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Why Automatics?

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654.jpgIt’s about time we addressed the general feeling in the watch hobbyist arena in mechanicals vs. quartz timepieces. This argument is as old as the quartz movement – which isn’t that old – and will be raging until the last old Oris is ground to dust under the boot of one of our future robot overlords.

Irving asks:

VERY cool styling…..but why would anyone spend that kind of money on a watch that uses an inaccurate mechnaincal movement? Quartz, Perpetual Calendar and Radio Atomic movements – battery and solar powered are becoming common and must be cheaper. Please explain to me why I would want +/- 15 sec/month with a need to re-synch 2x a year (DST) when I can have +/- 1 sec per month or better with auto DST and date synch.

What is the appeal of the “ticking”?

Irving, Irving, Irving…

No mechanical movement can be as impressively accruate as a $12 quartz watch. That is a given. A quartz watch is a modern marvel, the marriage between science and horology that almost destroyed the mechanical watch industry.

It was not always thus. The watches we now rate as exclusive luxury items were once as common as quartz watches we now wear. Omega, Breitling, and the rest were “good watches” but not great watches. And everyone had a watch, a cheap U.S.-made Waltham, a Movado, even a Rolex. But these were workhorses, designed to tell time and not to symbolize prestige.

Then Seiko, Pulsar, Citizen and rest of the Japanese makers dumped thousands of quartz watches on the market. The mechanical was considered gauche and foolish, akin to running around with a typewriter in an era of laptops.

I have an ad from 1955 offering Andre Bouchard 17 Jewel Watches for $9.99, down from a high of $12.89. How times have changed. Those same watches would hit about $100 or so on the ‘bay, just because they are mechanical. Were the quartz pieces more accurate, and are they still more accurate? Absolutely. But that’s not quite the point.

Irving – the reason I love mechanicals is that they are a link to a storied and varied past. The stacatto tick of quartz watch – and I’m speaking only of a quartz analog face with hands and a circling seconds hand – is an insult to the grace and ingenuity put into mechanicals for years prior to the rise of quartz watches.

A quartz analog watch is like a WWII compass retrofitted with a GPS unit. The value to many is obvious, but why not create a new interface, a new vision, instead of destroying a compass by stuffing in new technology. Makers of mechanicals see the value in old methods married to new materials. They are creating masterworks that even the most ingenious watch-smiths of the past centuries can’t even comprehend. And they’re depeniding solely on the motion of gears, on the power of a spring, and the work of gravity. I agree – quartz watches are more accurate, but that’s not the point. 3 seconds here or there won’t make you late for dinner. And the sultry sweep of the seconds hand will encourage you to slow down when you get there.

That said, a digital watch is a different story and it serves a different purpose. I’m all for sexy digital watches with all sorts of doodads and whiz-bangs. No problem there. Just keep your quartz out of my watch case.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Agreed for the most part except for the bit about quartz analog watches. There is a couple of very good reasons why they are a good idea – readability and esthetics. It is much easier to tell the time at a glance with an analog watch and analog watches simply look better.

    I love all the new whiz-bang functions that come in quartz watches. However, I’d much rather have them in a watch with an analog display for the time AND an LCD screen for the additional functions.

    – HCE

  2. I agree with the tone and the need to explain to the video game generation(s) the innate difference between fine wine and vinegar. The sheer beauty, majesty and sublime wonder of the inner working of a supreme piece of art, which is that we commonly call an “Automatic” watch is truly one of the most wondrous mechanisms that skilled craftsmen have bestowed upon mankind. To gaze at the fine inner workings of a skeleton automatic or view the pendulum as gracefully swings to and fro is perhaps as grand as it is to view a fine piece of artwork and wonder how the artist dreamt up the concept.
    Don’t get me wrong quartz watches have a role to play in the world of watches, but generally it will be one of a lesser stature to that of a finely crafted automatic chronograph. And to quote the earlier writer (John): “Makers of mechanicals see the value in old methods married to new materials. They are creating masterworks that even the most ingenious watch-smiths of the past centuries can’t even comprehend. And they’re depending solely on the motion of gears, on the power of a spring, and the work of gravity. I agree – quartz watches are more accurate, but that’s not the point. 3 seconds here or there won’t make you late for dinner. And the sultry sweep of the seconds hand will encourage you to slow down when you get there.”

    PBone

  3. I compare the quartz movement and mechanical movements to a well made high quality hand made leather bomber jacket to a machine made plastic/synthetic leather simulated jacket. Now which one would you rather have?

  4. I have many quartz watches and i like them but I also like mechanicals and autos .I like ticking,the smooth sweep of the second hand the feel of the watch winding with an automatic, and indeed the sheer complexity and ingenuity of the movement.Plus if China ever uses an Electro Magnetic Pulse weapon to knock out all the electronics, i am good to go with my vostoks and lucien Piccard.

  5. I went with quartz analog watches until 2005. By then I had become disenchanted with the business of replacing batteries and also of watchmakers being unable to repair them when something else was wrong. Thus, when a seven year old Vivaldi stopped working on me in Sofia, Bulgaria, I headed for an antique shop. Looking through an assortment of ‘vintage’ watches – mechanical, automatic, Swiss and Soviet bloc, I chose a wind-up Lip Dauphine. For $36.00, I had a gold-plated watch with the date. I couldn’t ask for anything else. Although it is worth over 100 euros in France, I would rather keep it.
    Now I have inherited two old Andre Bouchard automatics and am pondering what to do with them.

  6. i own “ticking” watches my whole military career, I especially missed my Andre Bouchard that I bought in New York 47 at circa 1972

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