Have you ever see a watch or clock with the word “Quartz” on its face? Do you know what does the quartz word means? We all learned in our chemistry classes that quartz is an element on earth but what does it have to do with watches?
So what does quartz watch means? The word quartz on a watch indicates that the watch is run by quartz movement, the most efficient type of watch movement currently around.
In this article, I’ll be writing about why it’s called quartz in the first place, how it works, and why anyone on the planet should cherish this invention. Let’s start!
Quartz Watch Uses Quartz Element For Timekeeping
Quartz watch actually was called as such because it uses quartz element (yes, the sand like what we learned in science class) as part of its timekeeping mechanism.
Quartz is a unique element because it has piezoelectric property – it will vibrate when electrical current flows through it and vice versa. This made it an important part in a quartz watch mechanism (or called quartz movement) to regulate time.
Time regulation is the most important part in any watch. Prior to quartz watch’s invention, mechanical/automatic watch was the most used watch. It uses purely mechanical parts to track and move the time display. While it works fine, it has some disadvantages of being not as accurate and lack of power reserve (it does not use electricity to run).
After various attempts with other electric-powered watch mechanism, Seiko invented the first quartz wristwatch, the Seiko Quartz Astron. It uses quartz element shaped into a tuning fork that will vibrate as electric passes through it. The vibration then will be detected by a chip inside it to be used as a signal for 1 second.
The Caliber 35A quartz movement was a technical breakthrough as it solves all the problems that mechanical watches have: accuracy and lack of power reserve. It accuracy was around +/- 5 seconds per month with 1 year battery power – all of these have been greatly improved in time.
All of this was made possible from the use of quartz element. And that the story of how the humble quartz sand became so important to horology to warrant the watches to be called as quartz watch.
How Does Quartz Watch Works?
Quartz watch is one of the smallest electronic item that you can buy nowadays. It’s only made possible through the inventions in electricity, electronics and manufacturing. If you ever open up one, you’ll see the inside is made out of a circular block containing the movement and a battery cell. What goes inside this assembly is truly outstanding for such a small size.
Everything starts from a battery cell that supplies electricity to the whole watch circuit. These batteries are small round-shaped often called button battery due to its resemblance to buttons.
But unlike the very common AA or AAA battery with standard sizes, button batteries have lots of sizes measured in diameters and thickness. In addition, there could be different voltage rating (1.5V and 3.0V are the most common). So do keep this in mind and always check your watch’s battery in case you want to change it yourselves.
The electric current then was passed to a microchip that then direct some of it to a tuning fork made of quartz/sand. As I’ve mentioned above, quartz is a piezoelectric material and will vibrate when electric passes through it. By shaping it into a tuning fork, the quartz was actually designed to vibrate at 32768 Hz (or 32768 times in one second).
This vibration was picked up by the microchip which then divide this signal by 2 fifteen times to get to 1 signal, which translates to 1 second. Or you could also say the microchip counts the signal 32768 times before declaring 1 second has passed.
This is the basis of all timekeeping mechanism, either mechanical/automatic or spring drive. The determination of 1 second is the most important as it’s how the watch can track time.
From then, the microchip will send a signal to the motor to move the second hand 1 second. After the second hand moved 60 times, 1 minute has elapsed and the minute hand will be turned automatically by gears connected to the second hand. The same goes for hour hand after 60 minutes has elapsed.
For a watch with digital display, things are much simpler as there is no mechanical time display part. The microchip can easily change the display of the watch without having to use a motor/gear/hands assembly.
It’s One Of The Most Accurate Watches You Can Buy
Accuracy is an area that the quartz watch excels at (in addition to very low costs, of course). The thing is, prior to the invention of quartz clock in 1927 (by Warren Marrison and J. W. Horton) and the wrist watch version by Seiko in 1969, watches mostly used the mechanical movement which was around for more than a century.
Although it works fine, mechanical movement was not great at accuracy. It relies on a set of balance wheel and escapement assembly that rotates in 6 Hz or 8 Hz frequency. While it’s not really bad, it’s not good either. The mechanical watch has an abysmal accuracy of +/-6 seconds per day, and that is for the top of the line COSC chronometers. For the normal versions, the accuracy is far worse up to +/-30 seconds per day. Now imagine if your watch is constantly losing up to few minutes per week!
Although the lack of accuracy of mechanical watches can be said to be acceptable for regular use, it’s horrendous if you’re trying to use it for industrial use. Industries crave for accurate timekeeping to keep things standard. As mass production being more and more prevalent, accurate timekeeping is a definite need to ensure good implementation of systems.
