be up to 72 hours. As long as someone wears the watch regularly or keeps it in a watch winder, it’ll continue to have power. This technology has been continually refined and in existence for nearly 300 years. The modern automatic watch truly came to be after World War I. Advancements in manufacturing techniques allowed for the complexity of an automatic watch to be manufactured small enough to fit on the wrist. The rest is history so what about quartz?

The Breitling Calibre B78 SuperQuartz

The Breitling Calibre B78 SuperQuartz  

Quartz caliber movements operate entirely differently to an automatic, utilising an electrical current from a battery to excite a quartz crystal within the movement. This is known as piezo electricity and it works by electrically charging a quartz crystal which causes it to vibrate and emit a frequency. Through emitting this frequency, it begins to oscillate on the movement surfaces of the mechanism and drive the watch motor. Such a delicate harmony of highly precise vibration and oscillation manifests itself as the moving hands across the watch face. It is rather beautiful in its intricacy, yet telling the time this way has only existed for little over 50 years, despite its ubiquity in 2019. 

History of Quartz: The Movement Movement 

CEH 1967 Team

Engineers of the Center Electronique Horloger in 1967 (from left to right)  Charles-André Dubois, François Nikles, Jean Hermann, Richard Challandes and Charles Frossard

The late 1960s welcomed a new generation of watchmaking technologies, most notably with the introduction of the first quartz movement. Technologies developed in Japan and the United States allowed for timekeeping in this way to be miniaturised and manufactured fast and inexpensively. This triggered a chaotic period for traditional Swiss manufacturers between the 1970s and 1980s, a time that has come to be known as the Quartz Crisis.

In an effort to remain competitive in the face of Japanese and American products, twenty of the top Swiss watch brands decided to join forces and establish the Centre Electronique Horloger (CEH). In 1970, the CEH unveiled to the world the legendary Beta 21 Quartz movement. This movement has found its home in many highly desirable time pieces, namely the OMEGA Electroquartz, the Rolex Oysterquartz, the IWC Da Vinci, and the Patek Philippe 3587. Time has judged these watches favourably and, as of this writing, they remain highly desirable to watch collectors and enthusiasts because of what they stand for. Their historical legacy is that of legitimising the quartz movement. 

Omega Constellation Electroquarz F8192Hz, Caliber 1300 Beta 21

Quartz in 2019

In 2019, the industry is still evolving and still improving the quartz movement with major players such as Breitling, Cartier, Tag Heuer and Citizen committing to perfecting this wonderful technology. The advent of smoother and more accurate quartz movements is nothing new, but it is rarer than you might think. Bulova partnered with Citizen in a bid to return to their roots, reexamining the 1960’s era Accutron tuning fork watches ahead of the model’s 60th Anniversary. The refined Precisionist line has a groundbreaking degree of smoothness, rivalling the smoothness of even the most prestigious automatic movements. Likewise, at Baselworld 2019, Citizen debuted the Eco-Drive Caliber 0100 the most accurate wristwatch ever made.  

Citizen Caliber 0100

Citizen Caliber 0100 Limited Edition

Such feats of innovation, and a dedication to precision in timekeeping, surely must earn the quartz movement a place at the table with all the automatic movements.

Conclusions

The argument for and against quartz movements is undeniably a passionate one amongst watch enthusiasts. For the art of timekeeping and horology, the innovations that quartz movements have brought to wristwatch production is irrefutable. Rather than comparing quartz movements to automatic ones, it is perhaps more sensible if we examine and appreciate each as individuals. Both movements have brought breakthroughs, discoveries, and advances to the field of watchmaking. 

Each movement has a story to tell, and at Enoksen we are happy to introduce a hybrid quartz watch to compliment our range of automatic dive and adventure watches. The Enoksen Dive E02/H will be the latest addition to our range, with a choice of 9 different bezel colours, there will be an E02/H for every occasion. The beating heart of the E02/H is a highly accurate Seiko VH31 Hybrid Quartz movement. This movement beats four times per second rather than once, creating an elegant sweep and a nod to classic manual, or early automatic movements. The E02/H is the perfect companion piece to any watch collection and proof that quartz movements can have the same character and soul as any credible automatic movement. 

The E02/H will launch in August 2019 and we simply can't wait. If you want to be the first to hear all the latest news and updates ahead of the launch, sign up to our newsletter today.