Quartz vs. Automatic – Enoksen Watch Company Limited

Quartz vs. Automatic

 

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 four very good reasons; 1) they are highly accurate, 2) they are less expensive to make, 3) they take less time to manufacture than their automatic counterparts and 4) they are more robust with fewer moving parts and therefore the ideal choice for field watches used by military, police etc.

However, no matter how compelling these arguments may be, they are wasted on a lot of people considering themselves as watch connoisseurs. That crowd looks at quartz a bit like a Michelin Star chef gazing contemptuously at a ready-made meal. 

But is this 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 STP 1-11 Automatic 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 90 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 II. 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 Patek Philippe Aquanaut fitted with the E19C Quartz movement   

 

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 2023. 

 

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, CEH unveiled to the world the legendary Beta 21 Quartz movement. This movement has found a 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. 

 Rolex Oysterquartz

Quartz in 2023

In 2023, 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.  

Enoksen Drive E04/A Mecha-quartz Chronograph

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 introduced a hybrid quartz watch to compliment our range of automatic dive and adventure watches back in 2019. Later, the Drive E04 range of chronograph watches followed, using a very sophisticated Seiko Mecha-Quartz movement.

As we evolve and learn from customer feedback, especially that of our professional users in military services and saturation diving, we realise how important quartz still is. The people whose livelihood (and sometimes their lives) depends on absolute accuracy and reliability prefer quartz to mechanical every day of the week. As a consequence we will embrace quartz movements much more from now on in.

The first example of that is two special editions of the Deep Dive E11 featuring a Swiss quartz movement with a 5-year battery life.

With the introduction of the new Krono E08 range in December 2023 we continue to build on the success of the Drive E04 range. Based on the premium VK63 Mecha-Quartz movement, Krono offers the best of both worlds with a mechanical stopwatch with Fly-back function, and the extreme accuracy of quartz to deliver hours, minutes and seconds. 

 

 

 


1 comment

  • Any plans to incorporate a kinetic movement into any of your designs? Best of both worlds?!

    John

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