Know your watch #1: Quartz vs. Mechanical
How much do we really know about what’s going inside the watches we buy? We set out to break it down for you and help you understand what you’re actually paying for.
Watches are often thought of as simple instruments, their complexity overlooked. Brathwait is of course, about making high quality timepieces, but it’s also about sharing those complexities of watchmaking with our community. How much do we really know about what’s going inside these timepieces?
We’re here to break it down for you to help you understand what you’re actually paying for. So here’s to the first part of our #KnowYourWatch series, where we’ll spell out everything you never knew you wanted to learn about watches.
Mechanical vs. Quartz
You’re probably familiar with these two terms, which refer to the two ways to power a watch. Mechanical watches run on kinetic energy while quartz watches run on battery.
Mechanical watches have to be serviced every four to five years, but can be passed on for generations. Since a mechanical movement is more expensive, the watch’s other components tend to be of high quality.
The quartz movement is more pragmatic than the mechanical movement as it keeps time more accurately and is generally less expensive to produce.
Let’s chat for a minute about how a mechanical watch works. A mechanical watch is powered by a metal spring (Main Spring) that is wound by hand or automatically by a rotor. The Main spring drives a train of wheels, (called the Drive Train), and is connected to the Cannon Pinion which causes the hands to move on the dial. The speed of the hands is regulated by The Balance (on the far right of the illustration). Some other more complicated things happen here but you get the gist.
The power from the Drive Train moves from the Main Spring to the Escape Wheel and then to The Balance. The frequency of this impulse regulates the speed of which the entire movement operates.
These are the three most popular Automatic movements used in the watch industry today:
1. The Chinese Seagull 2551 movement (costs $17)
2. The Japanese Miyota 9015 movement (costs $55)
3. The Swiss ETA 2824-2 (costs upwards of $146)
The automatic Chinese movement for $17 isn’t necessarily less accurate, but its cost-friendliness has to come from somewhere: the pallet fork, escape wheel and bearings are often low quality which negatively affects durability and longevity. Another drawback of the Chinese movement is its bulkiness; let’s just say it’s hard to make it look elegant on the wrist...
The Miyota movement performs at the same accuracy as entry level Swiss movements. It’s proven itself over years and is easy to service. The Miyota is considered the workhorse in the industry and is significantly slimmer than the Chinese movement. Brathwait uses the Miyota movement because of its quality, dependability, and the freedom it allows us to offer you a beautiful watch at a fair price.
The main difference between the Miyota 9015 and ETA 2824 is the “dual winding rotor” which makes for a practically inaudible watch. It also has less positional variance which means as you move, the time will be kept more accurately. Everything Swiss Made also comes with intangible value as the Swiss are historically great watchmakers and the driving force behind many of the most significant timekeeping inventions of our time.
We know what’s inside a mechanical watch (and that not all movements are the same), but how does a quartz watch work? Well for starters it’s powered by a battery. This tiny battery releases electric power which causes a quartz crystal to oscillate at a frequency of 32,768 times per second (Hertz). The vibration is split into appropriate lengths of time by a microchip which translates into physical movement by a magnetic coil. This keeps your wristwatch remarkably accurate.
These are the three most popular Quartz movements used in the watch industry today:
1. The Chinese 3-hand date quartz (costs less than $1)
2. The Japanese 3-hand date Miyota 2115 (typically around $3.50)
3. The Swiss 3-hand date Ronda 785 - which powers Brathwait's quartz line (costs $10)
The Chinese 3-hand date quartz movements are often unbranded and labeled as “Made in China” without any specific manufacturer. Buying a watch with this movement can be risky business due to movement’s poor quality and traceability.
The Japanese 3-hand date Miyota 2115 is a vast improvement in quality and one of the most widely used quartz movements in the world. The 2115 lacks the power to move longer second hands, so you will typically find them in watches with shorter hands.
The Swiss 3-hand date Ronda 785 is considered a high-end quartz movement. Unlike the Miyota, the Ronda 785 uses jewels as bearings. (These jewels are small but important components in your watch that reduce friction between metal parts). Less resistance throughout the movement means less wear and tear; that’s why they last longer. A high-end quartz movement also has stronger magnetic fields, allowing for greater design flexibility and length of the second hand.
Is the Swiss Made Ronda 785 the only movement worth your time?
Generally speaking, Miyota makes lower quality movements than Ronda. However, Miyota has a high-end multifunction line which offers functions that Ronda does not. The multi-function line has fantastic features like a date hand, battery life of ten years, retrograde and swipe hand to name just a few. So to answer the question, it depends.
So, what’s important to take away from this?
It’s important to keep in mind that the difference between watches is often determined by the rest of the watch components. Due to cost-friendly movements, traditional watch companies reap senseless profits by charging several hundred dollars (!) for what costs $10 to make. They have little need to invest more than the bare minimum in a quartz watch because they’ll sell for the same price regardless. But don't worry, we didn’t launch Brathwait to follow in the footsteps of these industry standards. We use the same main components (AISI 316 stainless steel, domed sapphire glass, top grain Italian calf leather and water resistance) as any famous luxury watchmaking company, but sell at a fraction of their prices.
So, which type of movement should my watch have?
It’s up to you. Both movements have their pluses and minuses. What’s important is to make sure you’re not overpaying for…well, crap.
How do you know what components your watch is made of? Ask! If the person (or website) selling you the watch doesn’t have the information, you’re probably in the wrong place.
Knowledge is power right? Let’s start using it.
P.S. Want to know what goes into your Brathwait? (Click here)