Spring is in the air, a time for renewal, so, should you be looking at your watchbox and re-evaluating your collection? Of course, if you’re a normal person and not a watch geek, then you don’t need to. But if you are the kind that obsesses over watches, then your collection could be up for a change, or at least a tweak. If that is the case, could I suggest that you go for quartz, instead of mechanical, for your next purchase?
If you recoil with horror at the thought of a quartz watch, then you’ve probably been conditioned by decades of anti-quartz watch snobbery. I get it. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been immune to it myself. I’ve spent a large chunk of my adult life wearing and loving quartz watches, but when I discovered the mesmerizing joys of the smooth sweep of the seconds hand of a mechanical watch, I decided to give quartz watches a hard pass. But that too has run its course, and I’m rethinking my exclusivist choices right now. You should too.
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At some level, in the age of the smartphone, all watches are essentially obsolete. Personally speaking though, I would rather glance down at my wrist to tell the time, than pick up the phone, yet again. In a world of notifications, it is a relief to be able to rely on the elegant unfussiness of a watch. And when it comes to quartz watches, there is the additional peace of mind that comes from knowing that they tell the time much more accurately than mechanical watches.
But not all quartz watches are made equal. Your bog-standard fashion watch (with faux-minimal dials that are all the rage now) is extremely likely to fall apart in a few years, and, although accurate, most quartz watches aren’t that accurate either. So, you’d be better off to trust a proper horology brand, like a Casio or a Citizen, to park your money with. However, I think that quartz really wins when it comes to the tier of luxury watches.
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It is often forgotten these days, but in the 1970s, when the quartz revolution ushered in by Seiko’s seminal Astron threatened to end Swiss mechanical watchmaking, many of the most prestigious brands had responded with excellent quartz watches, which are today collector’s items. A case in point is the Rolex Datejust Oysterquartz, which debuted in 1976. Its funky Seventies look of an angular case and integrated bracelet inspired many other brands to do the same at the time, and you can see the timeless popularity of that design and functionality in modern heavy hitters like the Tissot PRX or the Q Timex.
Although Rolex doesn’t make quartz watches any more, plenty of luxury brands (including Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet) still do. And the fact that they devote as much time in developing and finishing quartz calibers as they do their mechanical movements, ultimately make them a better bet.
But you needn’t even have to break the bank to get your hands on a really good quartz watch. Take, for example, the iconic Cartier Tank. It is a manufacture and a model that is synonymous with both serious horological heritage as well as luxury. The Tank Must models, however, by substituting quartz movements (including both high autonomy quartz and solar) for mechanical ones, ensure that you get the same experience for much less the price. And these are as much of a keeper as the mechanical counterparts, to be worn for decades, to be serviced rather than thrown away.
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On the more rugged end of the spectrum, take a look at the toolwatch chops of timepieces like the TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 200 diver or the gorgeous Breitling Chronomat 32. Both boast of excellent quartz movements, wear much more compact than their larger mechanical siblings, and, barring a battey change every few years, will be yours to enjoy for decades. The manufacture that has truly mastered the art of high-end quartz movements is Grand Seiko. This is perhaps not surprising, given parent brand Seiko’s pioneering role in quartz watchmaking. But even by those standards, Grand Seiko’s modern quartz movements are something to behold.
Take the excellent ref. SBGN003G for example. One of two Grand Seiko Sports GMT watches released in 2019, the SBGN003 marked the first permanent collection debut of a GMT version of the Japanese manufacture’s famed 9F quartz movements. Finished with as much attention to detail as its mechanical calibers, these are not any old quartz watches. The 9Fs feature an astonishing accuracy of ±10 seconds a year, and are made from quartz crystals that Grand Seiko grows in-house. The caliber 9F86 adds a GMT functionality, and it is a true GMT, one where you can independently set the hour hand to the time zone of the place you’re travelling to, while the GMT hand indicates the home time.
As far as wrist comfort goes, another advantage that quartz watches have is that they are much thinner than mechanical ones, especially automatics. The latter have to fit in a mechanical movement plus a rotor to keep the watch wound. Quartz movements have no such space issues, and this results in thinner watches that wear more compact and weigh less too. This, again, makes them perfect for the everyday grab-and-go option.
Handwound is a column on watches and watchmaking.
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