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Quartz vs Automatic Watch Movements: The Differences, Pros, & Cons

Especially as watch fans move from the budget to the mid-market, the decision between quartz vs automatic watches becomes more and more intense. 

In this article, we will compare the two types of watches, helping you understand the true differences between them. We’ll also summarize some of the key comparison points as well as finish with a quick pros/cons breakdown of each type. 

Not got time for the full article? Here’s a TL;DR

  • Go for Quartz if – You need an accurate watch, that’s easy to maintain on a reasonable, sub-$100 budget.
  • Go for Automatic if – You’re looking for a watch that’s beautifully made and a joy to look at as long as you’re willing to pay a little bit more.

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What is the difference between quartz vs automatic Watches?

When we use the terms ‘quartz watch’ or ‘automatic watch, we’re referring to the type of movement that keeps the time. In most circumstances, from just looking at a watch, you can’t tell what sort of movement it has inside of it. 

Therefore, the first thing to say here is that if you’re choosing a watch on looks and design alone, the difference between a quartz or an automatic movement won’t matter to you! 

Now that we know we’re talking about what’s inside the case, let’s look at how both movements compare. 

What is a Quartz Movement? 

To keep things simple, you can think of a quartz movement as a movement that is powered by a battery. Introduced and perfected by legendary watch brand Seiko in the 1960s, this type of movement uses a battery to shock a quartz crystal, which in turn oscillates/vibrates very fast. A digital circuit then counts these vibrations, and when it reaches a certain number, it activates a motor that moves the watch one second forward.

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Because of the use of a battery and digital circuitry, quartz watches are very popular and super easy to make in mass. In fact, they now make up over 90% of all watches sold across the globe and are very commonly used in the budget watch market. 

Some extra reading – To this day, Seiko still creates some of the best watch movements on the market, you can check out our recent review of their 6R15 and 6R35 movements here.

What is an Automatic Movement? 

Automatic movements base themselves on mechanical watchmaking practices which date back centuries. Automatic watches don’t run on batteries but use the natural movement of the wearer’s arm to convert movement into energy. It’s this conversion of natural energy that sets an automatic watch apart from a mechanical one, with mechanical watches needing to be manually wound every single day. 

An automatic watch’s energy is then stored within a coiled spring, with a combination of weights, rotors, and wheels used to drive the movement and ultimately progress the second hand. It’s worth remembering that all of this is mechanical, there is no electricity used, and it is incredibly intricate. 

Because of this level of intricacy, automatic watches are often hand-built and require various stages of testing before being released for sale.

In a world where we have time easily available on our smartphones, automatic watches are seen as luxury accessories, with the intricacy of engineering something watch owners find fascinating. 

Still not sure of the differences?  – The video below does a great job of summarizing the key differences between quartz, mechanical and automatic watches!

Quartz vs. automatic watches: comparisons

Now that we know the differences between a quartz and an automatic watch movement, it’s time to put the two head-to-head on several key areas. If you’re weighing up buying a quartz or an automatic watch, this is the section that will help you make your choice. 

Accuracy

When we talk about watch accuracy, we’re talking about how accurately it keeps time. To set your expectations, any watch in the world is likely to become inaccurate over time, but different movements perform better than others. 

Because of their battery use, quartz watches are the most accurate type of movement available. Quartz watches are widely accepted to be accurate to around 15 seconds per month. Given there are 2,628,288 seconds in a month, that’s pretty good going. 

On the other hand, automatic watches are far less accurate because of all those different components. Depending on the quality of the automatic movement, you can expect to see a watch vary by +/- 3 seconds a day to +/- 15 seconds a day. 

Those that wear automatic watches often take the time to reset their watch every few days to ensure they’re counteracting that variance. 

Summary – If you’re after a super-accurate watch, quartz will always be the way to go as the battery-powered circuitry loses less than a second per day. 

Durability

Often the durability of a watch comes down to how the watch case is made rather than the watch movement itself. 

While you’d expect a quartz movement to be generally more durable as it has fewer internal components, a quartz watch is far more likely to be surrounded by a lesser spec of case. 

On the other hand, while an automatic movement has far more components, you’re likely to find better build quality on the case itself, such as higher quality glass (called a crystal in watchmaking.)

