In this guide, I’ll review everything and anything you’ll ever need to know about quartz watches. From their history to the significance of the quartz crisis, this will be an informative guide for anyone curious about this particular watch type.
If you want to skip all that, then use the table of contents to cover our review of the best quartz watches by price!
INTRODUCTION TO THE QUARTZ WATCHES
In the horology industry, there are primarily three types of watch movements and today we shift our focus to the quartz variety to find out just what it does. So what is quartz watch movement exactly?
Quartz, scientifically known as silicon dioxide, is basically the compound that makes the whole movement tick. It is the backbone upon which the whole mechanism hinges and the material is often altered synthetically so as to attain more consistent properties for effective timekeeping.
The entire movement is purely electronic hence doesn’t incorporate any moving parts instead deriving the energy required for operation from a battery power source. The electric charge from the battery powers the quartz which consequently resonates at a certain frequency emitting pulses that, in turn, trigger a step motor that responds by rhythmically moving the time indicators.
HISTORY OF THE QUARTZ WATCH
The quartz movement was first made in the mid 19th century by a group of Swiss watch companies however they decided against employing the technology into their watchmaking. This hesitance was down to the fact that rolling out the technology would require an expensive overhaul of the factories and would also spell disaster for countless of watchmakers who would be rendered jobless as a result.
Seiko, a Japanese firm that was not of the same school of thought, opted to try their hand at the new technology and alas the first quartz watch came into being in 1969. The Astron 35SQ was the first wristwatch of its kind and was an analog model featuring a hybrid circuit in its design.
From there, it was nowhere but up for the quartz movement which went on to enjoy unrivalled success throughout the 1980s as substantiated by the fact that almost 95% of all wrist watches made back then encompassed the mechanism.
Previously, the quartz technology existed long before the inception of quartz watch movements by the Swiss in 1960 as it was discovered as early as the 1920s. Quartz’s piezoelectric capabilities were first brought to light in 1880 by Pierre and Jacques Curie and their work laid the foundation for the invention of the maiden crystal quartz oscillator by Walter Candy in 1921.
Bell Telephone Laboratories built upon this work to come up with the first quartz clock six years later; however, given the bulkiness of quartz technology at the time, quartz was only used to make large wall clocks. It is the inception of the intergraded circuit years later that enabled the technology to be compacted into such small a movement that it could fit into standard wristwatch architecture.
It is majorly used in women’s wristwatches.
In the horology industry, it is often the norm that the quartz movement is primarily employed in the manufacture of wristwatch varieties for the female gender. Naturally, women are usually disinterested in the mechanics of how a watch works hence the automatic or mechanical movement-operated watches are not ordinarily their cup of tea.
They prefer a more aesthetically appealing outlook, which is normally afforded by quartz watches, to the raw mechanical finesse of the other two movements. Apart from exquisite styling, women also prefer such watches because are a lot less work since they do not need to be wound.
Prior to the rise of the quartz powered watch movement, the Swiss had a virtual monopoly on watchmaking. For many years, the Swiss controlled the manufacturing process of the world’s most desired watch moment. According to Wikipedia, the Swiss controlled 50% of the global watch market.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Seiko led a group of like-minded watchmakers to invent the first quartz wristwatch. Their efforts resulted in the creation of one of the first quart clocks called the Seiko Crystal Chronometer AC-951.
This quartz clock debuted as a backup timer for marathon races in the 1964 Olympics in Japan. Subsequently, Seiko debuted the world’s first quartz pocket watch in 1966. Thereafter, Seiko released Astron, the world’s first quartz wristwatch, and thus, sparking a revolution in the watch industry.
Other notable developments in the history of the quartz powered watch:
- Hamilton released Pulsar, the world’s first electronic digital watch, in 1970
- Omega released the Marine Chronometer, the first certified marine chronometer watch, in 1974
- Omega introduced the Chrono-Quartz, the world’s first analog-digital chronograph, in 1976
The Swiss resisted the adoption of the quartz movement. They already had a monopoly in the mechanical watch movement, which has dominated the watch manufacturing process for decades. They considered the mechanical Swiss process as part of their national identity.
However, outside of the Swiss watch industry, watch manufacturers were keen on adopting the quartz technology. For many years, they were at the mercy of Swiss regulation and saw the quartz technology as a way to circumvent the Swiss control over the mechanical process.
