Mechanical vs. Battery Operated (Quartz) Watch Movements

Both mechanical and battery-operated watches tell the time. Obviously, right! But which watch movement is better? Well, it is a matter of personal choice, lifestyle, and how often you will wear the watch when it comes down to it. "Great," you're thinking, "but that doesn't answer the question of what is the difference between the two. Nor does it help me decide." To help, we have explained the difference below.

Quartz Movement (battery)

Simply put, a quartz watch is a battery-operated watch. Seiko unveiled the first-ever quartz watch in 1969. The release turned the watch-making world on its head. It gets its name from the quartz crystal in its timekeeping mechanism. The battery acts as the power source for a quartz watch, as it sends an electrical current through the quartz crystal, which causes it to vibrate. The vibrations are then processed and turned into an electric pulse by a circuit board. These pulses are used to drive a small motor that turns the gears in the watch to rotate the watch's hands. The battery will need to be changed average every two to three years and requires very little to no maintenance or wearer input.

Mechanical/Automatic Movements

On the other hand, mechanical watches represent a much higher level of craftsmanship that has no battery. The concept of the mechanical watch has been around since the 16th century. The movement contains a complex mechanism of gears and springs, all working in synchronization to turn the watch's hands. The mechanical movement is powered by a small spring that's tightly wound by either manual or automatic winding. Manual movements require the wearer to wind the mainspring by turning the watch's crown manually. Once wound, the spring slowly unwinds and distributes kinetic energy to power the series of gears and other springs in the mechanism. Automatic watches work in the same manner but also contain a weighted rotor. As the wrist moves by the natural movement of daily activities, the rotor spins; this energy is used to wind the mainspring automatically. This means that automatic watches are constantly be wound when being worn, as the rotor is spinning. They can, however, require to be manually wound from time to time (pardon the pun) if they haven't been worn in a few days.

Because of the movement's complexity and many gears, it's recommended that mechanical/automatic watches receive service every three years to ensure it continues to work correctly as the day you bought it. They also require more input from the wearer to help keep accurate time.

Spot the difference

Now that you know the difference between the two, how can you spot the difference? The most obvious difference is the motion of the second hand. On a quartz watch, the second hand has a distinctive tick-tick-tick motion. The second hand of a mechanical watch moves in a smooth sweeping motion. When compared side by side, the action of the two is noticeably different.

The verdict

As you can tell, deciding between quartz or mechanical watches is not a "one size fits all" choice. It all comes down to what YOU need in a watch. If you're after a purely functional time-telling device, you can take your pick between one or the other. If you're shopping on a tight budget, don't mind replacing your watch's battery over the years, and are looking for a "set it and forget it" kind of watch—a quartz watch will serve you well. But if you admire the craftsmanship that goes into making a watch, a quartz watch won't work for you. True watch enthusiasts are attracted to mechanical watches because of how much craftsmanship and sophistication go into them and the legacy they represent.

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