How Do Quartz Watches Work?

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By the Best Watch Advice Team, 29th of August 2022

If you’re just getting into watches and you, like me, want to know how things work, then of course you’ll want to know how do quartz watches work.

Watch movements, the interior of a watch, are a technical business, to say the least. As we have discussed before, mechanical watches in particular can be phenomenally intricate and complex.

However, what if I told you there was a simpler way? What if I told you there was a watch movement that was not only easier on your wallet, but was even more accurate at keeping track of time?

Well, this is where the quartz watch shows up front and center…


What is a Quartz Watch?

So before we get into how do quartz watches work, I think we better get into answering what exactly is a quartz watch. 

The quartz watches are very different from their mechanical cousins. The biggest difference and what makes the quartz watch stand out is the fact quartz watches are battery-powered watches.

As the name hints at, the quartz watch relies on a quartz crystal in combination with a battery to get those hands ticking. Another major difference is the second-hand ticks for accurate timekeeping. 

This electricity-driven watch would have no doubt been Nicola Tesla’s watch of choice if he was alive today. While we may have Tesla to thank for electricity, it is the Japanese watch brand Seiko that is credited for the first quartz watches.

On December 25 1969 the watch world would be turned on its head when Seiko released the Seiko Quartz Astron 35SQ. And I mean Quartz Crisis kind of turned on its head.

The watchmaking industry was working away quite nicely with their precise and intricate gears and springs. That was of course until the introduction of the quartz watch in the 1970s.

It disrupted the whole industry as the only alternative to mechanical watches. The quartz watches outsold their mechanical counterparts to the point where watch companies who only made watches with mechanical movements had to begin releasing quartz watches to keep up.

Quartz watches are still hugely popular today. The next time you see someone wearing a watch on the street it is probably a quartz watch. Unless you come across Jay Z because everyone knows his “rollie don’t tick tock”. 


How Does a Quartz Watch Work?

So now that we know what a quartz watch is. It’s time to get technical and answer the question of how do quartz watches work. Thanks to the more electronic streamlined interior design of quartz watches they are not quite as complex (or aesthetic some would argue) when compared to other watch movements.

Firstly the battery transfers an electronic current to the microchip. This is what causes the quartz crystal to oscillate or swing. The crystal in a quartz watch will oscillate 32,728 times per second.

Once that magic number of oscillations is hit, an electronic pulse is released. This pulse is released every second to the steeping motor which converts all this electronic energy to mechanical energy.

This newly powered stepping motor turns the gears and the hands begin to move. 


Key Components that make Quartz Watches Work

Now while you may be reading this thinking ‘I’ve heard more technical things over the years. I would say you would be correct, I mean have you tried to fix a dishwasher?

Anyway back to the subject at hand, as we continue our journey deep into the inner working of how do quartz watches work, by looking at some of those key components under the microscope… 

Microchip – The first component to get the microscope treatment is the microchip. And not just because both words have ‘micro’ in them. The Microchip circuit detects the crystal oscillations. The microchip then emits electric pulses every second to power the stepping motor.

Electric Stepping Motor – The stepping motor is responsible for turning the gears. The electric currents power the stepping motor and then are converted into mechanical energy. The energy goes in electric and comes out mechanical. 

Battery – This is an essential component of the quartz movement as the battery sends electricity to the quartz crystal. This is the first and base step in powering any quartz watch. 

Quartz Crystal Oscillator – The quartz crystal serves as a generator for the electric currents released by the battery. Quartz crystals are perfect for timekeeping as they naturally vibrate at the exact frequency needed to conduct the electronic voltages needed. 

Gears – The gears are similar to that of a mechanical watch and serve the same function in moving the watch faces hour, minute, and second hands. 


How to tell if a Quartz Watch is Quality made?

As far as watches go, quartz watches are definitely on the more affordable side of the watch market. The fact the watch has fewer parts and battery powered means a quartz watch requires a little less maintenance, so long as the battery is changed every couple of years. It is however important to look outside of the mechanism when buying a quartz watch. 


Case Material

At the very least the case material should be made from stainless steel. This material is less affected by moisture and also it is much less common for stainless steel watches to cause skin irritation.

A PVD coating is essential for watches in gold, rose gold, silver, or black in order not to lose color. A top tip is to check the back of the watch when checking to see what material is the watch made from. 

Of course there are exceptions to this rule, for example the case for the G-Shock 5600 watches are made from a resin material with a stainless steel back. And G-Shock make some seriously tough, quality watches!

Crystal Material

The crystal (the glass that protects the dial) can be made from a few different materials: sapphire, mineral or acrylic. Depending on the watch and the function, we would recommend going for either the sapphire or the mineral crystal as they are both high-quality options.

Sapphire is going to be the more expensive option. It is scratch resistant and extremely strong. Sapphire is commonly seen in high-end watches.

Mineral crystal, also a fine choice, has been chemically treated to withstand scratches. It won’t be as expensive as sapphire, but also not as scratch resistant as sapphire. None the less it is a very durable option seen in a lot of mid-range watches.

On the other hand, Acrylic crystals will only be found in cheap watches as these are not very durable and can be damaged easily.

Watch Strap Material

Watch straps can be made from a variety of different materials including leather, rubber, nylon, canvas and metal. To get into all the different upsides and downsides of each material would be a whole other topic but leather is a common one that can fool consumers from time to time.

If your watch strap is made from full grain or top grain leather you know you have got a good quality leather watch strap on your hands. Full grain is the top layer of the animals hide, while top grain has the outer most surface of the hide removed.

Surprisingly for most, genuine leather is actually the least quality of the bunch and is derived from lowest part of the hide. ‘Genuine’ leather is more of a clever marketing term from lower end manufactures. 


Pros and Cons of Quartz Watches

Pro: Cheaper
A major plus of the quartz watch is that is much easier and cheaper to produce in comparison to mechanical movements. This simpler design has fewer parts and is far less complicated.

Meaning quartz watches can be produced on a mass scale. From a business perspective, this is very advantageous, and as a knock-on effect, consumers can get a high-quality quartz watch for a much better price than mechanical watches.

Con: Doesn’t have that ‘je ne sais quoi’
Many watch purists would argue strongly against this previous agreement. People who apprentice a more mechanical design believe the beauty and craftsmanship of watchmaking are lost in this mass production. 

Pro: More Accurate Time Keeping
When it comes to reliability and timekeeping, quartz watches are by far the best choice on the market today. The use of the quartz crystal guarantees the wearer at least 100 times more accurate than the older mechanism.

Not only does the quartz watch triumph in the timekeeping department but they last for a very long time. On average a quartz watch can last for anywhere between 20-30 years. 


Summing Up Quartz Watches

All and all, hopefully now you have a general understanding of how do quartz watches work. The quartz watch can be a controversial mechanism in the watch world. People tend to downplay the quartz watch as a more simplistic, unsophisticated design. Some watch lovers want a little more history and backstory to their timepieces.

However, this is 2022 and watchmaking has taken leaps and bounds forward. The quartz watch tells the story of the ever-evolving watchmakers through accurate timekeeping and excellent electronic design. I can’t wait to see what the watch world will do next.

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