This global shift to quartz watchmaking led to rise in popularity in quartz watches in the 1970s, as more and more firms continued to develop the quartz watch technology. The rapid rise and adoption of the quartz style led to a precipitous drop in Swiss sales.
It culminated to a crisis in Switch watchmaking, while Japanese and American watch industries boomed under the “quartz revolution.” This lack of innovation and subsequent drop in sales from Swiss manufacturers led to a crisis aptly named the “quartz crisis.”
In 1970, the Swiss watch industry consisted of over 1,600 watch manufacturers. This number dwindled to approximately 600 total watchmakers. The Swiss decided to band together to save the industry and created “Swatch.” The Swatch would eventually save the Swiss watch industry and gave rise to the largest watchmaker in the world – the Swatch Group.
Swatch enjoyed tremendous success in the 1980s. They sold more than 2.5 million watches globally, and thus, saving the Swiss watch industry from extinction.
In fact, the mechanical process, which was pioneered by the Swiss, is no longer preferred by the casual watch wearer. Most watch consumers now prefer other watch styles, like automatic watches and quartz watches. The mechanical watch is now more sought after by collectors, or by consumers looking for a luxury watch.
BEST QUARTZ WATCHES BY PRICE
UNDER $200 PRICE: VICTORINOX, VINCERO, CASIO
Victorinox is a renowned manufacturer of Swiss Army knives. It’s history began in 1884, when Karl Elsener opened a cutlery shop in Switzerland. Several years later, Karl developed the Soldier’s knife for the Swiss army, and the rest is history.
When Karl’s mother died in 1909, he rebranded his company, using his mother’s name “Victoria.” He then took the word “inox,” from a French word for rust-resistant steel (inoxydable).
He also developed the iconic Victorinox company logo and had it registered around this time. Their army knives gained worldwide fame, and in 1989, they got into the watchmaking business in the United States under the brand name “Swiss Army.”
In 2002, the Victorinox Swiss Army watch brand was launched globally. According to the company, they have 3 core values:
- Innovation: The company prides itself in pushing innovative designs and functionalities.
- Quality: They hold their watchmaking process in the same rigorous attention to quality as with their Swiss Army knives and pocket tools.
- Iconic Design: They manufacture watches built to last and also aesthetically pleasing to the watch wearer.
One of their popular designs is the Swiss Quartz Watch with Black Nylon Band. It’s a casual watch that would also work well on casual Fridays at the office. It has a simplistic design with the iconic Victorinox logo set at the 12 o’clock position.
The watch features include the following:
- Imported from Switzerland
- Round dial with red coloring, white dial and date display
- 12/24-hour timekeeping and logo at 12 o’clock position
- Swiss quartz movement
- Woven nylon band
- ATM rating of 10 (good for up to 100m underwater)
This watch definitely adheres to the core principles of the company. Users have mentioned owning this watch for over 10+ years. It has an average of 4.5 stars from 90+ customers on Amazon.
I have already covered this watch here.
Vincero is a rather new watch company, and it is part of the minimalist watch revolution that has stormed into the watchmaking industry in the past 10 years.
Just like the MVMT brand, Vincero got its start from a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. It raised over $130k to launch a different kind of minimalist watch. Their main hook was the use of Italian marble as part of the watch design.
According to their website, their company aims are the following:
- Bold and uncompromising style
- Retain a skilled and experienced team of watchmakers
- Bypass the middle man and head straight to the consumer
- Excellent customer service that is in-house
Here are the highlights for this Vincero watch type:
- Ode to History: The company prides itself in its marble trimmings, and they don’t disappoint by adding marble as part of the watch’s case-back features.
- High Quality Stainless Steel: The watch employs 316L surgical grade stainless steel.
- Scratch Resistant: The watch uses a sapphire coated mineral crystal glass that has a strong resistance against accidental scrapes and scratches that may damage other timepieces.
- Japanese movement: The watch uses the reliable Citizen Miyota Quartz Movement.
- Italian Leather Band (22mm): The band can come in black or brown, making the watch usable in both formal and casual settings.
The watch itself is a little more formal than the previously reviewed Victorinox watch. Priced at under $200, the Vincero watch has gained a lot of positive reviews. It has averaged 4.5 stars from 300+ users in Amazon. It’s a great choice for anyone looking to try out one of these upstart minimalist brands.
