Quartz watches have a quite simple way of working when you start to get into the movement’s operation. The quartz watches disrupted a whole industry as they consist of a lot fewer components and is less complicated to the only alternative at the time: mechanical watches.
A quartz watch is a watch driven by the power of electricity. The battery powering the watch is sending current through the electric components, which goes through the quartz crystal that oscillates at a precise 32,728 Hz rate. The electronic components convert the oscillations into a plus with 1-second intervals.
Quartz watches were one of the 7th wonders of the world when invented back in 1969 by Seiko. Since then, the quartz watches have become increasingly more popular, almost beating the mechanical watches to beat in the quartz crisis 1970s to 1980s. Today, quartz watches have been optimized for cost efficiency and works just as when invented back in 1969. Today quartz watches are everywhere, and whenever you see a watch is most likely a quartz watch.
Quartz watches are super effective in their purpose of keeping time. The vibrating quartz crystal is so reliable and robust that shocks and long term wear is no match for the crystal. This makes sure the watch is accurate in timekeeping through many years of use.
How Quartz Watches Work
Quartz watches work in a similar fashion to mechanical watches. Energy is released from a power source, making the hour, minute, and second hands go to tell the clock. However, it’s always a bit more complicated than just that. In the rectangle below, you can see an “interactive” walkthrough on how quartz watches work. The guide is a very brief overview of how the quartz watch functions.
To keep the explanation short, I will present the works of a quartz watch is a few bullets:
- The battery transfers current to the electronics (microchips).
- The electronics will be responsible for making the quartz crystal oscillate 32,728 times per second.
- The oscillations is detected and counted by the electronics, which will release an electronic pulse when it has counted 32,768 vibrations.
- Since there is 32,728 variations per second, the pulses will be released in intervals of 1 second. The electric pulse drives the stepping motor, which is the bronze copper coil.
- The pulse is released once per second to the stepping motor, converting electrical energy to mechanical energy.
- The mechanical power from the stepping motor turns the gears, which will make the hands on the dial tick.
As you see from both the numbered list and the interactive walkthrough, a quartz watch’s basics are quite simple and straightforward to understand. It’s important to keep the alternative in mind when learning about the quartz watch. Quartz watches have a leg up to the traditional mechanical watches.
The mechanical watch (which is the alternative to quartz watches) is very complicated, consists of over 120 different components, has to wound or worn to keep power, is expensive to maintain, and is far less accurate.
To understand each larger component in the quartz watch easier, I will use an analogy that will make the dry stuff a bit more understandable.
Using Batteries in a Quartz Watch
Batteries is the food you give to the quartz watch. In quartz watches, batteries is a necessity. Without the battery, the watch will stop ticking.
The battery is what starts the whole movement. The process starts when the battery is placed in the watch, at which it will start to send current through the electronic microchips. The electronics use the current to begin a process of making the quartz crystal move and interpret the variations.
While batteries is essential for the quartz watch to function, there are different types of batteries. The batteries for quartz watches is called “button batteries” because they look like a button. It’s different from which battery your watch will take and requires you to open the watch (although I don’t recommend doing that as you can damage it).
Different types of batteries are used in quartz watches. Typically, the watch will be using either lithium, alkaline, or silver-oxide batteries with a diameter of between 5.8 mm and 20 mm and a height of 1.6 mm to 5.4 mm. Based on the just mentioned factors, you can figure out that there are many different batteries to choose from. However, it’s not just selecting the first and best battery on the shelf. It actually has to fit in your watch. You can use battery conversion charts to figure out which battery fits in your watch.
The storage of quartz watches also poses some problems for the average watch owner. Although you might not store any of your watches in a safety deposit at the bank, you have to remove the battery from the watch anyway.
The reason you have to remove the battery is that when a battery is discharging, it releases hydrogen gases, which will make the battery expand. Some batteries can’t handle the pressure from the gas, and therefore, they start to leak. The leakage of battery acid can begin to erode your entire watch to a point where it can’t be repaired.
The use of Electronics
The electronics is the brain in a quartz watch. The electronics is what uses the current from the batteries and convert it into something useful.
More specifically, the electronic microchips is sending the current through the quartz crystal, which makes the quartz crystal vibrate, which then runs back into the electronic microchip, which counts the number of vibrations and releases a pulse.
The pulse is released at intervals of 1 second. The electrical pulses send every second is sent to the stepping motor, which will make the stepping motor convert energy (we will go more into that in the following sections).
