Quartz or Automatic Watch? A Tough Choice Made Easy

Choosing between quartz watches and automatic watches is often a tough choice. Actually, it can be very difficult to decide which is better to purchase. When looking for entry-level watches, you are facing a lot of options, and all the options vary from quartz to automatic. However, when you enter the luxury category, the watches are typically automatics as they are seen as more luxurious.

Here is where automatic watches or quartz watches are better:

  • Automatic watches is advantageous when precision engineering with attention to detail and a luxury feel is wanted.
  • Quartz watches is advantageous when wanting high accuracy and low maintenance costs.

There is a big difference in looking for a $100 and a $1,000 watch. There are some general considerations, but also some practical considerations which vary between the quartz and automatic option. Quartz watches have some advantages which, in broad terms, are significant to the automatic watches. However, some people would still take automatic watches every day of the week instead of quartz watches. In the following section, we will take a deep dive into why an automatic might be better than a quartz watch and vice versa.

The purpose of this post is for you to go into detail with the different considerations in automatic watches and quartz watches.

Choosing Between a Quartz Watch and an Automatic Watch

Choosing between a quartz watch and an automatic watch can be very difficult because of the many different parameters involved. Purchasing a watch is not just going to the watch shop and buying the first watch you see. There is a big difference in buying an automatic and quartz watch. A quartz watch requires less attention and is more accurate. However, the automatic is filled with heritage, high precision craftsmanship, and is much prettier to look at (if the watch has a clear case back).

The difference between quartz and automatic watches are big. However, they do share some resemblance. One of the biggest differences is the accuracy of keeping time. This was the exact reason why quartz watches were invented to be accurate. Another is the maintenance costs. Where service of a quartz watch is typically in the $10-$50 range, a service of automatic watches can be upwards of $1,000.

TopicQuartz WatchesAutomatic Watches
MovementElectronic and few mechanical componentsFully mechanical movement
Maintenance costs$10-$50 every 1-2 years$200-$1,000 per 5-10 years
Purchase costs$-$$$$-$$$
Accuracy (COSC certified)±0.07 sec per day-4/+6 sec per day
DurabilityWeak against water and moistureWeak against big shocks and magnetism
HeritageLow to noneA lot of heritage
Lifespan10-60 yearsVirtually forever
Differences between quartz watches and automatic watches

The biggest difference between a quartz watch and an automatic watch is the movement. A quartz watch is made with electronics, which is driven by a battery, whereas the automatic watches are made solely of mechanical components and driven by a wound mainspring.

The tables show the obvious differences between quartz watches and automatic watches. The differences are categorized as maintenance cost, purchase cost, accuracy, durability, heritage, and lifespan. While some of the categories are self-explanatory, the categories hold some depth.

The maintenance costs are something that is determined by the quality or luxury of the brand. Even quartz watches can have high maintenance costs, but typically automatics watches are just more expensive. The same applies to the purchase price of the quartz watches. Although automatic watches usually is more expensive, there is some very expensive quartz watches out there.

The accuracy will also depend on the quality of the watch. However, automatic watches will run ±15 seconds per day. While high-end automatics will manage a -4/+6 (COSC certified), the average automatic watch will do around ±15 seconds per day. In contrast, a low-quality quartz watch can have an accuracy of just 1-2 seconds per day.

The durability of both types of watches is, in general excellent. However, there is some differences. Since the quartz watches are made of electronic components will die when they get in contact with water. In contrast, automatic watches are more vulnerable to big shocks. There are some other aspects, which we will discuss further down.

In terms of heritage, there are some big differences. There is not a lot of quartz watches that have a lot of fo heritage as of yet. While this might be more of personal opinion, I think that automatic watches are just more iconic and are built with more heritage than the quartz watches.

When committing to a watch, it’s typically a decision you expect to last for life. However, there are some different things you need to consider if you expect certain watches to last forever.

Now let’s dive a little deeper into the differences of quartz and automatics to make the decision easier to grasp.

Automatic Watches

In the aspect of choosing between automatic or quartz watches, there are some key differences that will make the journey of owning either type of watch more exiting. For automatic watches, the main difference/benefit is the heritage, prestige, and lifespan of the watch that is really essential. Why will be discussed in each section of the subheadings you see below.


