Quartz Watches: A Brief History, How They Work and More
It used to be that you'd have to fork over hundreds, even thousands, of dollars for a new Quartz watch. Today, Quartz watches are so common you can find them in cereal boxes.
But what are Quartz watches? And how do they work?
When it comes to Quartz watches, it’s all about the technology behind the tick in this type of watch movement. In this post, you'll learn everything you need to know about Quartz watches.
But first... what is quartz?
What is Quartz?
Quartz is a mineral abundant around our planet. In fact, in Earth's continental crust, quartz is the second most abundant mineral. Felspar is the first.
Quartz is crystalline and composed of silicon dioxide, or silica. And it has some pseudo-mystical properties... which we'll get into later.
Before we get into what makes quartz unique, let's cover a very brief history of Quartz watch technology. Quartz movement was invented in 1927 but the modern era of Quartz wristwatches starts way back in 1969...
A Brief History of the Quartz Revolution
Before the ’ 70s, watches were powered by relatively complex Automatic and Manual watch movements. These types of Mechanical movements require input from the wearer to work.
For example, Mechanical watches require winding every so often. And if you forget, well, your watch loses track of time.
The invention of Quartz watches solved that problem.
Seiko unveiled the first Quartz wristwatch at the very end of the ’ 60s, on Christmas Day 1969. The new technology was a hit and turned the watch industry upside down in a dramatic way.
This movement type became so popular that it eventually led to what's been named the "Quartz crisis". The Quartz crisis refers to the years following the advent of Quartz movements and the subsequent upheaval of the Swiss watchmaking industry.
So what made Quartz so popular? Keep reading to learn about how Quartz watches work and what made them take off.
How Do Quartz Watches Work?
As the name implies, Quartz clocks and watches make use of a peculiar trait of quartz crystals.
The trait is called piezoelectricity and it's at the center of what makes Quartz movement so cool. When pressure is applied to a quartz crystal, it emits a small electrical charge. There is also the reverse piezoelectric effect — - where a quartz crystal will oscillate at predictable intervals when an electrical charge is applied to it.
A Quartz watch works by taking advantage of this effect for impressive results. A small microchip circuit within the watch applies a charge to a quartz crystal so that the quartz crystal oscillates at 32,768 times per second.
The microchip circuit then detects these oscillations, and turns them into an electrical signal each time it counts the final 32,768th oscillation. This signal, which occurs every second, is what powers the hands of a Quartz watch.
So, what are the benefits and drawbacks of Quartz watches? Let's get into 'em!
The Upside and Downside to Quartz Watches
As mentioned before, Quartz watches changed everything in the world of watches and watchmaking. We've also covered the technology that makes these timepieces so cool.
But what does all this actually mean for people like us — everyday watch wearers? Here's how this part of wristwatches plays into everyday watch use.
Upside #1 - Ease of Use
The most obvious benefit of Quartz watches is that you don't need to do anything to make them work. Mechanical timepieces like Automatic and Manual watches require winding. And if you don't wind your watch, time stops ticking.
Or, your watch stops at least.
Quartz watches never require winding because they rely on electricity to keep ticking, not any user input.
Upside #2 - Accuracy
Quartz watches are more accurate than their Mechanical predecessors. That's because in Mechanical watches, gravity has a lot to do with the inner workings. And at different altitudes, gravity has different effects.
So, a Mechanical watch will run at a different speed at sea level versus on the top of a tall mountain. Gravity has a much more limited effect on Quartz watches, helping them stay more accurate.
Upside #3 - Affordable
Mechanical watches require a high level of skill and craftsmanship to make correctly. And that level of skill doesn't come cheap! Because quartz is abundant and the level of skill needed to make Quartz watches is lower, Quartz watches are generally more affordable than their Mechanical counterparts.
In fact, they are so much cheaper to make that it's not rare for a Quartz watch to be a "free bonus" in things like children's cereal boxes.
Downside #1 - Batteries
Quartz watches use battery power to stimulate the quartz crystal with electricity. That's not the case with Manual and Automatic watches, which store energy that has been inputted by the user.
So, one downside with Quartz watches compared to Mechanical timepieces is that you'll eventually need to change your battery.
However, Quartz watches use such little power that a single battery can last for several years.
For Quartz watches that run off solar power, check out our post on how solar watches work. For other watch types, here's our full guide to how watches work.
Downside #2 - Craftsmanship
Many serious watch collectors will favor Manual or Automatic watches over Quartz watches simply because of the craftsmanship. But that doesn't mean Quartz timepieces are necessarily inferior!
To wrap things up, here are common questions people have about Quartz movement watches.
Quartz Movement FAQs
Does a Quartz watch need a battery?
Yes, Quartz watches require a battery in order to pass an electrical charge to the quartz crystal. These batteries usually last several years since the watch doesn’t require much power to keep it ticking.
Check out this chart if you need to replace your Nixon watch battery.
What does quartz do in watches?
In Quartz watches, a small electrical charge is applied to a quartz crystal. Because quartz is piezoelectric, it oscillates when electricity is applied. The quartz crystal oscillates at a rate of 32,768 times per second. On the final 32,768th oscillation, a microchip circuit triggers an electrical pulse that is used to rotate the watch hands.
How long do Quartz watches last?
Quartz watches last for a long time (as long as you change the battery when it dies). Quartz doesn't degrade easily, so as long as you take good care of your watch, it should last for many years!