Those who were working in the watch industry in the winter of 1969 probably remember December 25 with a shudder of fear. It was on that day Seiko unveiled its Astron – the first ever watch powered by a quartz movement. The Swiss industry, with its sniffy view of quartz watches, was caught napping and nearly eradicated; buried under a pile of cheaper, more reliable Japanese timepieces.
While they never did truly die out, Swiss watches would never be quite the same again – from then on, the market share was no longer exclusively theirs. Quartz watches to this day remain accessible to most budgets, but do they have any other advantages? Sure they’re cheap, but can quartz be as desirable as their more complicated mechanical cousins? We certainly think so.
What Is A Quartz Watch?
In contrast to a mechanical watch movement made from gears and springs, a quartz movement comprises a circuit board, a quartz crystal and a battery. The battery charges the quartz crystal oscillator, which drives a motor to move the hands at a constant rate. It will also power any other functions the watch may have. You can usually tell a watch is a quartz from the dial because of the way the seconds tick rather than sweep (though there are brands who add in the tick, but that’s another piece entirely).
A quartz movement: Uniform Wares’ M42 PreciDrive Chronograph…
As with mechanical watches, there are hierarchies – of quality, complication and price. There’s standard quartz, which beats at 32,768hz; very high-precision calibres (VHP) which are more precise, and hybrid meca-quartz – a rare breed usually found in chronographs and means the watch functions are battery powered but the stopwatch functions are mechanical. With this you get all the accuracy of quartz but with the kudos of gears and cogs – a win-win for some.
…Compared with a mechanical movement: Tudor’s MT5813 Manufacture Automatic Chronograph
What Are The Benefits Of Quartz Watches?
The overriding benefit of going quartz is battery life – you don’t have to remember to wind it so it’ll tell the time for years rather than days or weeks. There are also other, more surprising bonuses. Contrary to what you might expect given that mechanical watches usually command enormous price tags, quartz movements are far more accurate. A (very) average quartz watch will lose or gain up to 15 seconds per month, whereas the most precise Rolex movements are accurate up to +2/-2 seconds per day – that’s 60 seconds a month.
Then there’s the expense of servicing your shiny new mechanical, which depending on the brand, can cost upwards of £800. There’s no such trouble with quartz – simply replace the cheap battery when it runs out (likely every few years) and you’re good to go.
Perhaps most importantly, a quartz watch doesn’t have to feel cheap any more, even if the price tag is. Time has altered the somewhat derogatory view of quartz, thanks to brands ditching the plastic and creating timepieces that are made with similar high standards and attention to detail as mechanical ones. If you’re in the market for some circuitry, here are some of our favourites.
The Best Quartz Watches
Timex Allied Three GMT
A GMT is one of the most practical complications around, but so often people are put off by the rigmarole needed to actually set them properly. This option by Timex not only has the advantage of being powered by the brand’s proprietary Intelligent Quartz technology – a state-of-the-art piece of kit that features on-board sensors and microprocessors to drive independent elements such as second or third time-zone hands – it is also simple to use.
Just click the pusher at two o’clock to advance the GMT hand (the large arrow one) by 30-minute intervals or, if you need to set it to non-standard minutes simply pull out the crown to its third position. To track a third time zone, simply align the numbers on the bezel. No manual, no fuss and no excuse for missing the pre-bedtime telephone call.
Seiko Prospex Solar Diver
Any round-up of quartz watches simply has to include a Seiko. This is a brand so dedicated to its non-mechanical movements, it actually grows its own quartz crystal. This Prospex is also about as iconic as you can get from the brand. It takes its style cues from the Golden Tuna – the 1978 Seiko Professional Diver 600, so named because the case looks like a tuna can – though this is a commercial offshoot as it doesn’t have the titanium monocoque case or water resistance (although it’s okay to 200m).
Thankfully it also doesn’t have the requisite 51mm case size. Clocking in at 46.7mm, it is substantial enough to Scuba with but you could still wear it on dry land without looking ridiculous. If you do feel you can pull this off, it’s a bold, chunky slice of fun powered by one of the best quartz movements around. Not bad for a watch under £500.
Sometimes you don’t want fireworks, you just want something classic and understated but still with a bit of interest – something like this Tissot T-Classic. It is a simple, perfectly executed dress watch. Opting for a rose-gold plate case, rather than steel or yellow gold stops this very pared-back design from looking pedestrian, while the elegant angled hands and slim indices allow the plain white dial to breathe.
Completing the vintage feel is the brown leather strap, while powering it is a more modern and extremely reliable ETA quartz. Yes, it does feel like a watch your grandfather might have worn, but short shorts were also a grandad favourite and they are a surefire trend for SS19.
