Selecting a wristwatch is a very personal decision that takes into consideration the design and the functionality of the timepiece. Before making a selection based on the aesthetic of a watch, it is important to take the basics of how watches function. Knowing these basics can influence your final decision in purchasing a timepiece.
One of the first options to consider is the difference between a quartz watch and a mechanical watch. The movement, maintenance, and sustained value in these watches are dramatically different, and knowing these variations can help narrow down your preferences.
Quartz movement watches are relatively new in the watch market. The Swiss first introduced a quartz watch in 1962, but the Japanese had been working on the technology since 1959. The Japanese introduced the first quartz wristwatch in 1969. Today, most quartz watches are still manufactured in Japan.
Quartz watches are made in two styles: Analog and digital. Analog quartz watches use three hands representing the hours, minutes, and seconds to display time. The modern digital quartz watch uses numbers on a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen to present the time. Both analog and digital quartz functions make use of a battery and quartz crystal. The battery causes the thin sheet of quartz crystal to oscillate or vibrate approximately 32,728 times per second. The vibration produces tiny pulses of electricity that are sent to an internal computer chip at the same constant rate. In an analog quartz watch, this drives the electric motor that allows the analog watch to keep the correct time. In a digital quartz watch the computer chip counts the oscillations and displays the time through the LCD screen. Digital watches are unique in that they do not have gears or moving parts.
Quartz watches are more accurate than mechanical watches, losing only a few seconds per month. In comparison, mechanical watches can lose up to 4 seconds or gain up to 6 seconds every day. Quartz movement watches will require a new battery every 2 to 3 years. Generally, quartz watches are less expensive and require less maintenance, but they will lose their value over time. While they do not require extensive maintenance, they do become obsolete and may require you to purchase a new watch after 20 to 30 years because replacement parts become unavailable.
Mechanical movement watches provide another option for timepieces. The history of the mechanical watch has roots in 1510 Germany, but it was not perfected until 1760 by the British. Today, most mechanical watches are produced in Switzerland. Enthusiasts prefer the mechanical movement because of the craftsmanship that is required to create a mechanical watch and are prepared to pay a premium price for them as a result. The most expensive watch ever sold was a 1933 Patek Philippe for $11 million in 1999.
Mechanical watches make use of an internal balance wheel that oscillates back and forth in response to the steady unwinding of the mainspring. Most mechanical watches oscillate at 21,600, 28,800, and 36,000 beats per hour (BPH). There are two types of winding mechanisms available in mechanical watches. Manual winding watches require the crown to be wound by hand in order to wind up the mainspring. Self-winding automatic watches use the natural movements of the wearer and gravity to turn an internal rotor, which winds the mainspring. Unlike quartz watches that generate power through the battery and use the quartz as the oscillator, mechanical watches use the balance wheel as the oscillator and the power generates from the unwinding of the mainspring.
If regular maintenance is done on a mechanical watch, they typically last much longer than a quartz watch, and their value is more enduring. Maintenance on a mechanical movement watch can be significant, at a cost of $300 to $500, and this service must be completed by a certified watchmaker every 4 to 5 years. This regular examination of the wristwatch can include cleaning, oiling, and the replacement of watch parts in order to ensure the most accurate timekeeping. Even with regular upkeep, however, mechanical watches can lose up to 4 seconds or gain up to 6 seconds per day.
The choice between a quartz movement and a mechanical movement watch is very personal. Learning more about these differences will help you understand the function of your watch and appreciate the internal workings of your investment. Weighing these facts can narrow down the field before you purchase and will help you understand the best maintenance for your timepiece, helping you preserve your investment for years to come.
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