08/16/2022
 2 minutes

Watch Movements: Are quartz calibers as good as automatic ones, and which should you buy?

By Thomas Hendricks
04-Movement-Types-Magazin 2-1
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The word “movement,” in the context of watches, refers to the network of intricate parts inside a watch’s case that serves as the engine of the watch. This complex mechanism is also known as a caliber.  

What are the three types of watch movements?  

There are three different types of watch movements you should know about if you’re getting into the watch-collecting hobby: manual, automatic, and quartz. We’ll start off with quartz movements, because those are likely the most familiar to people who are just starting out.  

What is a quartz movement? 

Quartz movements, or quartz calibers, have a battery. The battery sends an electrical current through a quartz crystal, which causes it to vibrate. These vibrations are converted by a small integrated circuit into pulses for the stepping motor, which in turn moves the hour, minute, and second hands.  

Quartz movements tick once per second, and they’re typically found in rather affordable watches from brands like Timex and Swatch. That being said, prestigious brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet have all used quartz calibers in certain watches throughout their history.  

The Rolex Oysterquartz: a Rolex watch with a quartz movement
The Rolex Oysterquartz: a Rolex watch with a quartz movement

What is a mechanical movement? 

Mechanical movements – whether manual or automatic – are what you’ll find almost exclusively in high-end watches, but they can also be found in affordable watches from Seiko, Hamilton, Tissot, various microbrands, and many others.  

Here’s a simplified overview of how mechanical movements work: by winding the crown, you’ll create tension within the mainspring. This tension on the spring generates energy that can be slowly released over time through a network of gears and springs. The controlled release keeps the watch running accurately. While a quartz watch beats once per second, a mechanical watch typically ticks at a frequency of 4 Hz for a smoother sweeping motion of the second hand.  

What is the difference between a manual and an automatic movement? 

There are two types of mechanical movements: manual and automatic. Manual movements need to be rewound by hand every couple of days, depending on the power reserve of the watch. Automatic movements work similarly to manual ones, but use a weighted rotor to keep the movement powered with each turn of your wrist, not unlike how windmills convert rotation into energy.  

Each of the three movement types have pros and cons. Quartz movements are cheap and reliable, but they’re usually not built to last, and they lack the magic of a mechanical caliber. Some find it romantic to wind a manual movement at the start of the day, while others see it as an unnecessary chore. Automatic movements are the most popular for their combination of intricacy and convenience, but the rotors often add thickness and weight to the watch. The good news is that buyers have plenty of options and can pick which type best fits their budget and lifestyle.  


About the Author

Thomas Hendricks

I didn’t grow up a watch guy, but a few years after graduating from university, I landed a job at the online publication Watchonista as a writer and marketer. “Welcome to the watch world,” my colleagues told me half-jokingly, “no one ever leaves!” Now at Chrono24, I work as a private client advisor, helping people find the perfect watch for major life moments.

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