So when you compare both, the durability of your watch is unlikely to come down to the movement itself. We’d recommend checking other features such as case material, crystal type, and water resistance if you’re looking for a watch that can taker a beating. 

Summary – Watch durability comes down to far more than the movement itself, so for this comparison, it’s a draw!

Appearance

If you want a watch where you can admire the movement itself, an automatic is definitely the watch for you. 

As we saw at the beginning of this article, because a quartz movement is essentially a digital circuit board, it isn’t much to look at! Because they are run on electric pulses, the second hand of a quartz watch is also very jerky and literally ticks once a second. 

On the other hand, an automatic watch has many different mechanical components all working together to keep accurate time. There’s something quite fascinating about watching an automatic movement, so we’d recommend looking out for a watch with an exhibition case back so you can marvel at the engineering yourself. 

On the dial, an automatic watch has a much smoother second-hand thanks to the crispness of the components inside. This undoubtedly creates a better aesthetic when marveling at the watch in action. 

Summary – There’s no competition here, an automatic watch movement is by far more attractive and fascinating to look at!

Quartz vs automatic watches

Maintenance

Much like a car or a computer, a watch needs looking after as it can wear out over time! 

For a quartz watch, that means changing the battery, which often needs to be done every couple of years. Most quartz watch batteries can be changed at any local jeweler, taking minutes to do and costing around $20. 

Because of the many components in a mechanical watch, an automatic movement service is a big deal. Certain parts can easily get worn out, with all that movement causing the watch to become un-calibrated. 

For automatic watches, this means taking your watch to be serviced. Typically, this can only be done by certain jewelers, or for the more expensive watches, only by the manufacturer themself. Depending on the work, you’ll be looking at prices above $80 to get your automatic watch serviced, and it will likely need doing every couple of years. 

Summary – Quartz watches are much easier to maintain, costing you less money over time and taking nowhere near as long to service. 

Price 

Like with durability, the price of a watch comes down to far more than the movement inside, with factors such as watch material, size, and brand coming into play. 

Saying that, quartz movements are, on the whole, the cheaper of the two. With the quartz movement being mainly digital, it’s straightforward to mass-produce, meaning more affordable production costs for watchmakers. Quartz watches start at as little as $10 but do range up to $1,000+ depending on the brand. 

On the other hand, automatic watches have an inherent cost level due to the hand-made nature of their construction. While the cheapest automatic watches may start around $50, it’s not until you get up and above $300 where you get a truly accurate automatic movement. 

Summary – Quartz watches will always be cheap because of their digital construction. But, there are automatic models on the market at reduced prices for those on a budget. 

Quartz vs. Automatic Watches – Pros/Cons

Now that you know how a quartz and an automatic watch compare, let’s finish up with a condensed look at the pros and cons for each one. 

Pros

Quartz WatchesAutomatic Watches
Amazing value. You can get your hands on a quartz watch for well under $20.

Quartz watches are super easy to maintain, with just a battery change required every couple of years.

All quartz watches are super accurate, losing only 15 seconds a month! 
Non-financial value in having something handmade by a watchmaker.

They’re great to look at, both in the movement itself and the sweep of the second hand.

Certain automatic watches can be picked up at a great price (such as Orient, Seiko, Hamilton)

The more expensive you go, the greater the accuracy. 

Cons

Quartz WatchesAutomatic Watches
The movement doesn’t provide anything to look at with the second hand’s ticking not as pleasing as with an automatic.

The fascination isn’t as strong with a quartz watch as it isn’t handmade.

Most luxury brands don’t make quartz watches, so you’re limited with the overall watch quality. 
Typically, automatic watches are much more expensive than quartz.

They aren’t always super accurate, especially at the budget/mid-market price points.

Automatic watches are more complex and more expensive to maintain over time. 

Summary

Both quartz and automatic movements are great choices for buying a watch. Ultimately, when choosing between the two, it will come down to how you feel about what’s inside the case. 

If you’re looking for a cheaper, nicely designed watch that’s going to tell you the time accurately day-after-day, a quartz watch will be enough for you! Quartz watches are great for getting into the hobby while delivering style and reliability on a budget.

But, if you want a watch for more than just telling the time, the magic of an automatic watch is hard to resist! Nothing quite beats the intricacy of an automatic movement, but you have to be prepared to pay more and commit to greater levels of maintenance!