As this Thursday sees the beginning of our Quartz event, 11 days dedicated to the ultra-precision of the battery-powered watch, we sat down with Technical and QC Manager Andrew Henry for a chat about the science and functionality behind a technology that may or may not split horophiles right down the middle…
Hi Andrew, do you own any quartz watches?
I own a couple of Swatch watches from my childhood, but unsurprisingly they don’t get very much wrist time now! I also own a Seiko quartz chronograph 7T32-6A50, again which I have kept more for sentimental value than appreciation.
Getting down to business, how do quartz-powered watches work?
Most simply, a battery sends electricity to a quartz crystal through an electronic circuit. The quartz crystal, which is shaped like a tiny tuning fork, oscillates at a precise frequency of exactly 32,768 times a second. The circuit counts the number of vibrations and uses them to generate regular electric pulses – one per second. These pulses drive a small stepping motor, turning gear wheels that make the watch’s second, minute, and hour hands tick.
Are there any challenges to working with quartz from a servicing/repairs perspective?
Quartz movements do not need nearly as much maintenance as mechanical ones due to the fact they have far fewer moving parts – primarily just the gears that move the hands on a simple quartz analogue movement.
They’re generally much easier to fix than mechanical watches – they either run and keep time, or they have a problem! The “working but not keeping time at all” state that mechanical watches can end up in doesn’t exist here; a quartz movement may not tick due to a mechanical issue (the motor is mechanically stuck) or because of an electrical problem. While they can be repaired in many cases, it’s generally being more cost effective to replace them, unlike with a mechanical movement. Sometimes we also receive quartz chronographs back from customers, as the chrono hand hasn’t reset to 12 o’clock – although this is something that can be easily fixed at home, with instructions now featured in our recent owner’s handbooks.
The C3 Grand Tourer utilises a Swiss quartz movement, the Ronda 5021.D
You mentioned quartz movements have less moving parts than mechanical ones. There can be a tendency from some to look down on quartz, as they lack the intricacy of their mechanical counterparts. Do you think that’s fair?
It depends which side of the fence you sit on really. Some prefer mechanical movements as they are more ‘alive’, but its higher frequency oscillator means quartz has an accuracy that perhaps only a few mechanical chronometers can match. Quartz crystals are made from a chemical compound called silicon dioxide (also used to make computer chips and, more recently, balance hairsprings), which is piezoelectric – essentially, if you were to squeeze a quartz crystal, it would generate a tiny electric current. There’s still a great degree of science involved with quartz, but from a horological perspective it can be easily overlooked as it doesn’t feature the kinetic parts, such as a pendulum or balance wheel, that you’d find in a mechanical watch.
However, a major positive of quartz watches is that because of the small amount of power they use, a battery can often last a significant amount of time before it needs replacing. They also have power saving functions that reduce power usage by 70% when their crown is left out, meaning watches like the C3 Malvern Chronograph Mk III and C60 Trident Chronograph 300 can be picked up and worn at a moment’s notice.
If you were to pick your favourite quartz model from the current CW lineup?
Which quartz complication/advances would you like to see in a CW in the future?
I’d like to see a super quartz: effectively a thermo-compensated movement with 10 times the precision of standard quartz. Considering most normal quartz movements – the Ronda 715, found in the Trident 300, for example – are accurate to -10/+20 seconds a month, we’re talking about nominal levels of accuracy over a longer period. But knowing that you’re wearing an instrument so precise it gains or loses just seconds per year; that’s the power of quartz!
To receive a 15% saving on any quartz-powered watch, simply enter Quartz15 in the promotional code box at checkout. Our Quartz event ends at Midnight BST, Monday 26 August.