What is a Solar Watch?

Even if you’re not much of a watch person, you have likely heard of solar watch. The reason is that companies love to advertise them all around the Internet and on television. Perhaps the most common example is the company Citizen, who’s Eco-Drive watches are quite famous after years of showing commercials during sporting events. Despite how well known this technology is, there are a significant number of people out there that don’t know exactly how it functions. I’ll clear up that confusion in the sections below.


Quartz Movements

The first thing you need to do is differentiate between two types of movement. To get very basic, a movement is the machinery that makes your watch keep time. The two types are mechanical and quartz.

front view of Citizen The Citizen Ref. AQ1000-58E watch
  • Mechanical – A tiny and complex machine that manufacturers build to turn your second hand at the desired rate. You power this apparatus through kinetic energy, which comes in the form of winding it or simply wearing it during your day to day activities.
  • Quartz – A much simpler machine that relies on a battery to power itself and a quartz crystal to regulate how often it ticks.

Solar watches fall into the latter category, but they have two crucial differences.

What Makes a Solar Watch Different

A standard quartz piece has simple machinery, a quartz crystal, and a typical battery. That power source makes the watch tick, usually for about 2-5 years, and then needs to be replaced. Solar watches are different in two ways.

  • Battery – Typical watch batteries need a replacement after a few years. The energy inside of them only goes one way: from full to empty. In a solar piece, the battery can gain energy, rather than just lose it. This extends the lifespan of the watch and makes it less likely to suddenly lose function.
  • Solar Cells – The battery we just discussed gets its energy from the sun, with tiny solar cells being the intermediary between them. I will explain this further in the next passage.

How Exactly Do They Work?

Let’s jump into the science behind these watches. It’s not too complicated. The following is the process that they go through to power themselves.

front view of Seiko Astron Ref.  SBXC001 watch
  • Collection – Watch manufacturers install tiny solar panels on the faces of their products. They are made of two layers of silicon, a material that is especially good at harnessing the energy of the sun.
  • Transportation – That energy flows from the first layer of the silicon, to the second, and then down a wire to the battery. It passes through the system in tiny electrons, which get reused over and over again as transportation vessels.
  • Function – With its battery filled, the watch starts to function like any other quartz timepiece.

Though the in-depth mechanism is a bit complex for someone untrained in science, it isn’t too difficult to conceptualize the process. To put it into one sentence, these watches collect solar energy through panels, then transport it to the battery through a wire.

Their Appeal

Many people prefer quartz over mechanical, with the two most common reasons being lack of maintenance and lowered price. The drawback of that choice, though, is replacing batteries every few years. Solar watches give these people the ability to have a low maintenance and reliable watch, while also having one that powers itself for a very long time.

It is also just flat out cool to have a piece of machinery that is powered by the sun. I personally have a solar-powered Casio G-Shock that has been running strong for about 4 years now. It should continue to do so for another 4-6 before the battery loses its effectiveness.

The Best Companies Producing Them

front view of Casio G-shock Ref. GW-5000-1JF watch

Though many brands produce solar powered watches, there are three that do so more than the rest.

  • Casio – First, we have Casio, who makes the acclaimed G-Shock and a ton of other models. Their solar capabilities fit right into Casio’s rugged reputation, making this company is another great option.
  • Citizen – Another famous of the bunch is Citizen, who installs a solar movement in almost every one of their watches. They have advertised their Eco-Drive technology into being a household name, and its reliability backs that fame up. They put these engines in all types of timepieces, so you should be able to find one that suits your style.
  • Seiko – Though they are less committed than Citizen, Seiko is another Japanese brand that has a respectable number of solar-powered pieces. They are also famous for delivering a ton of value in every watch, making them a very smart pick.

So, there you have it. You now know what a solar watch is, how it works, and where you can go to get one. I can tell you from experience that purchasing one of these pieces is a lot of fun. I recommend one as a low maintenance option for anyone’s collection. All you have to do is buy it, wear it, and enjoy it. What could be better than that?

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