The movement of automatic watches (and mechanical watches as well for that matter), is part of history in regards to timekeeping. It’s a piece of engineering that has evolved with time but fundamentally stayed the same.

The distinguishing characteristic of automatic watches is the sweeping second’s hand. The movement has an oscillating regulator which a frequency of 4-10 Hz. The movement consists of solely mechanical components.

The movement of an automatic watch consists solely of mechanical components. These components work together to make the hour, minute, and seconds hand to spin.

The way an automatic watch is powered is through a mainspring. The mainspring is powered through the winding of the crown or rotor. As the crown or rotor spins/is turned, the mainspring is contracting, essentially storing power.

Certina DS-1 illustration of hairspring and rotor
Certina DS-1 illustration of hairspring and rotor

When the mainspring is wound, the power is released through the gear train. The gear train is the connection between the mainspring and the balance wheel. The balance wheel is what is often referred to as the heart of the watch. The balance wheel consists of a hairspring that is connected to the wheel of the balance. In conjunction, this balance wheel regulates the speed of the movement, which is typically between 4 Hz and 10 Hz.

The oscillating speed of 4-10 Hz is also why you see the seconds hand sweep rather than a tick on an automatic movement.

Maintenance Costs

The costs of servicing an automatic watch can be more expensive than purchasing the watch over time. It’s fair to say that the cheaper a watch you get, the faster it will exceed its purchase price. However, maintenance is an unavoidable part of owning an automatic watch. The consequences of not getting the watch through maintenance can be fatal to the watch.

The cost of servicing an automatic watch is between $100-$1,000, depending on the service type. There are three types of services: water-resistance check, regular servicing, and overhaul servicing. Regular service costs $100-$200. An overhaul servicing can cost between $400-$1,000.

Regular servicing is time adjustment and lubrication. Overhaul servicing is a complete disassembly of the watch with the replacement of worn components, relubrication, polishing, etc.

Omega price example:

Omega overhaul servicing costNon-chronographChronograph
Non-precious metal$550$830
Precious metal$750$1050
Omega overhaul service pricing

The cost of servicing Rolex is slightly higher, whereas servicing a Patek Philippe will be much higher. However, servicing Seiko watches is much cheaper, being as cheap as $118. Hence an example of the price influence based on the brand.

While the brand is the biggest influencer to the price of the maintenance, you will rarely get a watch serviced for less than $100. Therefore, it is something to consider when you are looking at buying an automatic watch.

Purchase Costs

The cost of purchasing an automatic watch is typically much higher than quartz watches. Automatic watches is produced in a costly way. Even the highly standardized models, such as Rolex Submariner is milled on expensive engineering equipment, quality tested in several ways, and assembled by hand.

There are 2 rather large aspects when it comes to the price of automatic watches. The first being that automatic watches are associated with luxury. Secondly, automatic watches it not easily mass-produced.

The first reason why an automatic watch is so expensive is due to the association that automatic watches have with luxury. When you think of a watch such as the Rolex Submariner, you would typically think the wearer of the watch to be a financial executive, CEO, or someone else with a high paying position.

The second aspect covering the mass-production of automatic watches comes from different things in the production process. Firstly, making robots assemble the movements would be very difficult. Many components have to be held in place while a screw is tightened. Secondly, the tolerances in the components are usually so tight that high-precision CNC machines have to be used.

However, with the above stated, it’s not to say that inexpensive and mass-produced automatic watches don’t exist. They do. Just try and service for Miyota or ETA automatic movements. Yet, when looking for what is considered high-quality watches such as Patek Philipe, Rolex, Omega, etc. you will pay for the luxury.


The accuracy of an automatic watch is generally poor when you compare them to other devices such as phones and computers. While phones and computers is synced to the internet, automatic watches have to rely on their own “heat-beat” to keep accuracy.

The accuracy of a high-quality automatic watch is -4/+6 seconds per day. Average quality automatic watches is commonly accurate within ±15 seconds per day.

