It would be stupid for anyone to suggest that floppy disks are smarter storage devices than flash drives. Similarly, no one would be bold enough to claim that a stick shift car is easier to drive than an automatic. But that doesn’t prevent the majority from garnering genuine appreciation and affection for the former.
Surely a floppy disk would be as obsolete as a carrier pigeon in modern times, but not so long ago they served a genuine purpose and helped ease our everyday endeavors. Likewise, a vintage 1972 Buick Riviera serves visual, acoustic, and visceral pleasures that most modern automobiles fail to replicate.
In the watchmaking world too, quartz timepieces that can offer accuracy in an impressive range of ±1 second per year aren’t necessarily more desirable than their hand-wound counterparts which derive from centuries-old technologies. Precise, they sure are but better, well they can and cannot be.
Mechanical vs Quartz– A Clash of Tradition and Technology
On paper, a quartz watch is exponentially better in accuracy than a mechanical timepiece and when the intrinsic objective of the entire mechanism is to tell time, then accuracy in timekeeping expression should be the only measure of perfection.
As an undeniable trend in technological evolution, if it is electric, it is better, faster, cheaper, and easier. We are witnessing mass electrification or electronification – if that is a word, of everyday objects.
We use smartphones as opposed to landlines, we travel by planes rather than by sea, we prefer to shave with electric trimmers rather than razors and surely but unfortunately love to indulge in a good game of soccer on gaming consoles rather than stretching our legs in the field.
This trend of becoming electrified caught the watchmaking world by shock, surprise, and worry back in the early 1970s and some even predicted the demise of the mechanical watch at that time. But that was hardly the case!
So, for those seeking timepieces that they would love, adore, and proudly adorn on their wrists all day long, what is a wiser choice – Mechanical or Quartz?
Well, there is only one way to find out.
A Class in Horological History – Studying the Evolution of Watchmaking and Watches
Not more than half a century ago, there was no tangible thing that existed that we could call a quartz watch. Every timepiece which occurred was either mechanical or automatic with power emitting from a thing as simple as a strip of thin metal tightly wound as a coil.
Mechanical watches use technologies and even tools that can be traced back to the early 17th century. In contrast, quartz watches use a relatively novel innovation that was discovered in 1928 and took more than 40 years to be translated into a wrist-worthy device. The world’s first quartz watch, the Seiko Astron came into existence in 1969 and disrupted the Swiss watch industry altogether.
Watch buying and watch collecting perceptions vary. What inspires an individual to buy a watch doesn’t necessarily define his or her love for quartz or mechanical. It can be a choice based on aesthetics, not the mechanics that give power to the thing. To be able to dearly admire a watch, however, you would love to know a thing or few about it.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is the Difference Between a Quartz Watch and a Mechanical Watch?
Almost every single type of wristwatch that exists is based on a single motion generation, energy transmission, and end-user function display principle. A power source gives life to the mechanics in a predefined rate of motion which is made possible by regulation and this helps the wearer keep track of time.
To prevent an instant and abrupt unleashing of energy from the source which is required to be released gradually to help achieve the final state of motion inclining with the standard parameters of time, a watch can either have a mechanical regulating device known as the Escapement or a Quartz crystal to achieve the same function.
In a mechanical watch, a mainspring that is wounded acts as the ultimate power source. In contrast, a quartz watch uses a battery as its powerhouse. A sweeping seconds hand is usually associated with a mechanical watch while a quartz watch features a ticking seconds hand.
A quartz watch replaces the regulating escapement of a mechanical watch with a quartz crystal which performs the same function but in a very different way. Unlike the spring-regulated action of a mechanical escapement which releases the mainspring energy gradually, a quartz crystal deforms when electricity passes through it and this is based on the piezoelectric effect. When electrified, a quartz crystal beats at 32,768 times per second and to translate this into a reliable expression of time, a wizardry of computer technology takes place within a quartz timepiece.
Even after having said this much, the argument about whether quartz is better than mechanical or vice versa remains
Choosing Between a Mechanical or a Quartz Watch
Many people who buy watches are inspired by similar influences like when they choose their car. The cool factor, the aesthetic sophistication, and sometimes even the color determine an individual’s taste in watches. While this works just fine for those, not in the know-how, a seasoned collector can be troubled even when making a purchase choice between two references of the same model.
