Automatic Watches vs. Quartz Watches

If you are new to the watchmaking world, you are probably still learning about the different types of timepieces and the terminologies that come with them. That being said, one of the most important things you should know is the difference between automatic vs quartz movements. Knowing this will allow you to have a more technical perspective when perusing the many watches that the industry has to offer. Luckily for you, this article will explain everything you need to know about automatic vs quartz watches, and more!

What Is an Automatic Movement? 

An automatic watch is a specific type of mechanical timepiece equipped with a self-winding caliber. This movement is what allows the watch to function so that it can tell time. Typically, the automatic caliber is composed of different parts such as gears, springs, and rotors. All of these parts come together to form a cohesive operation beneath the watch’s exterior. 

To briefly explain how an automatic caliber works, every time there is wrist movement, the rotor inside the caliber oscillates, which winds the mainspring. The winding of the mainspring produces energy which the watch uses. Then, through the help of gears and escapements, this energy is transferred and distributed to various components like the balance wheel. The balance wheel part is often compared to a pendulum as it beats back and forth, which ultimately leads to the movement of the hands ticking. 

Although most automatic watches have a self-winding caliber, there are some other instances where automatic watches still need to be manually wound. For instance, if your automatic watch has a power reserve of 38 hours, and you do not wear it for two days, it will run out of charge and stop ticking. As a result, you will have to manually wind the watch again to reset it. It really depends on factors like how often you use your automatic watch and just the general condition of the timepiece. 

What Is a Quartz Movement?

When a watch is powered by a quartz movement, it means that its functions rely on a battery for energy, instead of the traditional mainspring. The way it works is that a charged battery provides electricity to the quartz crystal, which causes it to vibrate at 32,768 beats per second. This vibration becomes stable pulses that are then transferred to a stepping motor, allowing the gears to turn the dial hands at different speeds. 

Generally speaking, most quartz timepieces require their batteries to be changed after a couple of years as they do run out of charge eventually. However, this should not turn people away from quartz watches, since it is relatively easy to find a shop that does battery replacements. Also, if you enjoy DIY activities, there are many affordable watch repair kits out there. These kits all have the necessary tools to guide you in switching out your quartz watch batteries.

Movements Through The Years 

Before we go into full detail about the automatic vs quartz debate, we first have to understand how they have evolved through the years. Here is a quick look at the colorful history behind these technological innovations. 

Automatic Watches: How It Came To Be

Simply judging by the terms, one would think that automatic movements came after quartz models. However, that is definitely not the case. According to seasoned experts in the industry, self-winding watches have been around since the 1770s. What started out as an idea channeling a person’s kinetic energy into a mechanism that powered timepieces, eventually, came into fruition through pocket watches. It should be noted that, since pocket watches are handheld, they were a lot less consistent compared to the automatic wristwatches we have today. Nevertheless, while pocket watches do not have the same appeal as contemporary automatic pieces, they are still an important part of watchmaking history. 

Come the 20th century, and watchmakers took up the challenge of further improving the concept of self-winding calibers. They did this by incorporating said mechanism into wristwatches with mainsprings that would wind whenever the wrist moves. Since the energy source is more stable with these types of timepieces, this version served as a more reliable option compared to the older pocket watches. 

At present, brands typically offer a variety of models equipped with different movements. That said, many of the most iconic and sought-after luxury watches are still powered by automatic calibers. One of the main reasons for this is that self-winding movements are more customizable. This allows manufacturers to show off high-level craftsmanship and artistry in making their automatic movements. A perfect example is how watch companies such as Rolex, Breitling, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Zenith, and the like are well-known for providing some of the best, in-house automatic calibers in the market.  

Quartz Watches: A New Era 

Quartz watches, on the other hand, took the world by storm during the 1970s, which led to a period dubbed the quartz crisis. Quartz movements were introduced by the renowned Japanese brand, Seiko, which released the first known quartz watch called the Astron. Since quartz movements were meant to be a cheaper alternative to Swiss-made mechanical pieces, Seiko chose to focus on accuracy above everything else. As such, quartz watches are some of the most accurate timepieces in the industry, and tend to be more precise than mechanical watches. This piqued the interest of so many people that other manufacturers immediately began working on their own quartz creations. 

A couple of years down the line, quartz watches were quickly starting to take over the market, especially with the addition of its digital quartz variants. The demand for this battery-driven movement eventually overpowered its mechanical counterpart, causing a huge crisis in the watchmaking industry. During this time, Swiss watchmakers were not being assertive enough when it came to competing with quartz manufacturers. This led to bad economic circumstances like unemployment and bankruptcy for many Swiss watch brands. 