The Casio watch brand is part of a larger Japanese conglomerate, Casio Computer Co. This Tokyo based, global electronics manufacturer is known for calculators, mobile phones, digital cameras, and of course digital watches. In fact, my favorite, go-to watch is a very simple Casio watch:
Established in 1946 b Tadao Kashio, the first successful product for the company was a yubiwa pipe, a finger right that could hold a cigarette. From there the company, branched out into calculators in 1949, and formed the Casio Computer division in 1957.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Casio was an instrumental player in the quartz revolution that almost killed the Swiss watchmaking industry. Casio pioneered many new watch functionalities, like the displaying of temperature, barometric measures, altitude and even GPS positioning on a watch!
They helped break the Swiss monopoly in watchmaking, and exported both analog and digital quartz watches around the world. They are one of the top 3 Japanese firms that have made the Japanese movement a viable alternative to the Swiss movement.
Their most famous line of watches is the G-Shock line. They are more sporty in design and is geared for watch users, who require a watch that can match their outdoor, active lifestyle.
One of their most popular models is the G-Shock Camouflage Dial. Just by looking at the watch, you can tell its designed for people who love to be outdoors. It’s certainly perfect for hunters who love to live in the woods and hunt all day in their camouflage suits.
Here are the main highlights of this particular watch:
- Made in America
- Shock resistant and perfect for the avid hunter in the wild
- Magnetic resistant
- 20 ATM rating (good for up to 200 m underwater!)
The watch has earned glowing reviews from 100+ users from Amazon. It has averaged 4.5 stars and many have lauded the watch for its reliability and durability.
OVER $200 AND UNDER $500 PRICE: NIXON, FERRARI AND TISSOT
Compared to their Japanese and Swiss counterparts, Nixon is a relatively new watch company founded in 1997 in Encinitas, California. Their main focus is the youth lifestyle market, and their products were primarily a niche product distributed in independent surf, skate and snow shops.
The company has grown into a boutique fashion brand with distribution outlets in Barney’s New York, Fred Segal, 10 Corso Como, Beams Japan and many more. Their products are sold in over 80+ countries worldwide.
As a watch manufacturer, they sell many different types of models (both digital and analog for both men and women). They use both the Swiss and Japanese movements.
One of their popular quartz watch is the 51-30 Chronograph watch. It has the typical features of a chronograph watch: the sub-dials for minutes and seconds, and the three buttons on the side. What makes this watch unique is the location of these three buttons.
Usually, these three buttons are on the right side of the watch, but Nixon opted to place it on the left side of the watch dial. This particular watch comes in many designs from silver with a black face to gold with a blue face.
The main features of this Nixon Quartz watch:
- 6 hand chronograph concave dial ring, bold printed indices and a seconds track
- Japanese quartz Movement
- 51mm case diameter
- 20 ATM rating (Perfect for water sports)
This Nixon quartz style has garnered an average of 4.5 stars from 300+ customers. Many reviewers love the price point for this particular watch and the various styles and colors to choose from.
Ferrari N.V. is more known for its luxury sports cars, and its Formula One racing teams than its watches. Because of their strong brand name, the company has expanded its product offerings to cater to their upscale clientele.
They have expanded into clothing and now watches. Like their cars, Ferrari prides itself in quality, distinctive style and unparalleled excitement for their products.
The Red Rev Evo Chrono Quartz Watch from Ferrari certainly looks like a watch that would be worn by one of their pro racing drivers. The rose gold and blue color stand out. It has the classic three-buttons and three sub-dials found in many chronograph watches.
Finally, the famous Ferrari stallion logo is set at the 3 o’clock position. This watch would draw stares if worn in a racing event or even at a formal bow and tie event. The tire-like design of the strap is a nice touch and befitting of a watch made from a world-class, luxury car company.
The main features of this quart watch include:
- Blue Bezel/Blue Rubber Strap with red stripe matte
- Hardened mineral crystal to guard against accidental scratches
- 46mm case diameter
- 5 ATM rating (good for the swimming pool)
The watch has averaged five stars from 10+ reviews on Amazon. It certainly scores highly on uniqueness and pizazz.
Tissot began operations in 1853, and the brand has become a recognizable brand worldwide. They have a strong reputation as a watchmaker. They are officially the timekeeper of many major sports events, including NASCAR in the United States.
Tissot is best known for the luxury watches, which comes in different styles from the chronograph to the quartz powered watch.