So, when it comes to choosing between mechanical or quartz, it can be a daunting task.
The Case for Accuracy
If it is the accuracy that you all care for, then it is quartz that you should choose. A mechanical watch deviating by about 5 seconds in a day can be accoladed decent in terms of its accuracy and for a quartz watch, such a deviation would be shameful even if observed in over a month.
Coupled with factors of thermal compensation and gravitational indulgences, a mechanical watch would seem even more obsolete.
Thus, when it comes to accuracy, there is no contest!
Wait, there is something more.
Mechanical Sophistication and Innovation
Like the everlasting argument that Lionel Messi is a greater natural talent than Cristiano Ronaldo, what makes the latter even more impressive is that he has conditioned, molded, and trained himself in such a way that he, despite the possible lack of natural skills has succeeded in achieving as many accolades as Messi.
When translated into horological terms, a mechanical watch features an impressive array of innovations that aim at eliminating the limitations even further and it is these endeavors that resulted in the creation of one of the most beloved of all complications, the tourbillon or even the intricate mechanisms such as the fusee-and-chain transmission. Had it not been for the perpetual striving for better accuracy, the scintillating motion of a tourbillon wouldn’t simply have existed.
Standard of Build Quality
In terms of overall build quality, there aren’t any standard parameters to measure or compare the two. As an overall package, a nice watch features exquisite finishing inside out. The level of detail and the intricacies of the mechanism surely appeal to the buyers. For a quartz watch which features a mechanism that hardly comprises even half the number of components as compared to a mechanical timepiece, the scope of finishing and decoration is much less.
For the purists, it is the finesse with which these infinitesimal components are machined, hand-polished, angled, beveled, and grained that appeals to the eye and eases the hassles of having to choose between the hand-wound watch or its battery-powered cousin.
Maintenance and Service
Although it is undeniable to state that a mechanical watch needs regular service once every 7 or 10 years, it doesn’t deny the fact that these timepieces can probably outlast their wearers. Every single component in a mechanical timepiece can be crafted out of metal with even the humblest tools. This cannot be replicated for computers or digital circuitry in a quartz watch.
For some, it appeals to have an everlasting item but others do not prefer the hassles of regular maintenance or service.
Down to Personal Tastes – Are you a Lover of the Artisanal or Passionate about Accuracy?
A quartz movement can make a watch more practical, accurate, and easy to maintain. But does it make it interesting is a different ball game altogether? Watches and watchmaking generally interest us because of the amazing microcosm of mechanical perfection that is orchestrated within a space that barely exceeds 30mm. When even the smallest of components is treated to an immaculate level of craftsmanship and finishing that not only delivers a flawless function but is a treat to look at, you cannot help but fall in love with mechanical watches.
This doesn’t mean that we deny the aesthetics of quartz timepieces such as the Grand Seikos with 9F8x movements and treat them as somewhat less interesting to own. Their immaculate outward finishing is achieved with the hallmark Zaratsu polishing and captivating dial finishing feel in tune with the equally impressive battery-powered calibers inside. Despite the motion works being concealed almost completely, the main plates sure get an opulent treatment that will put many high-end mechanical watches to shame.
This level of quartz-caliber finishing also proudly adorns the F.P. Journe Elegante. The impressive finesse and aesthetic sophistication on this entry-level Journe give even more expensive mechanical watches from prominent brands a run for their money.
A Contest Between Beauty and Practicality
While the technology on a mechanical timepiece is undeniably inferior to a quartz watch, what makes it superlative is its amazing craftsmanship and exquisite attention to detail. If the turning train of gears and the oscillating balance wheel give you a sense of joy, then it is a mechanical watch that you should go for.
Whether you are an old soul or just prefer the intricate mechanisms and the eternal essence of a hand-wound timepiece, nothing else would please you easily.
On the other hand, if you prefer greater accuracy, zero service or maintenance hassles, and an accessible price point, then quartz is your choice.
More than Just a Watch.
While we do have cars that drive by themselves, AI tools that are cracking the Turing Test, and computers that can solve a million queries in seconds, the pleasure and satisfaction from an antiquated object based on centuries-old technologies remain unmatched.
I will leave you with pictures of an entry-level luxury mechanical timepiece and a high-end quartz watch to make the distinction for yourself.