Since a quartz watch is based on electrical components, the water resistance is very important to maintain. If the watch doesn’t have any visibly marked water resistance, you should keep it away from water at all times. Although there can be many reasons for a quartz watch to stop/malfunction, water/moisture is a big sinner for quartz watches.
Here’s What the Quartz Crystal do in a Quartz Watch
The quartz crystal is the heart of the quartz watch. The quartz crystal is what makes the quartz watch a “quartz” watch. Having a quartz crystal in a watch sounds very fancy and exclusive. Sadly, the reality is that quartz crystals is some of the most common crystals in the world.
The quartz crystal is a very tiny pitch fork-shaped crystal that vibrates 32,768 times per second. The quartz crystal is often hidden in a metal cylinder. Hence you are not able to see the quartz crystal even if you split your watch apart.
Through the collaboration with the brain (the electronics), the quartz crystal makes the watch reliably tick with an accuracy of around ±15 seconds per month.
The current send from the battery is going through the microchip, making the quartz crystal oscillates at 32,768 times per second. The microchip then registers the number of vibrations. For every 32,768 vibrations it picks up, it sends 1 vibration further in the movement.
How the Stepping Motor in a Quartz watch Work
The stepping motor is the muscles of the quartz watch. The stepping motor is what receives the signal from the microchip after it has interpreted the vibrations generated by the quartz crystal.
Inside the stepping motor is a magnetic axle that responds to the signal sent by the stepping motor. The stepping motor sends a pulse of magnetism in a changing pattern. Once every second, the magnetic field changes pole, which will push the axle and, therefore, the gear in the stepping motor to turn.
The turning of the axle and there for the gear is what starts the movement of the hour, minute, and second hands. I have embedded a video below, which explains the function of the stepping motor very well.
Whether you are researching or know a lot about quartz watches or not, there is one thing that everyone should know. Do not touch the stepping motor (the bronze copper coil). The coil is made of copper wire thinner than hair and doesn’t like being touched.
If you are never to open your watch, this information might be irrelevant for you, but if you want to change the battery yourself (or do anything else inside the watch), just know that a gentle touch is enough to damage the stepping motor. Damaging the stepping motor will require an expensive tour to your trusted watch repairer.
The Mechanical Components
The mechanical components is the arms and legs of the quartz watch. Much like your arms and legs are used to walk, push things, lift things, etc., the mechanical components make the energy from the stepping motor and turn the hands on the dial to tell time.
The stepping motor takes the electrical energy and converts it to mechanical energy, by using the magnetic pulses that turn the axle inside the stepping motor 180 degrees every second. When the axle is turned 180 degrees, it starts the motion of the gears (mechanical components).
The mechanical components is more or less the only similarity that quartz watches have to a mechanical watch. Although they basically function by the same principles, itøs only the mechanical components that you would recognize if you ever had a mechanical and quartz watch lying side-by-side.
The mechanical components is also the biggest reason why quartz watches need frequent servicing. Mechanical watches is know to be serviced every 3 to 10 years based on brand and quality. However, most quartz watch manufacturers would state the watch only needs servicing once every 10 years or so.
However, you will most likely notice when a brand is stating a 10-year service interval that it’s a lower-end brand. Brands such as Omega recommends that the quartz watch is taken to service every 3-5 years. This is not only to lubricate the mechanical components, but just as much to ensure the water resistance, there are no other malfunctions, and to make preventive maintenance.
The Advantages of Quartz Watches
The advantages of quartz watches are vast. Quartz watches can be made in any size, shape, or form. They are very durable, accurate, have low maintenance costs, are typically cheap to purchase, and can have many features/functions.
Quartz watches reliable machines that can be made in so many different sizes, shapes, and forms. The main reason why quartz watches aren’t as small as a fingernail is because of the size norms, which range from 38-45 mm for men and 30-35 mm for women.
While this post is not about mechanical watches, the former best alternative to quartz watches was mechanical watches. The mechanical watches are not very accurate (high-end watches are only accurate with -4/+6 seconds per day). Furthermore, they are made solely from metal components, which makes them vulnerable to magnetism.
Quartz watches are very durable as a standard. Regardless of being a low-end or high-end watch, the watch will be durable. The stepping motor pulsates magnetic pulses, which means the watch can’t be damaged from regular magnets. Furthermore, since bigger parts of the quartz watches are made of fixated electronics, they are very shock resistant.
When metal components is magnetized, the poles is all pointing the same direction. In a watch mechanical watch, that would mean the watch would be running significantly faster or slower. However, in a quartz watch, the stepping motor is pulsating magnetism. This means that the watch is essentially demagnetizing itself.