In an attempt to salvage the industry, two renowned Swiss watch organizations came together to form what would be the modern-day Swatch Group. They were able to handle the quartz crisis by selling plastic watches that were affordable and low maintenance. While high-end brands still do offer quartz watches today, they are perceived as a mass-market option which is less valuable compared to mechanical models. Regardless, the automatic vs quartz debate has largely ended in a stalemate, with both types of timepieces co-existing at present. 

Pros and Cons: Automatic Watches

Pros

  1. Unmatched Longevity. One of the best things about automatic watches is that they can last a lifetime. This is probably why a lot of collectors choose to purchase self-winding models, as they are very durable and can be passed down for generations. With proper care and maintenance, automatic watches should remain fully functional regardless of how many decades pass by. 
  2. Good Investment. Aside from being a potential family heirloom, automatic timepieces also typically hold more value than quartz ones. This makes them relatively good investments. Most watch collectors would agree that luxury models powered by self-winding movements are more prestigious and can hold their value well, especially compared to quartz pieces. 
  3. Superior Craftsmanship. As mentioned earlier, well-known brands use automatic movements as a way to showcase their level of craftsmanship and artistry. The creation of sophisticated, reliable in-house calibers serve as proof of these companies’ skills and expertise. 

Cons

  1. More Expensive. While there are affordable options out there, well-crafted automatic watches tend to be priced more exorbitantly. Most automatic watches will come with a price tag of around $500 USD to over $1,000 USD. Moreover, compared to the manufacturing process of quartz models, the production of automatic pieces requires more hands-on work. This is because the components of automatic movements are complex. As a result, producing automatic timepieces is more costly. 
  2. Delicate. Even though most sports watches are powered by automatic movements, one disadvantage of self-winding calibers is how delicate they are. A single drop can cause the entire mechanism to malfunction, which may require serious repairs. 
  3. High Maintenance. Since the winding of the mainspring relies on movement, if you do not use your watch for a while, you would eventually need to manually wind it every now and then. On the other hand, if you happen to use it continuously for years without getting it serviced, the components will have a higher chance of getting worn out. Ultimately, this shows that automatic watches require a different level of upkeep compared to quartz pieces. 

2 Automatic Watches

After all that, here are a couple of automatic models you should definitely consider for your collection. 

Rolex Submariner Date Ref. 126610LV

Rolex is one of the most well-established luxury watch manufacturers in the market. They are a staple brand for enthusiasts and collectors alike as they offer some of the best timepieces out there. Their selection of automatic models can only be described as well-crafted, worthy investments. 

This particular watch, the Submariner 126610LV, is more commonly known as the Rolex Kermit. It comes in a 41mm Oystersteel case paired with a bracelet of the same material. The focal point of the entire piece, and the reason behind its “Kermit” name, is its Cerachrom bezel, which shows off a glorious dark green color. In addition, the jet-black dial includes luminescent hands, geometric hour markers, and a magnified date window. In terms of its technical specifications, this Rolex Submariner piece is powered by an automatic 3235 caliber that was entirely developed in-house. Lastly, it boasts a water resistance rating of 300 meters and an impressive 70-hour power reserve. 

If you’re looking for a top-notch automatic watch to invest in, you can get this piece for around $20,300 USD! 

TAG Heuer Aquaracer Ref. WAY2018.BA0927

TAG Heuer is the perfect brand to check out for those who want a reliable starter automatic watch. They are one of the best watchmakers to invest in when you are at the beginning stages of your collecting journey. This is because they have a good reputation in the industry and the timepieces they offer are always excellently made. 

This TAG Heuer Aquaracer Automatic serves as a perfect example of this. It is presented in a 43mm steel case and bracelet with a rotating bezel. The brown dial follows a horizontal teak pattern with applied indices, luminous hands, and a magnified date display. In addition, it is equipped with the iconic Caliber 5 automatic movement, which boasts a power reserve of 38 hours and a 300-meter water resistance rating. 

With a price tag of around $2,350 USD, this TAG Heuer Aquaracer piece may still be considered quite expensive for many. That said, it is definitely worth it when you take into account everything you are getting with this watch! 