Accuracy of automatic watchesAccuracy
Low-quality ±30 seconds/day
Average quality±15 seconds/day
High-quality -4/+6 seconds/day
Accuracy of automatic watches based on quality

High-quality watches is a relative term, and not all expensive watches is high quality. Furthermore, when the table above states high-quality watches as -4/+6 seconds per day, it’s because of the COSC certification. However, a lot of watches is not certified within the COSC standard even though they keep their accuracy within an even stricter tolerance.

The accuracy is stated by the manufacturer in their booklets or on their website. So you have the opportunity to investigate the accuracy before you buy the watch if precision is important to you.


The durability of automatic watches has often gotten a poor reputation from people. However, automatic watches are very durable. The entire movement is built to lock itself into place.

Automatic watches is highly durable. The mechanical components are secured by so-called bridges, plates, and jewels, which ensures the components to stay in its place. The jewels and locking mechanisms is used to make them very shock absorbent for everyday use.

First of all, the actual movement is secured to the case of the watch. Secondly, the use of bridges and plates is partly done to secure the wheel train and other moving components inside the watch. Thirdly, jewels are also partly used to secure the moving components. Forth, the jewels are used to minimize the wear and tear over time. Fun fact, the jewels are made of synthetic material and therefore worth very little if anything.

Jewels illustrated on an automatic watch
Jewels illustrated on an automatic watch

Solders have worn automatic watches in wars. Since the invention of automatic watches in 1923, the watches have been used in virtually any profession. The usage ranges from solders to pilots.


Prior to the automatic watch was the “manual” watches. The main difference is a rotating rotor than winds the watch when it’s worn. Throughout time the automatic movement has been engineered a lot to have many different capabilities.

Automatic watches have been around since 1923. Solders, divers, athletes, and many more have used automatic watches since its invention. The craftsmanship which goes into designing and building an automatic watch, has been developing ever since its invention to be beautiful and usable everyday timekeepers with immense functionality.

Making a watch able to have a chronograph function that can track 1/100 of a second has to be carefully engineered. In contrast, quartz watches can be more or less programmed into the movement. And if you think that advancing a technology that has no place in the modern world, you are absolutely right. However, this is what builds the complex heritage. To give you some perspective, the 1/100 of a second chronograph was invented by Zenith with the release of the Zenith Defy El Primero 21 in 2017.


The lifespan of an automatic watch can be just as long as the owner wishes it to be alive. If the watch is serviced regularly (1-3 year intervals) and has its regular overhaul services (5-10 years intervals), the watch will be able to live forever.

Automatic watches consists of small metal components. The components can be refurbished or replaced, making the watch able to live forever. Automatic watches have to be serviced every 5-10 years to extend the lifespan as much as possible.

There are many ways to destroy an automatic watch unintentionally. The most important aspect of owning an automatic watch is to make sure it gets to a watchmaker every 5-10 years for an overhaul service.

Quartz Watches

The quartz watches is an amazing invention to the advance of reliability and accuracy to the world of horology. Quartz watches if often cheaper, easier to maintain, and a lot more accurate in their timekeeping.

You should purchase a quartz watch when you prefer reliability, accuracy, and simplicity. Quartz watches are much more accurate compared to automatic watches. Even a poor quartz watch bought in a shady street market will be more accurate than 90% of automatic watches.

Since quartz watches are driven by a battery, they are much more reliable since they don’t have to be worn to be wound. Furthermore, quartz watches have less moving parts than an automatic watch, which also decreases the complexity of servicing the watch (and therefore, the price of servicing).


The movement of a quartz watch consists of a battery, quartz crystal, coil, stepping motor, microchip/circuit board, and the wheel train. Getting a quartz watch has the amazing benefit of simple and accurate movement.

The movement of a quartz watch is powered by a battery which sends current through a microchip circuit. The microchip makes a quartz crystal oscillate at 32,768 Hz. The chip detects the vibrations and translates the vibrations into an electric pulse every second. The electronic pulse it pushed through the stepping motor, which makes the energy to mechanical power, which makes the watch tick.

How to replace a battery in a quartz watch
The inside of a quartz watch. Battery, coil, quartz crystal (silver chamber), and backside of the movement is exposed.

While the movement of a quartz watch is much simpler compared to an automatic watch, it’s not recommended to make battery changes or regular maintenance on the watch yourself. Watches are delicate machines and should only be handled by professionals.