The durability also comes from the fact that quartz watches are made with electronics that is soldered together and screwed into the main plate. To put it simply, the electronics is all fixed and can’t be moved. As always, nothing is set in stone. Therefore, big shocks can damage the electronics or break a soldering point. However, quartz watches are durable.
Many quartz watches’ mechanical components are also made with plastic components rather than metal components. Using plastic rather than metal does a couple of things. First of all, plastic components are cheaper in general. The plastic components aren’t lubricated, and plastics are less expensive than metal.
The biggest advance that happened from the mechanical watches to the quartz watches is the improved accuracy. The mechanical watches are driven by the power delivered from a spring called the mainspring. When the mainspring is wound, energy is stored, which will release slowly through the gears and cogs of the mechanical movement.
In a quartz watch, a quartz crystal is controlling the pace of the movement. A quartz crystal is very reliable. By using a microchip, the quartz movement makes a pulse once per second, which gives the watch its high accuracy.
The quartz crystal is making precisely 32,768 vibrations per second. The vibrations are picked up by the electronic microchip, which will interpret the vibrations.
Whenever 32,768 vibrations have been registered, the microchip sends a signal to the stepping motor, which will make the gears turn in one-second increments. This is also why almost all quartz watches are recognized with a second hand jumping once every second.
Quartz watches accelerate in their low-cost maintenance. Most quartz watches never see a watch repairer after they have been purchased. This has to do with two things: ignorance and the cost of buying a new watch.
Quartz watches are very cheap to maintain. Many people don’t know they actually have to service their watch, so for the average quartz watch owner, they never pay for servicing of their watch. The second part is that when the watch eventually dies, people tend to buy a new one rather than seek a watch repairer.
The electrical components, the limited complexity, the availability of materials makes the quartz watches super cheap to maintain. The servicing labor costs is very low because there is not used much time on the servicing.
The natural comparison is against mechanical watches. Mechanical watches will require the watch repairer to disassemble the entire movement of +120 separate components. Furthermore, all +120 components have to be inspected to replace damaged parts.
In contrast, a quartz watch consists of fewer components. Furthermore, many of the components are electronics, stepping motor, or the quartz crystal. Hence, much less time is needed to disassemble and inspect for wear.
To put things in context, to service a Seiko quartz, you will be looking to pay in the range of $100-$250 for a service. If you were to service a mechanical Seiko, you would be looking to pay in the range of $150-$900. As a rule of thumb, you can expect to pay the double amount to get a mechanical watch serviced compared to a quartz watch within the same brand.
Low Purchase Cost
In grand retrospect to the low maintenance is the low purchase costs of the quartz watches. The components used in quartz watches are cheap, easy to manufacture, and less complicated than their counterpart: mechanical watches.
Since the components used in quartz watches are easy to mass-produce, and materials are widely available, quartz watches’ purchasing cost is typically lower than their mechanical counterparts.
To compare quartz and mechanical in terms of price, I have found two equally quality watches that everyone should be able to afford. The first is a Seiko SKX007, which is very popular by enthusiasts because they can customize the watch. The Seiko SKX007 costs $477 at Jomashop.com. In contrast, the competitor Citizen Promaster Diver which is a quartz watch, costs $288 at Jomashop.com.
Both of these watches are considered reliable, good value for money, and affordable for most people. However, as you would expect, the Citizen quartz watch is almost $200 cheaper than the mechanical Seiko watch.
Since quartz watches are electric and require few components to function, quartz watches can have a pick package of functions. A traditional dial watch (E.g., Citizen watches) tends to have functions such as calendar, chronograph, multiple time zones, alarm clock, etc. Even digital watches such as the Casio G-shock series have an alarm clock, digital and analog display, date, lighting in the display, etc.
These functions are never found combined in a mechanical watch unless it costs more than a house. This also means that when using a quartz movement can significantly reduce the costs of an otherwise costly feature to have in a watch.
Size, Shape, and Form
Quartz watches are, as previously stated, made from electronic components, which is powered a battery. These electronic components can be laid out in whatever shape the manufacture wants. This means they could make virtually any shape of watch they like to.
However, due to the traditional shape of a watch, watch manufacturers rarely make any “wild” shapes or forms. However, you can find watches that are both incredibly small and very big.
It’s not uncommon to find women’s watches that are very small, where the strap is bigger than the actual watch. This is mainly based on the feminism in the smaller size, where you will find that men’s watches are much bigger. Even when the watches don’t have to be big or small, the manufacturers make their designs based on trends and norms.
