When quartz watches first emerged in the 70s, they threatened to wipe out the mechanical watch industry. Traditional watch manufacturers, mostly based in Switzerland, had to face the challenge of mass produced quartz watches, mostly from Japan, that were cheaper and more accurate than mechanical watches. Some companies managed to ride the storm, and continue to prosper to the present day. Other companies run into financial difficulties and had to be rescued by big conglomerates, or ceased trading altogether.
All big brand Swiss watchmakers joined in and started producing their own version of sophisticated quartz watches. Many top brands still do, others like Rolex with the Oysterquartz, eventually decided to concentrate on very exclusive mechanical watches.
What are the differences between mechanical and quartz watches?
Mechanical watches can be either manually wound or automatic.
Manual watches have to be wound periodically through the crown. This action directly turns a set of winding gears that connect with a barrel containing the coiled up main spring inside. The gradual and controlled release of this spring provides the energy that powers the watch movement.
A fully wound watch can run from 30 hours to even 10 days with a single charge. A very remarkable watch, the Lange 31 by A. Lange & Sohne, can function for one month with a single charge. A ‘Power reserve’ gauge in the dial shows the state of charge and how long the watch will work before needing to be charged.
Rolex claim to be the inventors of the self-winding, or automatic, watch.
These watches contain a semi-circular weighted rotor that turns on a central pivot as you move the watch. This freely moving rotor is connected to a series of gears that turn the barrel and tighten the coiled up spring inside.
Mechanical watches can be recognised by observing the movement of the ‘seconds’ hand.
In a mechanical movement it will glide smoothly and will not jump from second to second like in a quartz watch.
The first commercial quartz wristwatch was produced by Japanese watch manufacturer Seiko in 1969. Now about 85% of all watches sold around the world are quartz watches.
The quartz watch uses an electronic oscillator regulated by a quartz crystal and is powered by a battery. This relatively simple layout makes it less expensive and easier to mass produce than a mechanical watch.
Comparing mechanical and quartz watches is not easy, they are very different time pieces.
If you are looking for a watch that is cheaper to buy, more accurate and only requires a change of battery every 3 to 5 years, maybe you should consider a quartz watch.
If you can appreciate the fine craftsmanship and the marvel of a hand crafted watch movement, then you may chose a mechanical watch.
Fortunately big brands like Omega, Brietling and Cartier produce mechanical and quartz versions of some of their models, so a luxury quartz watch can always be an option.
©A. Lange & Sohne
"Seiko 35A" by Museumsfoto - Deutsches Uhrenmuseum.