Mechanical watches were the default for personal timekeeping from their invention in the late 18th century until as recently as the 1970s. Quartz watches, first introduced in 1969, quickly gained popularity for their reliability and affordability. Today, the majority of watches sold across the globe are quartz watches.
Despite this, almost half a billion mechanical watches are sold each year — and for good reason. Though the technology may be centuries old, mechanical watches are by no means obsolete. They have a style and charm about them that still resonates with millions of wearers to this day.
What is the difference between a mechanical watch and a quartz watch?
A mechanical watch is a type of watch that does not have an electronic or digital component. Mechanical watches rely on the mechanical movement of a wound spring to keep time. Once wound, this spring uncoils at a consistent pace, transferring energy to the hands.
There are two types of mechanical watches. The first one is a hand wound mechanical watch, for which the wearer has to wind the watch himself, often by turning the crown on the side of the case to wind the spring. The second type is an automatic watch. In automatic watches the spring is wound automatically by the movement of the wearer’s wrist with the help of a rotor.
A quartz watch, on the other hand, is one with a battery that runs off electricity in order to tell time. Electricity vibrates the quartz at a consistent frequency that passes the energy on to the watch hands.
How do I recognize the difference between a quartz watch and a mechanical watch?
The simplest way to tell a mechanical watch from a quartz watch is often by looking at the seconds hand. In a mechanical watch, this movement is smooth, recognized by a sweeping motion, while in a quartz watch, it features the classic ticking motion.
Are mechanical watches better than quartz watches?
This really depends on what metric you’re choosing for “better”.
Nothing compares to quartz watches for accuracy. The operation of quartz watches is based on the frequency at which quartz vibrates when a current is passed through it. So long as that electric charge is vibrating the quartz, the watch will keep track of time.
Mechanical watches, by contrast, will on average lose about 30 seconds of time over the course of a week. Certain high end mechanical watches — which need to be specially certified — lose only around a second a day.
A well-made mechanical watch will more than handle the bumps and scratches a watch might reasonably expect to endure. Mechanical watches often have a higher quality watch glass, such as sapphire glass and a more robust case to protect the delicate parts of the mechanical movement within. Quartz watches are less complicated inside, yet they still tend to break easily when they are dropped or bumped into a hard object. If you’re intending to wear a watch during extreme activity, you’re best off with a dedicated sports or smart watch.
In terms of durability, a well-made mechanical watch can easily become a family heirloom. Quartz watches unfortunately are not built to last. Their batteries need replacing every 2-5 years, and a bad battery can destroy a quartz watch entirely.
There is one way in which mechanical watches are unquestionably better, and that’s their environmental impact. Batteries are awful for the environment both during production and after disposal. A single button battery may last several years, but it still needs to be disposed of eventually. By contrast an automatic mechanical watch will keep tracking the time so long as you keep wearing it, never requiring a power source.
An interesting point is that while it is cheaper to maintain a quartz watch than a mechanical one, the cheaper price point means many people don’t bother. This again contributes a great deal to waste — as quartz watches aren’t seen as much of an investment (depending, obviously, on the brand), many people are happy to just buy a new one. A mechanical watch, as we said, can become an heirloom, and so the cost of maintaining it every 3 years becomes more attractive than replacing it entirely.
Why do people still wear mechanical watches?
It might seem that quartz is the obvious winner — they’re more accurate and significantly cheaper. Why bother with a mechanical watch?
Consider it like this. If you’re looking to buy a pair of sunglasses, you will be perfectly well served buying a cheap pair from anywhere. So long as the tinting is an appropriate strength, it doesn’t matter whether you buy an off-the-shelf pair at a retailer, or a designer pair in a high-end store. They’ll both shield your eyes equally well from the sun.
Why bother with the expensive glasses if they both work?
There is a craftsmanship and class in the designer brand that you simply don’t get from the cheaper option. Functionally, there’s little difference. But you don’t buy a pair of branded sunglasses just to shield your eyes; you do so to make a statement.
It’s much the same with mechanical watches vs quartz watches.
Mechanical watches carry with it a level of fine craftsmanship, styling and class that quartz watches often lack. They are the embodiment of centuries of fine, pre-industrial mechanical work, bearing with them a rich history of precision and skill.
Like a motoring enthusiast shunning automatic transmission for the grunt and roar of manual, choosing a mechanical watch isn’t about function; it’s about history, heritage, tradition, and appreciation for skill and expertise of those who came before.
Certainly, mechanical watches are not for everyone. A frugal pragmatist is better served with an affordable, reliable quartz watch any day of the week. But for those who wish to make a statement with their personal timepiece, there is simply no comparison to a Swiss made mechanical watch.
How we at pOrtahl feel about Mechanical vs Quartz watch movements
Quartz movements, being significantly cheaper, are being used more and more by watch brands around the world. Their lower price point gives quartz watches a much wider appeal among consumers. That same lower price point however also makes for lower quality and less durability. According to us at pOrtahl, quartz watches will never be able to fully replace mechanical watches.
Here at pOrtahl we share a great appreciation for heritage and craftsmanship of mechanical watches with our customers. Although we do believe that mechanical watches should adapt to current design standards. Heritage brands have taught us what to like and appreciate in watches, but have since played it safe in their watch designs, barely innovating at all.
That’s why pOrtahl aims to propel Swiss movement watches into a new age, creating watches that are tailored to today’s taste. We create watches that you can’t get at any of the major heritage brands. Eye-catching, modern, yet timeless designs inspired by the styles of high-end watch customizers around the world. Our watches can either form the base to form a watch collection around, or add something unique to your existing collection. It entirely depends on the type of person you are.
Now that you have learned more about the differences between quartz watches and mechanical watches. Which one do you prefer? Personally, we’ll choose a mechanical watch over a quartz watch any day of the week.