The shapes of watches will be squared or circled regardless of it being quartz or mechanical. Actually, when you find the oddly shaped watches, they will typically be mechanical. However, quartz watches is much easier to make an odd shape. However, quartz watches are more focused on being cheap and reliable.
The Disadvantages of Quartz Watches
The average quartz watch tends to be made in a low-quality. Furthermore, quartz watches are very fragile when it comes to water and moisture. The battery which is powering the watch will need replacement once every 1-3 years.
While quartz watches are highly praised for their cost-effectiveness, accuracy, durability, and low costs, they also have some downsides. Quartz watches’ disadvantages range from the general quality, weakness against moisture, the battery replacement, and reputation given by enthusiasts and watch collectors.
While some of the above have no impact on what you think of quartz watches, the most important is that you like the watch and isn’t biased based on what some lunatic is writing online (like what you are reading here: educational information only).
There are just some facts that can’t be avoided around quartz watches. Like the average quality is just low, and you must have a little knowledge before purchasing a quartz watch to avoid buying lemons.
The poor quality watches are mostly found in connection with fashion brands and no-name brands. You can literally buy a quartz movement on aliexpress for around $1, put in any case, with a pretty dial, and charge a premium for the watch.
The good watch enthusiast Teddy Baldassarre gives his statement about this new wave of fashion watches that have emerged in the last decade. In short, the watches are pretty to look at. However, they are not made with a quality that justifies their price. These fashion brands is all using quartz movements to keep their costs low.
I couldn’t agree more with his viewpoint. MVMT, Vincero, Daniel Wellington, and other fashion watches will be great for some people looking for a pretty watch. However, they represent nothing from a horology standpoint. And to be fair, most people wouldn’t care about respecting horology.
However, you can acquire a Seiko or Citizen watch for the same price, which will be in much higher quality. However, the Seiko and Citizen watches might not be just as fashionable as fashion watches.
Water and Moisture Damage
Quartz watches are made from electronic components. You don’t have to be a supervillain to figure that having electronics and water/moisture in the same area will be bad business.
If water or moisture was to penetrate a quartz watch, the electronic components could short the movement caused it to fail beyond repair. Furthermore, for quartz watches using metal components, it would start rusting. The components used in watches are not rust-resistant.
The water resistance, which is marked on the watch (typically on the case back), is therefore very important to respect. This is also one of the reasons that most watch manufacturers recommend yearly checks of the water-resistance.
Now, this might sound pathetic and lazy. But, replacing the battery in a watch is actually a frustrating process. One day you will just wake up and see the watch has stopped. Then you have to drive to your trusted watch repairer and get them to replace the battery.
The battery is actually easy to change and doesn’t require any special tools. You can use a scissor, flat head screwdriver, and a new battery. Just remove the case back, remove the old battery, and replace it with a new, and place the case back, back in place. That’s it, in rough terms.
The battery replacement can cost anywhere between $20-$100 depending on the watch shop and watch that needs a battery replacement. For some generic watches such as Seiko and Citizen, you can expect $50 or lower. Whereas the higher-end watches such as vintage Rolex’s can easily cost the $100.
Enthusiasts and Watch Collectors
Generally, quartz watches get a bad reputation by watch enthusiasts and watch collectors. There are a couple of reasons for the bad reputation:
- The mechanical watches came before the quartz watches.
- The invention of quartz watches created the “quartz crisis” which nearly killed mechanical watch manufacturers.
- There is very little heritage and the horology aspect is limited.
The historical aspect will irritate a lot of collectors since collectors enjoy the vintage element of watchmaking. While quartz watches were invented in 1969, they were first affordable for the average consumer in the 1980s.
Therefore, you will find that quartz watches are not very good for collecting when you think of investments. However, if it’s for collecting to have a big rotation of watches to wear, quartz watches are very good because of their affordable price. But you will learn very quickly that quartz watches only depreciate in value.
Furthermore, the quartz crisis that emerged in the 1980s almost killed off the mechanical watch industry. Therefore, many collectors praise the mechanical watches for still being present to this day and blame the evil mass-produced time-telling robots to quartz watches.
The heritage and horology is seen as very limited for quartz watches. If you want to make a quartz watch “complicated,” it’s “just” adding the electronics, which makes the watch get that extra complicated.
When making a mechanical watch more complicated, the research and development team will start to work dedicated to developing a watch with the wanted complications. Such a process can take years.
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