Mechanical vs. Quartz Watches: Romantic or Pragmatist?

Mechanical vs. Quartz Watches

Appreciating Age-Old Mechanical Technology

Mechanical Chronograph Watch Movement from the 1880'sThe technology behind mechanical watches dates back hundreds of years. It was first used in clocks in the 15th century; then miniaturized for use in pocket watches 200 years later. The wristwatch emerged in the mid-19th century but only gained lasting popularity in the 1920s.

Quartz technology is much newer. The Japanese and the Swiss invented it almost concurrently beginning in the late 1950s. But the Japanese were the first to produce quartz wristwatches in the late-1960s. The vast majority of watches produced in the world today are quartz powered.

The introduction of quartz watches was damaging to the Swiss watchmaking industry in the 1970s. Quartz technology was, after all, practical, and was thus well received by consumers: the watches were cheaper to buy, easier to maintain and remained more accurate over long periods. Needless to say, people bought them up in droves, sending the Swiss mechanical-watch industry into decline. If not for the global popularity of the Swiss made Swatch watch in the 1980s, this decline may have proved terminal. Swatch quartz watches were a consumer hit and helped buoy the lagging Swiss mechanical-watch industry until its renaissance in the late-‘80s and ’90s.

Today, both mechanical and quartz watch industries are thriving. A third category – so called “smart watches” – is also in the conversation, but its long-term significance is still uncertain.

Making a Value Judgment: Pragmatist or Romantic?

When you consider the purely pragmatic advantages of quartz over mechanical – more accurate, more durable and less expensive – it may be difficult to understand why anyone would want to own a mechanical watch.

Norman Rockwell's - The WatchmakerBoth watches tell time, but they are inherently different instruments. Quartz watches are perfectly suitable daily timekeepers; mechanical watches are, too, but they have more thought-provoking cores. Mechanical watches reflect an appreciation rather than serve a need.

In a world where cost-effectiveness and efficiency are paramount, mechanical watches are an anachronism. The decision to wear one is not purely rational; it comes down to a value judgment. A mechanical watch, no matter how simple, is steeped in history and age-old craftsmanship. A mechanical timepiece is romantic.

Mechanical watches are one of few devices still in popular use that are not powered with battery or fuel, relying instead on naturally produced energy and gravity; and, since they represent a small fraction of all the watches created worldwide every year, choosing mechanical is to select exclusivity over mass production. Consequently, their relative rarity promises mor value over the long term.

An Experienced WatchmakerIn terms of artisanship, fine mechanical watches often require countless hours of labor to complete. Originally, mechanical watches were produced entirely by hand. Modern machinery such as CNC machines has streamlined many of the processes but the art form is still alive and well – perhaps stronger than ever, with companies trying to build on achievements of the past while moving in interesting and new directions.

The finishing and decoration applied in mechanical-watch assembly is an art form requiring training, practice and patience. Such work is something to savor; it inspires an emotional reaction in the same way art or other fine objects do. Yet, most mechanical watches are perfectly suitable for daily life and exist at most price-points, meaning owning one is entirely feasible, even on a modest budget.

There is no doubt that quartz technology has cemented its place in horological history. Arguably, it has surpassed mechanical watchmaking in terms of accuracy and practical use. But mechanical watches and their regulating organs have intangible qualities that cannot be replaced and represent deeper attachments than mere timekeeping. There is no wrong or right – only a decision about which is the best reflection of you.

About Gevril Group

Gevril GroupGevril Group is the exclusive US representative for select European watch brands, distributing and servicing luxury, fashion and sports timepieces at a wide range of price points. Gevril Group also operates a full-service watch repair department staffed by master Swiss watchmakers. Contact Gevril Group by email or by calling 845-425-9882.

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