Automatic vs Quartz watch movement: which is better and which one should you choose?

Automatic vs Quartz watch movement: which is better and which one should you choose?

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We are all fascinated by fine timepieces, but when trying to acquire one the information out there about different brands and models can get technical and overwhelming. But this shouldn’t be the case if you understand the fundamental differences between watches as explained below.

Perhaps you have asked yourself. What is the difference between the automatic and quartz watch movement and which one should you choose? There are many differences but as you will find out, the one you should choose depends on what you are looking for.

What is a watch movement anyway?

A watch movement also known as 'caliber' is the powerhouse or the engine that makes a watch and its functions work properly. Watches today have one of the two kinds of movements.

The quartz watch movement.

A quartz watch movement is an electronic movement. As the name suggests, it works by using the vibrating mineral called quartz. Since every timepiece requires something constant to measure against time scientists found out that when you run current through a quartz crystal, it swings at a constant frequency. This is why quartz watches are known for their astonishing accuracy. Some can be as accurate as a few seconds a year.

Most quartz watches are battery powered. Typical batteries last for three to five years after which you need to replace them. Apart from battery replacement quartz watches are very low maintenance. Note that quartz watches with added features such as compasses, stopwatches or electric illumination may have shorter battery lives because these features drain the battery faster.

However, not all quartz use replaceable batteries. Companies such as Citizen use what they refer to as “Eco-Drive Technology” which is just a cool way of saying they use solar energy. This watch has the ability to charge even in indoor light and can run for months when fully charged without exposure. Other companies call this “Tough Solar”.

Quartz watches are less expensive and durable because they don’t have a lot of moving parts and can be easily mass-produced.

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The mechanical watch movement.

In order to understand how an automatic movement works one has to go back in time to the oldest watch construct, the mechanical watch movement. Built in the 17th century, this watch had no batteries and was fully driven by mechanics.

A mechanical watch is powered by a mainspring. This is basically a spring wound manually that releases itself to steadily drive a chain of gears. The downside to this mode of operation is that the spring needs to be wound periodically otherwise the watch may stop. Due to the mechanical wear and tear caused by an extended period of winding this type of watch needs constant maintenance by a skilled watchmaker.

The automatic watch movement.

The automatic watch is the upgraded version of a mechanical watch movement. Instead of having people manually wind the spring on a watch and probably damage it, the inventors came up with one that does so automatically.

By the use of a weighed gear and ball bearings to wind the spring, the automatic watch harvests energy from the natural movements of the wearer. Automatic watches are popular among watch enthusiasts for their aesthetic value. The fact that most of the incredibly fine gears are crafted by hand is a turn on for those with a beauty eye.

In light of the above let us look at the summary of differences between the two types of watch movements in order to get a clearer picture.

  • Quartz watches are battery powered while automatic movement watches are powered by a spring
  • Over time automatic watches require mainspring replacement and repair for mechanical wear and tear. Quartz watches only require a change of battery after every few years.
  • Automatic watches are less accurate as compared to quartz watches because changes in the environment affect the watches’ movement.
  • Due to the high level of craftsmanship and precise engineering involved automatic movement watches are more expensive than quartz watches.

The final verdict

The question still remains which one should you go for? If you are looking for an affordable, low maintenance, practical and accurate watch then a quartz watch is the way to go. Also keep in mind that an automatic watch will stop if not worn for 3 to 4 days and you will need to keep setting the time which is not healthy for the watch. Therefore, if you are an occasional wearer the quartz watch is the most suitable for you.

However, an automatic movement watch has its charm too. In a digital world where everything operates with a battery and electronic circuits, an automatic watch will make you stand out.

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