Sekford Type 1A
You could credit Sekford with creating the notion of a discerning quartz watch. Launched in 2015 by co-founder of eclectic lifestyle magazine Port, Kuchar Swara, Cedric Bellon, who has designed watches for the likes of Hermes, Bell & Ross and Longines and industrial designer Pierre Foulonneau, these were timepieces squarely aimed at those with a sartorial bent.
Everything about them redefined what a quartz watch was from the typography that was specially created for the brand to the 18th and 19th century pocket watches that served as inspiration. These weren’t cheap, disposable timepieces in plastic, but ones built to last and which look damn fine too.
There are other options, but this blue dial/brown strap combination has a wonderful “weekend in the Hamptons” feel to it. Boat shoes optional.
Stand on a Swiss rail platform and watch what happens when the second hand reaches the 12 – it will stop for two seconds and then the minute hand jumps forward, which starts the second hand again. This clever little trick, designed to ensure every SBB station clock across the country was synchronised which, in turn, kept all the trains punctual, has now been replicated in this Mondaine watch.
It is an added detail that takes Mondaine’s homage to the SBB design to the next level and is a fascinating thing to watch. It’s a detail that could be gimmicky but combine it with Mondaine’s modernist aesthetic and you’ve got a cool reference to the idiosyncrasies of Switzerland’s rail network.
Uniform Wares M37 PreciDrive
As with mechanical movements, there are varying degrees of accuracy when it comes to quartz. Uniform Wares has given its M-Line (its most distinctive looking) an accuracy upgrade by furnishing the watches with a new PreciDrive movement. Supplied by Swatch-Group owned ETA, these operate at a higher frequency, which improves timekeeping. ETA has said that the improvement makes the watch 10 times more accurate, so it’s no small shift.
Uniform Wares has also given the timepieces nifty new straps. Made in collaboration with London-based 3D metal printing company Betatype, it is titanium mesh that is made up from 4,000 interlocking links and so lightweight it feels like fabric. The material is so innovative that a new clasp design had to be made with integrated microscopic teeth that fit into the interlock in the weave.
TAG Heuer Formula 1 Gulf Chronograph
In 2018, TAG Heuer unveiled two Monacos in Gulf Oil inspired livery and this is the Formula 1 continuation. This famous blue and orange combination was originally worn by Porsches from the late 1960s and early 1970s that won the Le Mans, including the one driven by Steve McQueen in the 1971 film named after the race, which makes the Formula 1, the watch inspired by the exterior of a racing car, a perfect fit.
Whereas the Monaco Gulf feels more 1960s inspired, this Formula 1 has a loucheness that feels very 1970s. Pair with shorts and a Cuban collar shirt for maximum style points. Whether you grow a Tom Selleck moustache or not is up to you.
Breitling Colt Skyracer Breitlight 45
One of the first things you might notice about this watch is the word “Chronomètre” on the dial, which is a subtle way of Breitling indicating that powering this watch is something special. It is, in fact, the ETA-manufactured Flatline 955.652 – a thermo-compensated movement that, basically, is twenty times more accurate than a standard quartz.
At its heart is a thermistor, a heat sensor that tracks the temperature of the crystal to check for effects of external factors. The thermistor is capable of adjusting the frequency in order to maintain accuracy despite changes in temperature rather than just having it run at a standard 32,768Hz. Pretty cool, no? It is also super light, thanks to being made from Breitlight – Breitling’s moulded plastic polymer that is six times lighter than steel, looks like a 1980s throwback (not an insult) and has a strap that is a doddle to change. All in all, it’s the perfect modern pilot’s watch.
Cartier Montre Tank Solo
Yes, it’s steel and quartz and over £2,000 but what you’re buying here is an icon and a beautifully crafted one at that. The name comes from the innovative Renault F-17 tank – the first to house its weapon in a fully rotating turret – used by the French during World War I.
When it went on sale in 1919, it was a dramatic departure from the more rounded jewellery watches that were popular at the time. The Tank design has diversified into shapes such as the elongated Americaine or the sporty Francaise, but the Solo, with its mix of square and curved angles and uncluttered dial, takes the best of the original and gives it a 21st flavour. It is the thinking gentleman’s daily companion.
Omega Speedmaster Skywalker X-33
It’s always the Moon watch that gets all the attention but this high-tech quartz version of the Speedmaster also deserves a moment in the spotlight. Designed especially for astronauts and approved by the European Space Agency for use in its missions, this does much more than tell the time. It has three alarms, can show you the time in three different zones, has chronograph and countdown functions as well as a perpetual calendar.
It can even track mission elapsed time and phase elapsed time too, which could be useful for timing the school run if you’re still in the pull of the earth’s gravity. Powering it is the Omega Calibre 5619, a thermos-compensated circuit developed for the brand in consultation with ESA astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy, who knows a thing or two having orbited Earth 120 times. Of course, for some, the 105.012 will be the only true Speedy, but if you want to experience the full force of quartz then it’s Skywalker all the way.