One of the best quartz bargains under $300 is the Tissot Chrono Quartz Silver Watch. It has that minimalist style. The Tissot branding at the 12 o’clock positioning. It’s quartz powered chronograph, with the sub dials and the three buttons on the side.
It’s rare to find quality Swiss craftsmanship at this price level so it’s definitely a bargain for anyone looking to nab a nice Swiss watch.
This particular Tissot watch has an average of 4.5 stars from over 70+ reviews.
OVER $500 AND UNDER $1000 PRICE: BULOVA
I’ve covered the Bulova Brand in my automatic watch guide, and you can read it here.
Like Nixon, Bulova is an American watch manufacturer. In fact, they are based in my hometown of New York City. They have been making watches since 1875, when founder Joseph Bulova opened it’s first retail store in Maiden Lane in downtown NYC.
Today, they make a variety of watches. They brand is easily recognized by watch collectors and enthusiasts worldwide.
The Bulova Men’s Precisionist Watch is part of Bulova’s Precisionist quartz line. It’s another chronograph powered by the Japanese quartz movement. It has the three dials and the sub-dials, which measure minutes, seconds, 1/100-seconds and 1/1000-seconds. It’s main features:
- Black dial chronograph styled watch
- Japanese Quartz movement
- Curved mineral crustal
- 47mm case diameter
- Good for up to 984 feet underwater.
The Bulova Precisionist Quartz watch has averaged 4.5 stars from 60+ users in Amazon. Many users love the price point for a luxury watch brand.
OVER $1000 PRICE: TAG HEUER
Finally, we come to the luxury quartz watches priced over $1000. You can’t go wrong with most watches in this price level. For this quartz watch review, I’ll stick to a familiar brand that is worth of mention.
TAG HEUER BRAND
You can read about Tag Heuer’s amazing automatic watch here. They are another Swiss luxury brand, and the company has been making watches since 1860. They make all kinds of watches, which are sought after by collectors and watch enthusiasts.
For a luxury watch, you can never go wrong with Tag Heuer. In the quartz style, consider the Tag Heuer Formula 1 Quartz Steel Dress Watch. It’s a sporty looking watch in the chronograph style, yet elegant enough to wear with a suit for work or for formal gatherings.
Here are the main features of this luxury quartz timepiece from Tag Heuer:
- Black dial
- Chronograph style / Swiss-quartz movement
- 20 ATM Rating (good for 200m underwater)
- 44mm Case Diameter
- Stainless steel case with a steel bracelet.
- Black coated titanium bezel with tachymeter markings.
This particular Tag Heuer watch has an average of 5 stars from about 20 users. Many users love the excellent mix of sporty functionalities and classy design. A Tag Heuer watch does not disappoint.
HOW DO QUARTZ WATCHES WORK EXACTLY?
That’s the mystery we seek to unravel in this section as we delve beyond the sleek exterior and into the nitty-gritty.
First things first —
Quartz is the building block of the quartz movement hence why the mechanism is even named as such. But what is so special about this material? Why is quartz used in watches really? The answers to those questions can be traced back to the late 18th century when scientists first discovered the piezoelectric property of the compound that made it central to executing its timekeeping functionality.
When a crystal of quartz is placed under duress e.g. when it is squeezed, an electrical charge appears across the architecture. This is what is called piezoelectricity with the word piezo’ being a Greek derivate that means ‘press’ or ‘squeeze’. In a nutshell, the whole word loosely translates to electricity from pressing.
In a quartz movement, this property of quartz is reverse engineered such that an electric charge, which is obtained by connecting the crystal to the terminals of an external energy source, is formed across the architecture. In turn, this causes the material to bend or deform.
When the quartz crystal is strategically shaped, it simply vibrates in place at a known rate making it an excellent oscillator.
Another property of quartz that makes it the perfect oscillator for a timepiece is that it vibrates at a constant rate which is attributed to the fact that the material experiences very little losses. Therefore, quartz can be relied up to correctly tell time without losing accuracy even when the battery power is almost running on empty.
Quartz is also an inexpensive material to work with because it is cheap and alleviates the need for moving parts, as is the case in a digital watch, that often inflate the cost of timepieces.
How the quartz watch works —
The external battery, or a poser storage cell in some varieties, first powers an integrated circuit which then channels the electric charge to the quartz oscillator at the heart of the circuit. The oscillator consequently vibrates at a constant speed of 32, 768 times per second; a rate achieved by meticulously shaping the crystal via laser into a tuning fork.
