In 1969, the mad scientists at Seiko were cooking up something that would come to reshape the watchmaking industry completely. This horological weapon of mass destruction was the quartz movement, a timekeeping mechanism powered primarily by a battery and a quartz crystal oscillator that vibrates at a set frequency. Its release sparked a seismic technological shift in the watch world – an era known as the quartz revolution to some and the “quartz crisis” to others.
With its advent, the quartz movement fundamentally changed the methods by which watches were manufactured, the cost of those watches, and the global market demands associated therewith. Particularly in Switzerland, the heart of the mechanical watchmaking world then and now, the result was apocalyptic. As quartz movements were so much less expensive to produce, consumers flocked to this new technology. The Swiss, slow to adapt their manufacturing practices to the modern trend, were brought to their knees. In all, an estimated 1,000 Swiss watchmaking operations would be forced to close their doors in the wake of this crisis.
This massive culling, along with the availability of cheap, mass-manufactured timepieces, has resulted in an unsavory connotation that all quartz watches are poorly made, undesirable, and unworthy of collecting. But, as with all things, one generation’s trash is another generation’s highly sought-after collectible. The watches that are now setting auction records and melting collector’s credit cards in the process were, by and large, at one point, just some old watch. With that in mind, here are a few quartz watches that show how even quartz timepieces are already becoming deeply desirable and wildly valuable.
The Cartier Tank Basculante
“Icon” is perhaps the most overused and trite word in the watch world. But few, if any, watches have earned the term more than the Cartier Tank. The Tank has seen dozens of design iterations, sizes, materials, and other permutations in its over 100 years. While none will ever match the level of the classic Tank Louis, the Tank Basculante is one of the more obscure horological curiosities in the Cartier catalog. First released in 1932 as a kind of response to the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, the Basculante features a hinged frame that articulates, allowing the dial to rotate inwards. If the mechanical pieces are overlooked, the quartz examples are even more off the beaten path.
The Rolex Datejust Oysterquartz
Yes, it’s true: Once upon a time, even the Big Crown itself felt the crushing pressure of market demand and created a quartz sports watch. As if that wasn’t curious enough, Rolex also styled the piece in a clear response to the Genta-driven trend of boxy, geometric sports watches with integrated bracelets. With a white “Buckley” dial and prominent Roman numerals, this example’s two-tone case is made of 18-karat yellow gold and steel. For those keeping track, that puts this piece about four levels down the watch-nerd rabbit-hole. These Rolex Oysterquartz watches have already jumped up in price from a couple of years back, and their value will likely only continue to climb – if the rest of the Rolex market is any indication.
Patek Philippe Ref. 3770 “Nautellipse”
Patek Philippe is among the most desirable watchmakers globally and consistently makes headlines for having created some of the most expensive timepieces ever sold. While many of their pieces have already reached astronomical prices, there are still opportunities to find incredibly cool, funky, and desirable pieces for relatively low prices (if you know where to look). Chief among them is the quirky ref. 3770, also known as the “Nautellipse.” A bizarre 1980s amalgamation of the Nautilus and Ellipse, the 3770 is the kind of watch that confuses some collectors. But once you get past its curious form, its elegance and balance can truly take center stage. While some look down upon quartz movements for their lack of finishing or detail, there are no cut corners to be found here. At the end of the day, this is still a Patek Philippe.
F.P. Journe Élégante Mens
If there is still any doubt remaining that incredible timepieces made by the most superlative watchmakers can contain quartz movements, this one should put the topic to rest once and for all. Since his very first tourbillon, François-Paul Journe has been creating some of the most beautiful, detailed, and horologically challenging timepieces that money can buy. The Élégante is no exception within F.P. Journe’s extraordinary portfolio. What started as a rather traditionally marketed product for female watch buyers has since grown to encompass all of Journe’s customer base. The titanium cushion case strikes the perfect balance between sporty and graceful. But that’s not where the show ends. Turn the watch around, and you’ll find an expertly finished electromechanical quartz movement. While the high-end independent corner of the watch world can be a bit volatile, F.P. Journe pieces have absolutely skyrocketed in the past year. With work like this, it’s no wonder why.