Pros and Cons: Quartz Watches 

Pros

  1. Accurate. Quartz watches are generally known as the more accurate option when it comes to telling time. Instead of relying on energy from an outside source, this type of movement runs primarily on electricity, which causes constant oscillation within the necessary components. This allows for more precise and consistent timekeeping. 
  2. Affordable. In comparison to mechanical timepieces, quartz models definitely come at a lower cost. There are many factors that affect this, but one of the main reasons is that quartz movements do not require as much labor. It has a different manufacturing process than its automatic counterpart, especially since it is mostly electronic-based. As such, if ever you lose or break your quartz watch, you can easily replace it without breaking the bank. 
  3. Low Maintenance. First of all, remember that there is no good watch that requires zero maintenance. Most timepieces would require some sort of care one way or another. When it comes to quartz models, low maintenance simply means that it does not warrant as much upkeep as its automatic counterpart. Even if you do not use it for a couple of months, it will essentially function the same because it is completely reliant on its battery. 

Cons

  1. Regular Battery Changes. We all know that quartz watches need battery replacements every couple of years. You can attempt to replace your quartz watch battery on your own, or you can have a professional do it for you. Even though this is not something people should be really wary about, it can be quite an annoying and inconvenient task for some. In addition, if you forget to change the battery, there is a chance that some leakage might happen. This can be detrimental to the entire watch and cause more damage in the long run. 
  2. Shorter Lifespan. As mentioned, quartz watches are mainly made up of electronic components. While they are more affordable and accurate, when it comes to the test of time, the results are not as favorable. The components in quartz will deteriorate as the years go by, so quartz watches are not as long-lived as automatic timepieces. 
  3. Prone To Electronic Damages. While quartz pieces are known to be less sensitive to environmental changes, they still have their weak points. Since a quartz watch relies on batteries and electronics, it does not have the same water-resistant properties as mechanical models. Moreover, if a quartz watch does get damaged somehow, it will be difficult to fix without having to replace the entire thing. 

2 Quartz Watches

Now that we’ve gone through the pros and cons of quartz watches, here are 2 of our top quartz watch picks to get you started on your search.

Hamilton Ventura Quartz Ref. H24401731

If you’re looking for a brand that offers great variety, Hamilton should definitely be on your list. One of the best things about Hamilton is how it is able to incorporate creativity into each and every piece in its catalogue. Instead of just focusing on the technical aspect of quartz watches, they provide eccentric models that are sure to stand out. 

For example, the Hamilton Ventura H24401731 comes in an asymmetric, stainless steel case paired with a cow leather strap in black. The dial follows the all-black motif, with its unique hour markers and sleek dauphine hands. Lastly, it is powered by a quartz movement and has a water resistance of up to 50 meters. 

Ultimately, this watch proves that quartz models can be unique and creative as well. If you want an unconventional yet precise timepiece, you can get this Hamilton Ventura model for around $895 USD! 

Bulova Classic Ref. 98B348

If you are on the hunt for a more quintessential quartz watch, Bulova might just have what you are looking for. The great thing about Bulova’s catalogue is that the pieces reflect both traditional and contemporary aesthetics. This is clearly evident in the Bulova Classic 98B348, which is straightforward, stylish, and sporty all at the same time. 

This Bulova Classic piece comes in a 44mm stainless steel case paired with a rubber strap in black and a two-toned rotating bezel. The patterned grey dial boasts luminescent hands and hour markers, a 24-hour time display, and a neat date window. Lastly, beneath the watch face is quartz-powered movement with a water resistance capacity of up to 100 meters. 

If you want a casual quartz watch for everyday use, you can get your hands on this piece for just $250 USD! 

Automatic vs Quartz: Which Should You Buy? 

At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong between automatic vs quartz, because it all boils down to preferences. People have different factors to take into consideration when buying watches, such as budget, design, comfort, lifespan, and many more. 

On the whole, if you want something cheaper and relatively low maintenance, you should definitely check out the numerous quartz watches the market has to offer. On the other hand, if you are looking for a more long term accessory and are willing to splurge a little, then going with automatic pieces is your best bet! 

Final Thoughts 

Ultimately, both automatic and quartz timepieces have their fair share of advantages and disadvantages. You cannot really go wrong with either side of this automatic vs quartz watch debate. Rather than further widening the gap between the two, the point of this article is to fully inform you about both sides, so you can establish your preferences. At the end of the day, the market is full of quality automatic and quartz watches that are worth checking out!

If this got you hooked on mechanical timepieces, make sure to read our article on the 25 Best Automatic Watches

Photo Credits: WatchShopping, ETA, and Tag Heuer Sites 

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