A common piece of advice you hear in our culture is that you must “walk before you can run.” The logic behind the proverb is simple: You should learn the basics of any given idea or activity before you move on to more advanced concepts. Such is true in the world of wristwatches, as many people try to discuss advanced ideas without first knowing the simple ones. Today, I will address one of those preliminary questions by explaining what quartz is and how it makes our watches tick.
Three Kinds of Watch Movements
First, let’s go over the three fundamental ways that watches work. You can imagine them as three different engines, each with a different way of keeping time. They are as follows.
- Automatic Watches – This movement is the same as manual, but you do less winding by hand. The reason is that the manufacturer constructs the watch to wind itself with the regular motion of you wearing it. Both manual and automatic can be grouped into the “mechanical” category.
- Manual Watches – This type of movement is basically a tiny machine that turns the hands of your watch. You give it power my winding it, and it keeps time relatively well.
- Quartz Watches- Lastly, we have quartz, which is also commonly referred to as “battery powered.” I will talk more about the function of this type of movement in the coming sections.
Quartz Watches: The Mineral
Quartz is essentially a translucent and beautiful looking rock. Though you may not have heard of its base compound, silicon dioxide, it is very likely that you’ve seen quartz at some point in your life. People love to make necklaces out of this mineral and decorate their homes with especially large pieces of it. On a smaller scale, quartz makes up a significant portion of the sand you see at the beach.
The reason why it is relevant in the world of watches is the fact that it is piezoelectric. What that means is that quartz has a unique relationship with electricity. If you apply pressure to one of these crystals, it will create a bit of voltage. Applying voltage will have the opposite effect too, as the quartz will vibrate in response to electricity.
How Quartz Watches Tick
So, what does a quartz crystal do on the inside of a watch? Manufacturers use that concept of piezoelectricity to make these products keep nearly perfect time. The following is the process that they undergo each second.
- The battery in the watch supplies a microchip with electricity.
- That chip creates a circuit with the quartz crystal.
- After precisely 32768 oscillations, also called vibrations, the chip sends a signal to the gears of the watch. It tells it to progress one second.
- In analog displays, this process makes the second-hand tick. In a digital watch, there is no ticking, just the progression of the numerals on the screen.
Let me clear up one potential point of confusion. It is step three, which deals with a seemingly large number of oscillations. The first thing you need to know is that quartz crystals vibrate 32768 times in one second. That is a feature of them that is a simple fact of nature. What manufacturers do to take advantage of that is create microchips that can detect each oscillation. The result is a watch that tells time with excellent accuracy.
Quartz Watches Accuracy
Quartz watches are the most accurate of the three I described above. The reason is that they see minimal variation in how quickly they tick. Mechanical pieces will often lose or gain 2-20 seconds in a day due to gravitational variation. All that means is that your watch moves a bit faster or slower based on the position of your arm or the environment you’re in. Quartz watches, on the other hand, more often lose or gain 20 seconds a year. The reason is that the system of measuring oscillations is incredibly reliable. The only factor that can throw it off is extreme temperatures, but even those do not do much.
Now that we’ve settled the science behind these types of movements, we can move on to how they translate in the watch world. In general, quartz watches are cheaper than their mechanical counterparts. This is because they are much easier to manufacture. The reason people still go with mechanical is that timepieces are works of art, not just tools. Consumers like to know that they have a complex machine on their wrist, rather than a somewhat simple one. That complexity comes with a price though, as mechanical pieces often need servicing. The basic explanations of each are as follows.
- Quartz watches – Cheaper, more reliable, more convenient, but less impressive in terms of craftsmanship.
- Mechanical watches – More expensive, less reliable, less convenient, but more artful in their construction.
Quartz Watches Conclusion
Now that you understand these options at their simplest level, you can make a decision on which resonates with you more. Either way, you’ll be a more informed consumer and one that is more likely to make a satisfying purchase in the future.