What's Behind Your Watch Face? Breaking Down Quartz vs. Mechanical Movements

Aside from digital monstrosities, there are two main types of watch movements: quartz and mechanical. Know the differences before you upgrade to a sharp new timepiece and you'll not only have a better idea of how your watch is functioning, but you can drop some knowledge the next time you get a question from a jealous friend..



Aside from digital monstrosities, there are two main types of watch movements: quartz and mechanical. Know the differences before you upgrade to a sharp new timepiece and you'll not only have a better idea of how your watch is functioning, but you can drop some knowledge the next time you get a question from a jealous friend..

Quartz

Harnessing the energy of a charged gem may sound like something from a fantasy novel, but odds are this is what you'll find inside your average, no frills watch. A minuscule crystal of quartz is electrified by a small battery, and those vibrations are channeled to move the watch hands in a controlled pattern. That means, among other things, that you never have to worry about winding, since the battery-powered quartz takes care of it automatically. When the construction was first invented in the 60's, it was expensive and hard to come by, but it has since developed into the go-to watch movement thanks to low-cost mass production. They've also got pinpoint precision: in general, they're accurate to within half a second per day. The end result is an inexpensive option with the second hand moving once per second, creating the slow, familiar ticking noise that's associated with clocks.

Mechanical

Mechanical watches are less about efficient utility and more about highlighting the beauty and traditional construction possible in a timepiece. A mechanical watch uses a wound spring and incredibly small internal gears for a precisely measured release of energy -- no batteries or crystals, just metal formed into extraordinarily intricate mechanical parts. There are two sub-types of mechanical watches, manual and self-winding, which determine how the internal spring is pulled back into place. Manual watches have to be wound (you guessed it) by hand every 30 hours or so (or less often for some models) while self-winding movements harness your wrist's natural movements to keep the watch hands moving. Ironically, though, this more involved construction isn't quite as accurate as a quartz movement; mechanical watches are typically accurate to 2-3 seconds per day at best.

Which to Choose

While quartz movements may win out in terms of accuracy and affordability, mechanical watches are the hands-down favorite for luxury and tradition given the high level of quality and craftsmanship that goes into each one. The elaborate construction and abundance of moving parts gives the hands a much more graceful movement where the second hand gently sweeps along the watch face, rather than jerking forward each second as with a quartz version. With proper maintenance, a mechanical watch will easily outlast you and can be an heirloom for future generations, as opposed to the limited lifespan associated with the electrical components of a quartz movement. Plus, a beautifully designed mechanical watch will boost your cred among timepiece enthusiasts, so you may win points in the board room in addition to giving your outfits a sophisticated final touch. Assuming, that is, the rest of the outfit is solid -- leave the jean shorts at home.

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