Maintenance Costs

The maintenance of a quartz watch is rather simple when compared to other watch types. The only things that have to be serviced is the battery and relubrication of high-stress points.

The costs will vary a lot based on the service performed and the brand. Higher-end brands will be charging a higher price for a service than a lower-end brand. Servicing a high-end watch such as Omega will be much more expensive than the average Seiko watch.

Maintenance costs between high-end and average brandsServicing cost
Seiko (excluding Grand Seiko)$80-$300
Price difference between average brand (Seiko) and high-end brand (Omega).

The cost of servicing a quartz watch is between $10-$500. The price depends on the type of service performed. A battery change will cost $20, whereas an overhaul service can cost up to $500. The exclusivity of the watch brand will also impact maintenance costs.

Although the video below shows that the disassembly and reassembly of the watch is not a simple process, it’s much simpler than the same process for an automatic watch.

Purchase Costs

One thing that is important to remember when considering the price of quartz watches is that quartz watches are made to be cheap and reliable. Furthermore, the current trend is putting quartz watches into good looking dials. This makes the watch low cost, and the customer can purchase many different styles of watches.

The purchase price of quartz watches is relatively low. The methodology of quartz watches is to be cost-effective and accurate. Therefore, it’s exclusive quartz watches are rarely seen. A typical quartz watch will cost between $50-$500.


The accuracy of quartz watches is the whole reason for their existence. The quartz watches were invented to be accurate, beating the mechanical and automatic watches. A good quartz watch can be accurate within a few seconds per month.

The accuracy of a quartz watch is within +0.07 seconds per day for high-end certified watches and around 1 second per day for average quartz watches.

The big advantage of having a quartz watch is that they can be digital, meaning they can be connected to satellites. This basically eliminates the inconsistency of the movement to keep time, as it will be adjusted regularly by the receiving signal. However, it’s important to state that far from all quartz watches is receiving satellite signals.


The durability of quartz watches is quite good. A quartz watch doesn’t have a lot of moving parts which can be displaced in a shock. Furthermore, the quartz watches are not as delicate around magnets as automatic watches is.

Quartz watches is very durable due to their limited moving parts. The construction of a quartz watch makes the watch shock resistant. However, the weakness of quartz watches is leaking batteries. A leaking battery can permanently damage the watch.

Leaking AA battery
Leaking AA battery

When it comes to durability, quartz watches have 2 big enemies. The first being corrosion from batteries, and the second being moisture. Since a quartz watch is forced to use a battery, leakage can happen, which will damage the watch quite quickly. However, if the leakage is found in due time, it’s an easy fix.

Since quartz watches is using electronic components, moisture can have fatal consequences for the movement. Therefore, it’s very important to secure the water resistance is intact when used around water.


Quartz watches were invented in 1969. Since then, the quartz watches have been developed to have the same features as automatic watches. However, it’s possible to get digital clocks as a dial rather than the traditional hours and minutes.

The heritage of quartz watches is not as such an argument for purchasing a quartz watch. A lot of the technology found in quartz watches are found in modern equipment such as phones. Therefore, it’s fair to say that quartz watches don’t hold a lot of heritage in comparison to automatic watches.


The lifespan of quartz watches is quite good. The average quality quartz watch can easily have a lifespan of 20-40 years. However, poor quality watches can will typically only last 5 years. However, the lifespan of quartz watches dependents a lot on the owner. Since quartz watches are quite affordable, a lot of people neglect their service intervals, which results in a limited lifespan for the watch.

The lifespan of a quartz watch is 5 years for poor quality, and upwards of 60 years for high-quality watches. The electronic components in a quartz watch will sooner or later malfunction (just like your phone or computer). The better service and care for the watch, the longer the lifespan.

When a quartz watch is properly maintained, it might even be able to be passed on to the next generation as an heirloom.

Jonas Henriksen

AllInWatches is founded by Jonas, who has a great interest in mechanical watches. All aspects of manual and automatic (mechanical) watches is a big interest and have been a passion since 2015, where the first automatic watch was purchased. Seeing the transparent case back and discovering the heritage of watchmaking piqued an interest in horology.

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