Quartz Watch Movements Explained for Beginners

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For centuries, watchmakers utilized so-called “mechanical movements” to allow their watches to stay running and keep accurate time. It is a complex system that requires watch owners to hand wind their watch. Later on, the automatic movement was invented to make things easier. There is yet another, more recent addition to the watch movement club though: quartz movements. A quartz watch is the more modern form of time telling. It has quickly developed into the most popular as well. We have already covered the classic mechanical methods, so we will now discuss quartz movements in detail. Keep reading to see how they work, and their pros and cons.

How does a Quartz Watch Work?

A quartz watch movement (surprise) makes use of quartz to work. Quartz is a mineral that is highly abundant here on earth. It is a piezoelectric material. It is not really that important to know the specifics of what this word means. All you need to know for this context is that quartz will oscillate or vibrate in a predictable and consistent manner when electricity is passed through it. The quartz crystal in watches is in the shape of a tuning fork (kind of u-shaped). This allows it to easily vibrate.

The electric voltage required to deform or vibrate the quartz crystal is supplied by a battery. The battery is essentially what powers the watch and keeps the quartz crystal constantly moving with no input from the wearer. Specifically, the quartz is engineered in such a way that it will move precisely 32,768 times per second. This high frequency is what gives quartz watches their impressive accuracy.

The electric circuit counts these vibrations and acts accordingly. If it is an analog watch, it will move a system of gears once every second. The gears turn the hour, minute, and second hands the appropriate amount so the wearer can actually read the correct time. A digital watch simply has an LCD screen to display the time.

The Quartz Crisis

The advent of this technology totally changed the watch game. The first ever quartz watch was from the Japanese brand Seiko. They released the Astron 35SQ on December 25, 1969. This was just the first of many.

A Seiko Astron 35SQ, the first quartz watch

The quick and widespread adoption of quartz technology by Japanese brands kicked off what is known as the “Quartz Crisis.” Swiss watch brands used to completely dominate the watch market, when mechanical watches were the only option. Now, Japanese brands were offering cheaper watches that were more accurate. Consumers flocked to buy these Japanese quartz watches. As a result, Swiss dominance wavered and many brands that did not make the switch suffered declines. Many others went bust.

The Swiss watch industry rebounded, though. Many brands have found success in the quartz age by focusing on high end luxury watches only. They did not adopt quartz technology. Rather, they billed their mechanical watches as luxury pieces with fine craftsmanship. Swiss mechanical watchmakers like Rolex, Omega, and Audemars Piguet focused on expensive luxury pieces while the Japanese ate up the affordable market. That trend largely continues today, with some overlap.


Each of the watch movement types have their own set of pros and cons. The two biggest advantages to quartz watches are affordability and accuracy. A quartz watch will almost always be much cheaper than a similar mechanical version. There are so many great quartz watches for cheap. For a mechanical, you will have to raise your budget if you want a good one. Take the famed Tissot PRX for example. The quartz version is $395. The automatic version is much higher at $725.

Then, there is the accuracy. A cheap and basic quartz watch will usually be accurate within about 15 to 20 seconds every month. Other models will be even better than this. A regular mechanical watch may be accurate within that amount per day. If you want better accuracy with a mechanical, you’re going to have to pay. And it still won’t be as good as quartz.


The main con to a quartz watch really only matters to hardcore watch enthusiasts. Watch fans appreciate the intricate engineering and hand-crafted detail of a mechanical watch. You just don’t get the same classic feeling with a quartz watch. The engineering is still impressive, but it doesn’t have the level of craftsmanship that some enthusiasts look for. For most people, this does not even matter. They just want to know the time in style. In my opinion, a quartz movement is beautifully crafted in its own way. It is a testament of innovation leading to cheap and accessible goods.

The other disadvantage to quartz watches is that it has a battery. This means you will have to replace said battery at some point. They will usually last for two years at the very least. Usually, it will go longer than that depending on the watch. Some brands have very long lasting batteries. It is a cheap and quick procedure, so it isn’t too big of a deal. It is something to keep in mind, though.


That concludes our discussion on quartz watch movements. Now you know how they work, their history, and their pros and cons. With this, you will be able to make an informed purchase when it comes to buying a watch.

It is important to consider the watch’s movement type since it is what actually powers the watch and allows it to tell time, the whole function of a watch in the first place. Quartz is great for the vast majority of people, but mechanical watches still have their place. At the end of the day, it really boils down to what you like.


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