Electrical pulses are then generated by the oscillator upon vibration and sent back to the integrated circuit at the same rate of 32, 768 times/second.
Along the IC, the electrical pulses are sequentially divided up until a steady pace of a pulse per second is attained. In essence, the circuit takes note of the pulses and resets periodically when the pulse count reaches the threshold value of 32, 768.
For an analog watch, the one-second impulses are supplied to a stepping motor which then provides a measured responsive force that turns the gear train which, in the long run, triggers the movement of the respective hands. In a digital watch, on the other hand, there are no moving parts or gears and the IC keeps track of pulses summing them up into minutes, hours and other units of measurement, e.g dates, weeks etc, as per the watch’s capability.
The IC is also responsible for a host of setting functions in the digital watch and also powers up the display.
QUARTZ WATCH ACCURACY
Up next under the dissection table is the accuracy of quartz watches. We’ll be taking a look at how accurate they are and what influences their ability to tell time correctly among other things.
WHERE DOES A QUARTZ WATCH RANK ON THE ACCURACY SCALE?
Quartz watches are very accurate and this impeccable precision is down to the electrical oscillator- which has the ability to produce frequencies accurately and steadily- coupled with the quartz’s almost lossless property. When regularly worn, a standard quartz watch is approximated to have a 15-seconds error for a period of one month (30 days) in optimal conditions which roughly translates to a drift of under 0.5 seconds every day. Some models have even recorded an accuracy deviation of only 10 seconds a month.
This makes quartz watches the most accurate watches bettering mechanical and automatic varieties albeit only coming second on the accuracy charts to an atomic clock which boasts steadier oscillations and is truly the very definition of accuracy itself.
FACTORS AFFECTING QUARTZ WATCH ACCURACY
1. REGULARITY OF USE
A quartz watch is designed to operate within an ideal scenario where it is worn for at least 16 hours and is off the wrist for 8. When left unworn for long periods of time, then the accuracy can deteriorate faster with time as the extended periods outside the compensated thermal setting results in an increase in the error deviation.
2. TEMPERATURE AND PRESSURE DIFFERENCE
Changes in pressure and temperature influence the rate at which the quartz crystal vibrates. While the quartz movement is designed to account for wrist temperature, an extreme change will result in the watch gaining or losing time depending on the type of variation. A similar change also occurs with changes in altitude.
3. VARIETY DIFFERENCE
Accuracy differs from one model to another depending on aspects such as variation in gear train efficiency and degree of shock resistance. What’s more, some models have gears that work more seamless and experience less friction than others which translates to a higher accuracy.
As the years go by, the quartz oscillator ages which means there will be a corresponding frequency change. The rate of aging varies as determined by the crystal’s surface area to volume ratio, therefore, small crystals tend to age slower hence experience a smaller error increase with time compared to a larger build.
ACCURACY COMPENSATION TECHNIQUES
Accuracy adjustment in quartz watches involves a trio of techniques namely inhibition compensation, internal and external adjustment each of which is tailored to ensure minute changes in the error.
Inhibition compensation is a method whereby the crystal is sped up intentionally through a digital logic programmer so that it periodically ignores some crystal cycles in a bid to keep the error to a minimum.
Internal adjustment, on the other hand, basically revolves around the same concept however the program computes a suitable scale by referencing a factory-determined setting known as an epoch. The process sometimes entails equipping the movement with a thermal compensation sensor so as to account for drastic changes in temperature.
The last technique, i.e. external adjustment, involves scaling by referencing a radio clock. This clock enables calculation of the error drift and appropriate circuitry calibrations so as to maintain correct timekeeping accurate to an annual error of 10 seconds.
ARE QUARTZ WATCHES WORTH IT?
Quartz watches revolutionized the watchmaking industry. It opened up the world of watches to new possibilities, such as reading temperature or barometric readings on your watch. And most of all, it helped lower the price of many watches, as the Japanese was able to break the Swiss watch monopoly.
Today, both the Swiss and Japanese watchmakers employ the quartz movement, and it has even surpassed the mechanical movement as the go-to movement of most watches.
Many of today’s minimalist watches, like MVMT and Vincero, employ the Japanese quartz movement. This has allowed them to manufacture and distribute competitively priced watches to consumers.
So does a quartz watch deserve a place in your wardrobe? Chances are you already have one.