The following is a segment pulled with permission from Vortic Watch’s blog that describes basic watch components and wristwatch types. It’s important to understand the differences between mechanical and quartz movements. Today we’ll look specifically at the mechanical watch.
A mechanical watch is powered by gears and springs. It uses calibrated motion to regulate time. The basic principle behind a mechanical watch is as follows; the user turns the crown of the watch to wind a spring (called the mainspring), and this spring puts force on the first gear in a train of gears. Similar to a transmission, this gear train uses leverage to reduce the force significantly and apply a small amount of pressure to a mechanism called the escapement. This escapement does exactly what the name suggests; it allows the energy stored in the mainspring to escape very slowly, and it regulates the release of this energy to turn the hands of the watch at the correct speed to keep time.
If quartz watches perform similarly to mechanical watches, then why are mechanical watches so much more expensive?
Mechanical watches were the only way to keep time without a clock nearby before quartz watches were invented. Mechanical watch mechanisms were some of the most advanced technology of their time, and mechanical pocket watches were in such high demand in the late 1800s and early 1900s that a massive industry emerged. As a result, many mechanical watches have held their value through pure historical and heritage-related factors.
Mechanical watches have two major functional benefits: they never run out of battery and they are not disposable. Quality mechanical watches are made to last forever if taken care of.
An overwhelming variety of quality, decoration, and function distinguish some watches from other watches in addition to the heritage, tradition, and branding of companies responsible for building those watches. The level of precision, engineering, and detail that goes into fabricating some of the world's most complicated mechanical watches is difficult to comprehend.
The true value of a mechanical watch in the modern world, however, is the craftsmanship and the story. People have been captivated by feats of elegance and precision for hundreds of years, and mechanical watches represent the epitome of beauty in function. The romance involved with quality mechanical watches continues to infect more people each year, even as the role of watches in our lives evolves into something much more than keeping time.
The following is a segment pulled with permission from Vortic Watch’s blog that describes basic watch components and wristwatch types. It’s important to understand the differences between mechanical and quartz movements. Today we’ll look specifically at the quartz watch.
A watch that says “Quartz" indicates the watch is powered by a movement that regulates time through the use of a crystal made out of the mineral quartz. Quartz watches still have gears to turn the hour, minute, and second hands (unless the watch does not have hands like digital watches), as well as any other complications (explained later), but gears in a quartz watch are turned by an electric stepping motor (i.e., a motor that can move a prescribed distance each time it is engaged) powered by a battery.
The mineral quartz has the property of being piezoelectric—when any type of mechanical stress is introduced to the material's structure, it produces an electrical impulse. The opposite is also true: the material vibrates when charged with electricity.
Inside of a battery powered quartz watch.
The basic concept behind a quartz watch movement is relatively simple. A tiny circuit and microchip use a battery to charge a tuning fork-shaped quartz crystal, causing it to vibrate or oscillate. The microchip is calibrated to measure this vibration to regulate an electrical signal that pulses exactly once every second (32,768 oscillations/second!). This electrical pulse tells the stepping motor to turn the hands one second worth of motion.
Quartz is an extremely abundant mineral, and the workings of a basic quartz movement are fairly easy to mass-produce. Consequently, quartz watches can be produced for little cost but with a high level of accuracy. It is interesting that a quality quartz watch will keep time as well as or better than the highest-end mechanical watches.
Mechanical vs. Quartz
Vortic Watch Co. 11/9/16
Inside of a battery powered quartz watch.
The following is a segment pulled from Vortic Watch’s blog that describes basic watch components and wristwatch types. It’s important to understand the differences between mechanical and quartz movements. In the history of wristwatches some pieces blur the lines between mechanical and quartz as I described in my blog post The Amazing Accutron. Just because a watch is quartz doesn’t mean it has inferior quality as Pierre Halimi’s addressed in his article Save Your Energy: An Insider's Look at F.P. Journe: Part 6.
Perhaps the most common knowledge gap in the watch world is the difference between a mechanical watch and a quartz watch. The terms mechanical and quartz refer to the movement of the watch (the movement powers the watch and regulates time).
Exhibition cased Vortic Watches showing mechanical movements.
The biggest distinction between mechanical and quartz watches is the use of a battery. Quartz watches are powered by a battery, and mechanical watches are powered by gears and springs. You’ll notice that the second hand on a mechanical watch has almost continuous motion, while the second hand of a quartz watch ticks once per second.
The highest-end watches in the world are mechanical, and mechanical watches are normally more valuable than quartz watches. However, there are many levels of quality within the families of mechanical watches as well as quartz watches. This means that there are expensive quartz watches and cheap mechanical watches out there as well. All Vortic watches use a mechanical movement to keep time.
The famous Patek Philippe campaign slogan, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation,” should also add the caveat “―to be serviced every three to five years.” To be fair, this goes for all mechanical watches; at some point they need to be serviced or repaired. And that costs money.
When it comes to service, purchasing a new watch over a vintage one has its advantages. Most retail brands all come with at least a one-year warranty. Basically, these warranties cover any mechanical failure that is not caused by the owner. Purchasing a new watch ensures that the company will service the piece, because many companies state they will not work on a piece that does not have all original parts.
Sending a watch back to the manufacturer can be expensive, which is one advantage of owning a vintage piece. Service to a vintage watch is still costly, but unlike the big companies that must follow certain protocols, an individual watchmaker can service only the needed parts. For instance, if you send in a vintage watch that has a radioactive dial, the manufacturer will not service the piece unless they replace it. Because the patina on an original dial of a vintage piece is part of its charm, the owner may not want this. When dealing with an individual watchmaker, the owner can keep the original dial and still have the piece serviced.
Many times the cost of service exceeds the total value of the watch itself. I called Zimmerman Jewelers in York, PA, to ask about this conundrum. Store personnel stated that, “If the sentimental value exceeds the cost of the service, then the owner can feel good about going ahead with the repairs. If not, then the owner should retire the piece.”
Of course, one can learn how to repair the watch. Just don’t take apart grandad’s chronograph until you have a few years and many successful repairs under your belt.
For us who hear the siren call of vintage wristwatch collecting, we must heed its rocky shoals. There are a thousand and one ways to err when buying a vintage piece, and mistakes can be costly; many times in hindsight, it is painfully obvious. Thankfully, there are people who have sailed these seas before and have provided guidance on how to avoid the same mistakes they made. As I stress in Bill Daley’s article “How to Buy a Vintage Man’s Watch” for the Chicago Tribune, it’s wise to do as much research as possible and only deal with reputable sources before making any big purchases.
NAWCC instructor and wristwatch curator Adam Harris provides excellent advice for novices and for experienced collectors in his webinar “Starting a Vintage Watch Collection Without the Tears (parts 1 & 2)” Harris guides us through the history of the wristwatch and the many pitfalls and surprises of purchasing a watch online.
Collecting is supposed to be fun and it’s important to laugh at ourselves and some of the mistakes we make along the way. Phillip Toledano’s Hodinkee article, “The Horological Halfwit: My Early Ebay Mistakes,” is a good reminder of this. The car enthusiast and National Geographic photographer takes us through some of the goofs and blunders he made on his quest to build a collection. He shares this collection of watches and vintage cars in “Talking Watches" with Benjamin Clymer.