Thus, the invention of quartz watch brings the much-needed accuracy into mankind. It has great accuracy, with +/-15 seconds per month for the most common quartz watches. That number can go even lower for higher end watches. Thus, with such accuracy, chances are you only need to adjust the time only when you’re changing its battery every 1-2 years.
Is It Durable?
In terms of durability, quartz watch is definitely one of the more durable watches. The digital display versions are actually more durable thanks to its less moving parts, compared to analog ones that still have the motor and time display hands. Well, lesser moving parts means lesser chance of anything going out of place and broken.
However, there is a big IF. Quartz watch is mass-produced all over the world and you can get a good-looking one for as low as $10 or as high as $100 and more. But do remember when something is cheap, there will be some cutting corners done to make that price feasible. In this case, the cheaper watch will be built using cheaper stuffs with lack of quality control.
What this entails is you can’t expect a $10 quartz watch to have a great robustness and durability to lasts you for years. At such a very low price, I’d be glad if it can last for a year. There will be something that will go off – the hands might come loose, water can seep in due to low quality waterproofing, the straps might come off thanks to low quality plastic, and the potential issues list can go on and on.
But still, it’s a $10 watch so you can just easily replace it if it’s broken right LOL!
However, if you want a more durable watch that you can wear for years, I can only recommend to pay more and get a decent one. It will be built using higher quality materials (another plus is it won’t look cheap), better quality control and it won’t get broken with just a small nudge to the wall.
Quartz Watch Is Cheap!
Are quartz watches expensive? No, quartz watches are the cheapest type of watches currently. Its simple mechanism can be fit into a very small casing which means low material costs are needed to make one. In addition, mass production of quartz watches are feasible which will once again lower the costs.
However, that’s for the basic quartz watch that most of us will use. There also exists higher range of quartz watches that costs more. These watches will either have: 1) more features, 2) ornaments and decorations, and 3) combination of both.
Thanks to its electronic nature, quartz watch is very easy to be upgraded in terms of features. Chronograph, alarm clock, world time, moon phase, perpetual calendar – all of these are great features that can exists in a quartz watch easily. In comparison, these features will be very difficult to implement in the traditional mechanical watch.
In addition to that, some watch manufacturers also put decorations on their watches which will only increase its price. Gold casings, diamond/jeweled decorations are popular especially with women’s watches. You can bet that these will fetch a hefty sum.
Do You Have To Service It?
Do you have to service a quartz watch? This is another area where quartz watch has an advantage as it is generally service-free. Thanks to its lower moving parts, there is lesser wear and tear in the quartz movement as compared to the mechanical movement.
For a mechanical movement, a 3-5 years service interval is required to keep the watch in a good condition. If you look into how it works, the various mechanical parts and gears are constantly moving which induce lots of friction, causing wear and tear. (read more about automatic watch servicing in my previous article here)
A service is needed to clean up the parts, re-oil it back for optimum lubrication and replace any worn parts. Yes, you can don’t service it regularly but if you’re already spending hundreds of dollars on an automatic/mechanical watch, then why would won’t you spend some money to keep it in good condition?
A quartz watch, on the other hand, don’t have that high number of moving parts. Sure enough, the motor and hands are moving constantly but this is in a low speed, unlike the automatic/mechanical watch movement, and any friction is not a cause for concern. Thus, quartz watch is usually regarded as service-free.
However, if you have an expensive quartz watch (such as made from rare materials with decorations and such), there is no harm in servicing it. With that kind of watch, you’d definitely want it to last a lifetime and can be passed to your children.
Hence servicing the watch will ensure that it’s in perfect condition in and out and any hard to detect issues such as waterproofing and rust inside the watch can be cleared up before any permanent damage could happen.
Are Quartz Watch Good? It’s One Of The Best Watch Movements Currently!
Although my personal preference is automatic watches (that’s the name of this website LOL!), I have to say that for most people, quartz watch would be your best option. In fact, even when pitted against the other types of watch movements (such as solar, kinetic, spring drive, and others. Read my article on the 8 types of watch movements currently around), quartz watch always come at or near the top.
Sure, it does not have that much character when millions were using it, but for its price, quartz watch can deliver just about what you need in a watch (that is to tell time, of course) and much more depending on what you want to pay.
Some of the quartz watch’s advantages that will be beneficial to a regular guy are:
- Affordability – it’s the most affordable type of watch out there. You can get a basic one for lower than $20! And if your small child want a watch, you can always get him/her the cheap China-made ones for just lesser than $10.
- Versatile – Be it the traditional analog watch or the digital display, quartz watch has it all covered. It’s also offered in various styles, from dressy to sporty so you’ll always able to find the one that you need.
- Accurate – Accuracy was the quartz watch’s main selling point in the past decades. With just few seconds lost in a month, quartz watch is your best option when it comes to accuracy.
