An Introduction to Quartz Watches from Our Watchmaker

An Introduction to Quartz Watches from Our Watchmaker

Let me introduce myself since this is my first blog post. My name is Jordan Ficklin and I’m the new watchmaker here at the Cincinnati Watch Company. I have been working with watches for 20 years and I love it! Now, unlike many watchmakers I am a big fan of quartz watches and with the launch of our first quartz watch here at Cincinnati Watch Company I thought it would be a good idea to do a quick introduction to quartz.

Form over Function

All 3 watches in the Time Hill collection feature quartz movements. This was a decision we made based on form over function. We wanted the time hill collection to have a slim profile.

Not all quartz movements are created equal

The only way to accomplish this while keeping the watch affordable was to use quartz movements. Now, not all quartz movements are created equal and we want you to know that we put a lot of consideration into this decision. There are many options for quartz movements but ultimately we decided to use Swiss Made Ronda movements. 

The Time Hill Collection watches measure just 7.6mm thick

Ronda has been around for more than 70 years, longer than quartz watch movements. They began producing components for watches and inexpensive pin-lever mechanical movements. Their philosophy has always been to produce a high quality and serviceable product at an affordable price. A Ronda quartz movement isn’t the prettiest movement, but it is reliable, durable, and proven quality. 

High Quality and Serviceable Quartz Movements

They are assembled with screws instead of rivets and spare parts for their repair are readily available. Most Ronda movements come in two qualities: Swiss Made and Swiss Parts.  The movements in the Time Hill Collection are made in Switzerland.

The movements in the Time Hill Collection are made in Switzerland.

The Union Terminal v2 features the Swiss Made Ronda 712 which is gold plated and has 5 Jewels to help it run more efficiently and last longer.

The Cincinnatian features the Swiss Made Ronda 6004.D which also has 5 jewels and an End of Life indicator to let you know when it is time to change the battery.

The Captain features the Swiss Made Ronda 713 which also has 5 jewels and an End of Life indicator.

Most watchmakers (and I would say many watch collectors as well) look down at quartz movements. I think their bad reputation is unfair. Quartz technology is really pretty amazing.

History of Quartz Watches

In the middle of the 20th Century as watch companies competed for the best timekeepers, quartz technology was the logical progression because quartz technology can be incredibly precise. 

The simple way to look at precision is the faster the oscillator vibrates, the more precise a timekeeper can be. Mechanical watches typically operate at between 2.5 and 5 Hz. The Bulova Accutron operated at about 300 Hz and modern quartz watches operate at 32,768 Hz. That is why quartz watch precision is measured in seconds per month while mechanical watch precision is usually measured in seconds per day.

The first quartz clock was developed in 1927 at Bell Laboratories and it was a wonderful leap in precision, but it was massive. The technology quickly got smaller, but one of the main things holding back miniature quartz clocks was battery technology. 

In the late 50s batteries finally got small enough to fit in wrist watches and the first quartz watch prototype was developed in Switzerland by the CEH in 1967. In 1969 Seiko launched the Astron, the first quartz watch to be released to the market and 16 Swiss brands released watches featuring the Beta 21 movement the following year.

Beta 21 Quartz Movements. Photo used under creative commons license from user omega-collector

These early quartz watches weren’t cheap. New technology is always expensive and that was the case for quartz watches but within a few years quartz watches became economical to produce and today you can buy an inexpensive quartz watch for a couple of bucks or a Patek Twenty-4 for 10’s of thousands.

How Quartz Watches Work

The technology in Quartz watches is really quite fascinating. Quartz is a mineral, it looks like a semi-transparent rock but has a really intriguing property known as piezoelectric. If you deform the quartz crystal it produces an electric charge and conversely if you run an electrical charge through a quartz crystal it deforms, or vibrates. 

The frequency of this vibration is determined by the size and shape of the crystal and is very consistent. Quartz watches take advantage of this property (as does every piece of electronics in your house) to generate regular pulses of electricity which, in the case of your watch, are used to activate a small electric motor which causes the hands to turn. 

There is so much more to quartz watches than this simple explanation, but these are the basics. A quartz watch has a battery, a motor, a gear train which drives the hands, a little vibrating crystal, and an integrated circuit which determine the rate of the watch, keeping it running accurately to within 20 seconds per month. Periodically they need a new battery and occasionally they even need routine maintenance to keep all those moving parts clean and lubricated.