Like many watch enthusiasts, we are particularly fond of mechanical timepieces. There are various reasons for this, including the historical significance and craftsmanship. Beyond having a lengthy and impressive history, mechanical timepieces are incredibly accurate. If the watch has a sapphire crystal case back, the movement can also be a work of art to behold.
However, the 1970s and 80s saw a massive shift toward quartz watches. Seiko launched the world’s first quartz watch, the Astron, in 1969. This model remains in Seiko’s catalog to this day. The biggest advantage of quartz watches is their unrivaled accuracy. Lower retail prices also helped make them more appealing at the time. The Swiss watch industry suffered greatly as a result. During the so-called “quartz crisis,” roughly 60% of all watch companies shuttered their doors. In order to save the industry, the two biggest watch groups merged into what would later become the Swatch Group.
Quartz vs. Mechanical Watches
If you’re unfamiliar with the difference between the movement types, here’s what you need to know: As the name implies, mechanical movements are made entirely from mechanical parts. There’s a base plate and a gear train, which is powered by a spring within a barrel. To prevent the spring from unwinding all at once, the power is transferred gradually via a balance wheel and escapement. Movements oscillate at different rates, with 28,800 A/h (alternations per hour) being a particularly common frequency. This constant source of energy gives the second hand its distinctive sweeping motion. While the movement may look smooth at first, the hand actually jumps forward multiple times per second depending on the frequency.
On the other hand, there are quartz movements. These calibers are battery-powered. The battery sends a current to a microchip, which causes a quartz crystal to vibrate at 32,768 Hz. These vibrations are then turned into electric pulses that drive a motor once per second. This electric motor powers a mechanical gear train, which is connected to the hands. Quartz watches are easy to recognize since their second hands tick one step forward every second.
While people generally associate high-end watches with mechanical movements, today you’ll also find luxury quartz watches with larger price tags than some “average” mechanical models. Unlike their cheap predecessors, these exclusive quartz watches receive the same level of finishing as their mechanical counterparts.
While the Oysterquartz’s design is unlike that of any other Rolex, its origins are still obvious. Its cushion-shaped case transitions seamlessly into the integrated bracelet. Despite struggling in Europe, this timepiece was a great success in the Asian and American markets. Rolex created various models of the Oysterquartz in the Date and Day-Date collections.
Over the course of its 25-year production run, Rolex created many variations of the Oysterquartz, including everything from stainless steel and two-tone editions to solid gold versions. They paired each watch with one of their iconic bracelets, such as the Oyster, President, or Jubilee. There are also more exclusive, jewel-encrusted models, as well as versions with special design elements like 19028 with a Pyramid bezel and bracelet.
Grand Seiko Heritage Quartz
We’ve covered Grand Seiko and its impeccable finishes before. One of its most famous design elements is the Zaratsu polishing. The name “Zaratsu” comes from the Sallaz polishing machines Seiko purchased in the 1950s. In Japan, the brand name Sallaz was pronounced as “zaratsu,” and thus the term was born. If you ever get your hands on a Grand Seiko, take the time to closely examine the finish and see if you can spot the difference.
Seiko offers mechanical, quartz, and hybrid Spring Drive watches. Grand Seiko also creates Heritage models with all movement types, so there’s something for everyone. My personal favorite quartz version is the SBGV239 with a stunning, deep blue sunburst dial.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Quartz
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak needs no introduction. Designed by Gérald Genta in 1970, it has maintained a consistent design ever since. It still has a distinctive octagonal shape and eight screws in the bezel. Its bracelet is perfectly integrated into the case. The combination of polished and brushed surfaces plays beautifully with light, as does the stunning tapisserie dial. This watch is best appreciated up close.
As with the Rolex Oysterquartz, the Royal Oak Quartz is available in various materials. For something even more luxurious, there are models with diamond-set bezels and versions completely encrusted in diamonds. Audemars Piguet recently introduced frosted versions of their gold watches, including quartz editions.
Looking at my own collection, I have to admit that most of my watches have mechanical movements (if you don’t count my Swatches and G-Shocks). However, there are also a few quartz timepieces I enjoy putting on from time to time. One example is my Speedmaster X-33, a popular choice among astronauts. While quartz timepieces may lack a bit of that watchmaking “magic” we are all so fond of, some models are still worthy additions to any collection.