The Electronic Watch Movement: Not Your Average 1960′s Reform

February 1st, 2010 | 7 Comments


We spend a lot of time mulling over the classic and intricate designs of automatic and mechanical watches, but we quickly forget about their friend, quartz, with the electronic watch movement.

The quartz watch is a product of the ’60s just like made-for-TV movies, the Peace Movement and the first computer game (Spacewar), and it exemplifies the decade’s fusion of tradition and the contemporary.

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Let’s take a few minutes to explore quartz and the electronic watch movement.


Quick quartz history lesson

The creation of the electronic watch movement didn’t happen overnight; it was a long process, lasting nearly a century.

In the beginning, which was 1880 in France, the Curie brothers developed piezoelectricity, which is just a fancy Greek way of saying that certain materials (e.g. crystals, bones) have electric potential.

They demonstrated their findings on a variety of crystals, but found that quartz crystals showed the most piezoelectricity.

The crystal oscillator was developed soon after, which led the way to the production of precision time sequences with quartz-specific oscillators, and eventually, the first quartz clock in 1927.

Skipping ahead a few decades of tweaking and perfecting, the first quartz watch with electronic movement was produced in Neuchatel, Switzerland in the mid-’60s. At about the same time, Seiko released its first quartz, the Astron.


seiko astron

However, though it’s called “electronic movement,” quartz watches are based on faint oscillations, or vibrations, not obvious movements like those in automatic watches.

Electronic watches have now replaced many wall clocks, timers and wristwatches because of their accuracy and convenience.

Check out Orient’s selection of battery and solar-powered quartz watches for the latest styles.

Hello, Automatic, meet the new guy, Electronic

These days, it’s common to find a watch that has both automatic and electronic movement.

How can this be?

Well, the automatic quartz (a.k.a. auto-quartz or kinetic) combines a self-winding rotor (as in a typical automatic) which generates electricity with the piezoelectric quartz crystal.

This electric generator is, essentially, a “rechargeable battery,” and each charge can last up to 6 months.

Many watch wearers (and also the Earth) like the kinetic watch because it combines the best of the automatic and quartz worlds while avoiding batteries altogether.

earth


The good and the bad about electronic

It’s hard to admit it, but nothing’s perfect. Here are some pros and cons of electronic movement and quartz watches.

The Good

  • Crystal oscillators produce an extremely precise frequency, so quartz watches are considered more accurate than mechanical
  • Electronic movement is battery-powered, so there is no need for winding
  • Solar-powered and auto-quartz present some of the most progressive watches, proving that not all quartz watches need a battery
  • Quartz watches are generally very light-weight and inexpensive

The Bad

  • Quartz watches can be very cheap, but not a good kind of cheap, a tacky kind with Disney characters
  • Batteries—there’s nothing good about heavy metal pollution
  • Quartz has less of a human quality and tends to defeat the aesthetic beauty found in traditional automatic or mechanical watches


Choosing your watch movement type is kind of like choosing your computer (Mac or PC?). What are you? Electronic or mechanical? Comment Below.





  1. 7 Comments | Tell us what you think!

  2. By Steve Poorman on Feb 1, 2010

    For me I’m willing to sacrifice accuracy to have a mechanical watch because nothing is cooler than having a little machine working away on your wrist without the aid of a battery. Now the whole auto mechanical is interesting and seems to combine alot of the best features it still does not match in coolness factor (at least in my mind) to a mechanical.

  3. By FernandoC on Feb 1, 2010

    Well, on the disadvantages of the quartz, you forgot to mention that for activities demanding low temperatures quarz is useless because it is not reliable below -10 C. (14 F) because of the battery. That is why expeditions to the artic, diving or high mountain, not to mention space, mechanic watches are preferred.

  4. By FernandoC on Feb 1, 2010

    Well, on the disadvantages of the quartz, you forgot to mention that for activities demanding low temperatures quarz is useless because it is not reliable below -10 C. (14 F) because of the battery. That is why expeditions to the artic, diving or high mountain, not to mention space, mechanic watches are preferred.
    Oops, should write excellent post! Can’t wait to reading the next one!

  5. By Ahren on Feb 3, 2010

    I wish Bulova would make the old tuning fork Accutron again. My grandfather had one in the 70′s when I was a kid, and I enjoyed putting my ear up to his watch and listening to the hum. The Astronaut (GMT) watch was really “space age” too. Very cool watches.

  6. By Joe Libby on Feb 9, 2010

    Ahren,

    My grandfather left me his Accutron, very cool watch! It was given to him when he retired. The tuning fork hum and swiss-like sweep of the second hand is about as distinctive as you can get with a battery-powered watch IMO. I need to bring it in for new battery/maintenance.

  7. By James Walley on Feb 18, 2010

    “For me I’m willing to sacrifice accuracy to have a mechanical watch because nothing is cooler than having a little machine working away on your wrist without the aid of a battery.”

    To my mind, that says it all about the silliness of automatic watch aficionados.

    May I remind everyone that the primary purpose of a watch is to tell time accurately? If it doesn’t do that, it’s merely a wrist-toy. And there is no question a quartz movement will tell time more accurately than even the most refined mechanical movement.

    And the rationale that quartz movements should be shunned because they’re found in some “tacky cheap” watches is equally silly. I have some old automatic movement-driven Timexes and other plastic watches that defined low-quality. So, should automatic movements be considered “tacky cheap” as well. And, when it comes to “Disney characters,” exactly what kind of movement did the original, low-quality Mickey Mouse watches contain? Hint: it wasn’t quartz.

    To me, the scandal is not that some expensive watches may contain “tacky cheap” quartz movements, it’s that mechanical watches — including $20,000 Rolexes as well as $100 Orients — simply don’t tell time anywhere near as accurately as the cheapest quartz movement. Now, THAT’S “tacky cheap,” if you ask me…no matter what the pricetag.

  8. By Tony Lewis on Jan 8, 2012

    Nice article about quartz watches.

    There were also electronic watches such as the Citizen Cosmotron and the Seiko EL series (EL370, etc.). These electronic watches had a balance wheel like a mechanical and used different electronic methods. For instance the Swiss ESA dynotrons used a transistorised circuit. The beat rate of many of these watches was around 28800 bph. These watches were not quartz watches though.

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