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Quartz vs Automatic Watches

Posted on June 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

Quartz watches are better than automatic watches.

Okay, there, I’ve said it and thrown down the gauntlet right at the start. No messing around with buildup and thesis and all that. You know where I stand right from the start. I’ll spend a bit to qualify, but let’s begin the discussion there.

Background: I received a wonderful watch from my wife for our anniversary. I was touched and amazed by the gift, but it was truly a step out in style. I had a been a true Timex cheapo or Pulsar railroad watch guy for years. Watches would last a few months or years, to then maybe disappear when one of the kids accidently flushed them down the toilet. No biggie, though my loss of my old rail road affectionately known as “glowie” has been haunting.

But all of these watches were quartz. They were $100 or less at the time. Inexpensive in the world of watches, but not cheap in the world where most people live. $100 is a $100 no matter who you are.

So quartz watches are far more inexpensive than automatic watches. And they are more accurate.  This is fairly simple, as quartz watches run on a battery and have fairly straightforward mechanism that keeps them solid for years at a time depending on battery.  So long as the battery is full or providing adequate charge, the operation of the crystal and electronics keeps a quartz watch on time very very wwell.

Automatic watches, by contrast, run off a spring. Some wind the spring by hand, by various other forces, but it is essentially charging a mechanical component as a mechanical battery and operating a timekeeping device off this stored energy.  Even the most precise automatic watch will likely by 5-6 seconds off per day, or about a minute a week, give or take.  The old movie trope of “synchronize your watches” became necessary to ensure that all those old automatic watches were on the same time as they had a tendency to slowly drop out of time.

Which is somewhat romantic. The notion of having a small spring on your wrist is neat. The sweeping second hand of an automatic watch is clearly beautiful. Let’s be honest, it’s gorgeous. It gives time the notion of a true sweep that slowly and magically moves forward in a continuous line. Watching “watch-porn” videos of expensive watches second hands sweeping gracefully around classic faces has it’s certain charm.

But it’s a lie.

There is no real sweep. It is, like the flickers of a movie screen, a succession of beats. A high-beat watch may have a spring pulse of several times (or several hundred times) per minute resulting in such small clicks and beats that the second hand appears to traveling smoothly. But in reality the second hand is fooling you because it really is just beating so fast with such small clicks that you can’t see it. Again, there are high speed videos where they slow down an expensive watches flowing seconds into videos that help to expose the actual course of beats to show you how clicky they really are at the end of the day.

Automatic watches are sexier. Or so the ads have us believe. Automatic watches are the Rolex and Omega and the stratospherically higher end of even more respected but lesser known brands, and they are generally precise and accurate to a few seconds each day. Trouble is that it is still a few seconds less than a quartz.

Many analog watches have small timers as well. On analog wheels. To try and pretend these are anything other than decorative is silly. They may look cool or let you time some eggs boiling, but the notion that your race car or scuba session is going to have anything to do with these tiny and hard to read timers is insane. There are very specific, and mostly computerized/quartz timers for that stuff.

So what gives?  The romance of an automatic watch lies in the branding and beauty of the pieces. Nobody can deny the brand appeal of Rolex. Classy ads, classic products, very expensive. That’s the hallmark of a luxury brand. It’s why people shell out mega bucks for a Bently that really isn’t all that much better than a far cheaper car.

There is also the appeal of the mechanical inefficiency. To know that your body swings a weight and that weight tightens a spring that then tells time. This puts you in touch with the rotation of the planes and measures, you are almost a part of time. Wonderful.

But four grand wonderful? Ten grand wonderful? Uh, not that wonderful.

I’ll take a quartz any day of the week. I may someday try an auto, but until I have piles of cash lying around and nothing I’d rather spend it on, I’ll take a quartz. It’s more economical and more accurate. The only trouble is, there are few things as beautiful as a Rolex no-date updated for modern tastes. Uh oh, now I’ve fallen for all that marketing…  ieeeeeee…

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