While automatic watch movements have existed in their most basic form since at least the 1780s, the debate between a quartz movement vs automatic movement is one that’s been raging amongst watch enthusiasts the world over since Seiko unveiled the first ever quartz wristwatch, the Astron 35SQ (not exactly an Astron but has the same vintage quality to it), in late 1969. And though Swiss-made mechanical purists might turn their noses up at anything quartz powered, there’s no denying a well-made quartz movement watch can hold its own against any automatic watch without a crown for a logo. That said, between weight, accuracy, and even style, it can be difficult to decide which caliber in the quartz movement vs automatic movement debate is right for you. So which one should you go for?
On the one hand, quartz watches tend to be keep more accurate time than a comparable automatic, and this is especially true when you get into the low-medium price range. The reason quartz watches pack so much value at a relatively low price is that the battery that keeps them ticking – you guessed it, quartz – is rather inexpensive to acquire and produce. Essentially, quartz movements work by sending electric currents through the battery to the quartz crystal within the movement, creating small vibrations. These vibrations then oscillate the movement and drive the motor, which moves the hands on the face of the watch. The oscillations are regulated by the quartz crystal with very precise frequency, and its compact design and affordability make it the world’s most common method of timekeeping.
Because of their accuracy and affordability, quartz movements are a great timekeeping solution, and aside from battery changes every few years, don’t need a lot of maintenance to keep running. And while some watch enthusiasts may scoff at the idea of a quartz crystal powering their watches, it’s worth noting that some of the biggest brands in watchmaking – specifically Swiss giants like Omega, Rolex, and Patek Philippe – have experimented with and still produce high quality quartz movements for some of their most iconic watches.
At this point, quartz movements vs automatic movements doesn’t really seem like much of a debate: quartz watches are typically far cheaper, more accurate, and less costly to maintain than an automatic or mechanical watch. Considering all this, why would anyone choose to spend their money on an automatic instead of a quartz watch?
Before we get into the why of an automatic, it’s important to know how they’re powered. Unlike a classic mechanical movement, where you would typically have to wind the crown every day or two to keep ticking, an automatic movement captures the energy of your wrist movements throughout to power it. Each time the watch moves, a rotor within the movement spins and automatically winds the mainspring in the caliber, with the gathered energy used to rotate the gears and ultimately move the hands. As long as the watch is being worn, it will keep powering itself – also why automatics are referred to as self-winding movements, as they wind themselves constantly through your motions. However, this process is more complex, more expensive, and less precise than a quartz movement, so why do so many watch enthusiasts prefer an automatic?
Essentially, it’s all about the craftsmanship. There’s something to be said about looking at a small, intricate, beautifully finished timepiece and knowing that somebody spend dozens of hours putting that together by hand for you to wear. It’s always mesmerizing looking through the clear back of your automatic just to see how the all the gears and rotors and springs and jewels in the movement fit together to keep the time. Automatic and manual watches will run forever if you take care of them, another reason why they’re so beloved by watch lovers – they’re great heirloom pieces that can be passed down through generations.
Many of these watches, especially towards the luxury end, have a special quality that makes them so desirable. The attention to detail in these watches make them pieces of art that you can carry around with you all day, and like other types of art, people are willing to pay a premium for that experience. While that craftsmanship and artistic quality may not mean much to you when looking for something that only really exists to serve one purpose – keeping accurate time – for many others trying to decide between a quartz movement vs automatic movement, the devil’s really in the details.
So, Quartz Movement vs Automatic Movement: Which Should You Buy?
To put it simply, it all depends on what you want to get out of your watch. If you prefer accurate timekeeping in a more affordable package, then a quartz movement is the way to go. But if you value craftsmanship that lasts a lifetime (with the proper care, of course), then an automatic movement is right for you. Either way you go, you’re sure to find a watch that meets your needs. My own daily watch cycles between a casual, modern, brushed stainless steel quartz Morphic M68, and a more sporty, slightly dressier Seiko SNZH53. I truly love wearing both of these pieces, and the one I put on for the day depends much more on where I’m going and what I’m doing than what keeps it ticking. As long as you go with the watch that you like most, the watch that speaks to you, it won’t matter whether it’s a quartz movement vs an automatic movement powering it through the day.