When browsing through your local watch store or online retailers, you might have noticed that automatic watches seem to be more expensive compared to the quartz watches.
Automatic and mechanical watches are expensive due to the high engineering, research and development, and manufacturing costs. Also, automatic and mechanical watches are exclusive compared to their quartz counterparts.
One example of a watch with identical appearance but a different movement is the Omega Seamaster Professional 300M reference 2541.80.00 (Quartz) and 2531.80.00 (Automatic). At the writing of this post, the cheapest quartz was $1,600 in fair condition, whereas the cheapest automatic was $2,000 in rough shape.
Why Are Automatic Watches Expensive?
Engineering, research, and development costs are very high on mechanical and automatic watches. It is much like the exclusive cars like Ferrari, Koenigsegg, and McLaren. We don’t need cars that have 700 horsepower. Still, the craftsmanship, heritage, complication, and exclusivity of the cars is what makes them worth it. The same applies to the automatic and mechanical watches. They are engineered through history, they get more and more complicated.
The costs of manufacturing an automatic watch is not much higher than a quartz. The automatic watches are more refined in their manufacturing processes, because a lot of moving parts have to fit in a very small space with small tolerances. The main difference comes from the ability to mass-produce the quartz watches. In contrast, the automatic watches is much harder to mass produce due to its complexity.
Rolex Submariner Stainless Steel Date price over time
Rolex has managed to push the price of their most popular watch from ~$3,700 to $8,127 in a matter of 10 years.
Most luxury brand watches’ are priced based on their supply. This also means that to inflate the price, they limit the supply. In simpler terms, the watch manufacturers like Rolex puts a limit on how many watches are produced each year to build waiting lists of customers. The exclusivity of having a watch that people have to wait for, makes the price of the watch grow over time, both at retail and on the secondary market. Most Rolex watches are increasing in value with time. This is due to their excellent branding and constant limit of watches produced.
Another thing which makes the automatic watch an expensive experience to own is the maintenance and service costs. For watches which is meant to be used near water, a yearly water-resistance check is recommended. A water resistance test can cost anywhere from $60-$100. Hereafter, some watchmakers recommend different service intervals for a simple movement- and gasket-check. This interval could span between 3 to 7 years typically. However, this can be difficult to trust as some watchmakers would advise more frequent service intervals as they will benefit from it. Lastly, comes the 5-10 year full service where the movement is disassembled, washed, and relubricated. The comprehensive services are priced in proportion to the exclusivity of your watch.
Personally, I had an Omega Seamaster 300M Professional reference 2531.80.00 fully serviced for $800. The regular service is priced at around $350. In comparison to a quartz watch that only needs a battery change every other year, this is a very pricy experience.
Another factor that affects the price of automatic watches is the warranty. Automatic watches are a bit more fragile compared to quartz. For first time users, it might come as a surprise that their new $5.000 watch can’t handle the force of chopping wood, while their $20 watch has been on the wrist in 10 years with no problems. It is quick easy to imagine that a mechanical complication with over 100 small gears, springs, precious metals, and other pieces is more fragile than a print board. The mechanical complication is an automatic watch, and the print board is a quartz watch (roughly).
Are Automatic Watches Worth It?
Automatic watches can be an expensive relationship. Most people buying an automatic watch will most likely buy at least one more. It quickly turns into a very expensive relationship because you want more watches.
Automatic watches are worth it for people enjoying the craftsmanship, heritage, and sophisticated engineering used to develop such watches. At the same time, people buying automatic watches should accept maintenance costs in proportion to the exclusivity of the watch.
Whether you are a professional tennis player, blue-collar worker, or garbage collector, automatic watches can have a value to you. Some love the craftmanship of making the watch, some like the idea of its history, some want a watch to pass on to their kids. The automatic watches have it all. Whether it is the fact that mechanical watches where introduced in the 17th century, or the fact that it can last forever under the right care, most people won’t regret purchasing an automatic watch.
Personally, I got into automatic watches after seeing someone flex a blingy watch on Youtube. I am unable to find the watch, but it was something like a Patek Phillipe Nautilus with diamonds on. On the outside, that watch looks very unappealing. However, as they turned the watch around, there was a transparent backplate exposing the entire movement. Shortly after, I was trying to find skeletonized dials on automatic watches. After a talk with my local jeweler and some research later, I ended up purchasing my first automatic watch: Certina DS-1 white dial.
Are Quartz Watches More Accurate Than Automatic?
Quartz watches are much more accurate than automatic watches. Quartz is an electronic movement which is developed with the mineral crystal called quartz, hence the name. When sending current through a quartz crystal, the timepiece rotates at a constant frequency.
A mechanical or automatic watch is less accurate for several of reasons:
- Force of the mainspring changes from when it is fully wound to when it is close to unwounded.
- Wear of the movement can make it less accurate if not serviced properly.
- As the lubricant aged, the friction in the movement will increase.
The mainspring in a mechanical and automatic watch builds up a force when being wound, which is released steadily into the chain of gears in the movement. Imagine that you are squeezing a spring together, the more you manage to squeeze it together, the tighter it gets to compress. This spring is how the mainspring of a watch functions. It has a lot of force when fully wound and then gradually losses its energy, hence also losing accuracy.
Do Automatic Watches Last Longer Than Quartz?
Automatic watches last shorter when looking at its operation before “recharging” it required. A typical quartz watch needs a battery change every 3 to 5 years. Some quartz watches are built with solar powering capabilities such as Citizen’s “Eco-Drive Technology”, which can make the watch charge whenever it is exposed to sun.
In contrast, a mechanical watch typically has a power reserve of between 30-70 hours. Automatic watches will, in theory, keep going as long as it is placed on a wrist with enough movement to keep the rotor spinning to charge the mainspring.
In terms of the total lifetime of a watch, the mechanical and automatic watches can live forever under the right care. The mechanical watches are made of small metal components that can be replaced in case of damages. The watch can outlive its owner and proceed in the family and become an heirloom for generations to come.
The quartz watches are made of electronic components. While they are efficiently engineered, it only takes a small amount of condensation to kill them. Furthermore, overtime electronic components will wear out, and the watch will become obsolete.
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