- Huge range of products – Quartz watch are available in a wide range of prices from the basic cheap ones to the high-end ones. Pay more, and you’ll be able to afford a more refined watch at a fraction of what an automatic watch will cost.
- Lots of features – The electronics inside it enables it to be equipped with many features such as chronographs, alarm clock, perpetual calendar and many more.
- Durable – The electronics are kept tight in a waterproof case (depending on the watch model) and will run perfectly unless you bump or drop it hard. In general, it’s a durable watch though you need to adjust your expectations depending on the price.
- Just a good value for money – With all the benefits above packed in a small price, quartz watch is a very good value for money buy.
For a more detailed analysis on why a quartz watch is a good buy, check out my previous article here.
Typical Problems With Quartz Watch
Nothing is perfect in this world, and the same is true with quartz watch. For a start, quality issue might be the main problem that you’ll face when buying a cheap quartz watch, those with a price tag of $10 to $50. With such watches, you can definitely expect that it’s being produced in a part of the world with very cheap labor and manufacturing costs.
As such, it does not have much quality control imposed on it during production and you’ll see how these watches are not very durable and robust.
For example, my cheap China-made alarm clock only last for a month before it stopped functioning after I accidentally dropped in into the floor. While the cheap plastic outside looks fine, the clock just went dead and won’t function anymore, signaling a problem in its internals. So be warned when you use one of the cheap quartz watches as a slight knock might cause it to stop working.
Battery leakage is something that I believe almost all of us experienced before. If you let a dead battery left inside a watch, the chemicals inside the battery will leak, staining the movement of the watch at least, and at worst, might render the watch unusable without expensive cleaning and service.
The next common issue is with moisture inside the watch, where you can see the watch face suddenly has fogging inside. This is a fairly common problem that will happen if your watch don’t have adequate waterproofing built-in by the watch manufacturer.
Water can seep into the watch through crevices either on top of it, from the bottom and lastly from the crown or the knob used to adjust the time. In a properly designed watch, all of these areas will have rubber gaskets used to keep the watch internal tightly sealed from moisture seepage.
If the watch does not have these seals, which is common with watches without water resistance rating, then water can seep into it just from you being exposed to it either during rain or even just washing your hands in the bathroom.
The best way to ensure this issue does not happen is by getting a watch with at least 50m water resistance rating. I found that this is a good compromise between water resistance (you don’t want it to be too low at 10m or 30m) and not being too pricey.
However, if you want to use your watch for a dip in the swimming pool, I’d recommend at least 100m water resistance rating for a peace of mind.
Should You Get A Quartz or Automatic/Mechanical Watch?
One of the most common questions that I got is whether you should buy a quartz watch or an automatic/mechanical watch. For me, automatic watch is the more preferred choice because it’s different from all the other electronic stuffs we have around us. But then again, there are many reasons why anyone would be better off with a quartz watch depending on his/her circumstances.
Below are some possible circumstances or situations which I think quartz watch is a better, if not the best option:
- Someone new to watch: If you’re new to wearing a watch, then a quartz watch will be a good option. It’s cheap so you can just grab one at the store and wear it. And since you’re blind buying it, a cheap quartz watch will be a good option. Once you’ve got used to wearing a watch, then you can explore more about other watches e.g automatic watch and see if it fits what you want or not (check out my article about how to choose the correct watch for you)
- Need a watch urgently: If you need a watch urgently for an event or anything, quartz watch will be a good choice – again, because it’s cheap. Just go into a store and pick something that fits your event and you’re good to go. A problem with automatic watch is it’s varies between brands/manufacturers so you need some research before buying one. That is not the case with quartz as the movement is more or less the same and only the exterior is different.
- You want a cheap watch: Want a cheap watch? Then quartz watch is the one to go. No other watch type is as cheap as the quartz watch!
- You want many features in a cheap watch: Thanks to its electronic nature, quartz watch can have many features packed inside its small body. Yes, these features (e.g chronograph, dual time zone, perpetual calendar, etc) can also be had in an automatic watch or a smart watch. However, price wise, quartz watch will always have the cheaper price compared to others with the same features.
I hope you already learn what the meaning of the word “Quartz” on top of some watches. It serves an important function of indicating that the watch uses quartz movement, the most commonly used watch movement nowadays.
With it, you can be sure you’re getting an accurate, robust and durable watch that is perfect for everyday use. It’s accuracy is its main selling point as you’ll be sure that you can always trust your watch.
With its affordable price, quartz watch is highly recommended for those wanting to get their first wristwatch. Once you’ve been accustomed to wearing one, then you can explore other types of watches such as the automatic/mechanical watch, solar or the more modern smartwatch.
Thanks for reading and cheers!