Monday, 21 May 2018

FEATURE: In Defence of Quartz...

TAG Heuer Calibre S 'Hybrid' Movement

About a year ago I was all in on mechanical movements, I wasn't going to buy any more quartz watches and I was probably going to get rid of any I had (except the F1 Kirium), but here we are and I now own six battery operated watches. So what changed?

Well, I always wanted a Calibre S and now that I have one I really, really love it. It's an amazing movement and if it was possible to replicate what it can do with a purely mechanical movement then I'm sure we would be talking about a watch that cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

I also got a bit tired of worrying about mechanical watches, and a bit tired of having to set the date every time I wanted to put one on. I think if you only own one or two watches, then mechanical is probably perfect, but it you own a lot of watches, then it's probably more practical to own a mixture of mechanical and quartz pieces. At least it is for me...

I find I am happier having 'special' pieces as mechanical and watches that I'm more likely to wear every day as quartz. I generally decide which watch I'm going to wear in the morning and I really don't have to time to be messing about with dates and winding, I just want to pick something and put it on.

Calibre 5 Movement

For the most part, watch companies don't tend to produce identical watches in quartz and mechanical versions, there's usually something different. It may be as simple as a coloured tip on a second hand or a different dial completely, and that helps to differentiate and to sell the more expensive watch. But recently I purchased a watch that was available in both and it was 'identical' save for the text on the dial, in this instance I chose quartz because it's a diver and I think I'm likely to wear it quite a lot for work (yes, I am a Special Forces Operative!).

When the watch arrived I loved it so much that I started questioning my choice - maybe I should have got the Calibre 5 version, because then it would be more 'special'... maybe it would, but for £900 I would have had to spend probably another 30% to get a (pre-owned) watch that would be less accurate, less reliable, more hassle and more worrisome - and as someone who's buying more and more pre-owned the nice thing about quartz is that generally you know what you're getting, if it works it works (the kicker here was that the Calibre 5 version was available NOS in Bicester Village for £1600, but that was still nearly £700 more than I paid).

Part of the reason I got rid of my CAU2012 Formula 1 was because it was a Calibre 16, I just felt that watch was too casual to merit a mechanical movement. If it had been quartz I would have kept it, but as it was it was always a watch that cost too much for work wear or recreation, and too casual to wear out... and yes I know my Aquagraph isn't exactly dressy, but I am much more connected to that watch and if there was a quartz Aquagraph then it wouldn't bother me in the slightest (although it is cool that it's a Calibre 60 with 46 jewels in it).

Aqaugraph Calibre 60 Movement

My new Grand Carrera GMT on the other hand is fine, because when I'm putting that on I'm going out somewhere and I don't mind the ritual of setting the date and hands and winding the watch. A dress watch deserves a mechanical movement and it enhances the 'special' feeling of wearing it.

They say the quartz watch is destined for extinction, killed by the Smartwatch revolution, but I hope not. It would be a shame if the only choice is Smartwatch or mechanical, but I guess there's probably already enough quartz watches out there to see me out (I rarely use a mobile so I'm certainly not going to entertain a Connected).

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a rant against mechanical watches, I know that most watch enthusiasts favour them and some tend to have a very dismissive attitude to quartz powered pieces. I'm guessing in the future the same thing will happen with people who own Ferraris, they'll grudgingly acknowledge that the newfangled hybrid-electro ones are more efficient, faster and feats of engineering in their own right, but... they aren't 'real' Ferraris, because 'real' Ferraris have a 'proper' engine.

All I'm saying is that I don't share that attitude, I think there's room for both and that kind of 'snobbery' can alienate and make people feel 'pressurised' into buying something they don't really want and which they don't really understand. Owning a mechanical watch is a pleasurable experience, but it can also be stressful if you don't understand why it might not keep perfect time all the time and you don't understand how to look after it properly.

Calibre 8 GMT Movement

The other day I got quite irritated when my Grand Carrera appeared to be losing chunks of time, but it was because it was running upright in a cabinet, as soon as I put it on my wrist it behaved perfectly - and then the next time it was running in the cabinet it was keeping perfect time as well. This is the 'joy' of a mechanical movement, but for those who don't want the stress quartz is an excellent alternative, and some watches are just better that way.

For me, my collection is one third mechanical right now and I think that's about right for the way I live and the way I use my watches, for you it may be different. But regardless, I think we should remember that quartz is right for some people and some collections (or parts of collections) and it really doesn't make the owner any less of a watch enthusiast just because their watch is battery powered not wound.

Unless it's a Daniel Wellington. Obviously!


  1. Great words and I fully agree with your thoughts on this topic //Jim

    1. Hi Jim
      Yes I feel it's just elitism, plain and simple. And then you buy a mechanical and someone else will be like 'It's just ETA shit' you need in-house, then you need chronometer certified.... and it goes on and on. What is truly depressing is finding out how much movements cost relative to the watch RRP, and that goes for mechanical watches as well as quartz.

    2. Very true indeed! Movements seem to be very cheap and I can only imagine the low prices Tag get when buying in huge amounts as well!