What is a Quartz watch?

22nd Jan 2021


A quartz watch is a watch powered by a battery or solar cell, in which the timekeeping is regulated by a quartz crystal that vibrates at a certain frequency. Quartz watches differ from mechanical watches in that they are typically more accurate, and self-sustaining for 12 months or more.

How does a quartz watch work?

Where a mechanical watch takes its power from a wound spring transferring energy through a system of gears, a quartz watch is very different, up to a point. Power comes from a battery (or solar-charged cell) and travels through a circuit board, into a “quartz oscillator” (we’ll get to that later), back into the microchip, and then out to all the relevant parts of the watch, including the hands. Most watches nowadays use a quartz movement of one kind or another, including the watch I’m wearing right now, the Elliot Brown Canford, which uses an ISA Swiss 331-103 5-jewel quartz movement to power the watch.


Why are quartz crystals used in watches?

To understand how quartz makes a difference, you need to understand how quartz works. Quartz is in a group of substances that fall into the “Piezoelectric” category. This means under pressure, they give out small amounts of electricity, and vice-versa, when electricity is introduced to them, they vibrate. This vibration is what regulates the watch, the specific tuning-fork shape cut of the quartz and the amount of electricity run into it by the microchip, causes the quartz to vibrate at exactly 32,768 times per second, or at a rate of 32.768KHz. This vibration is known as oscillation, and causes an electrical pulse to be passed from the quartz oscillator once per second, on the last of the 32,768 vibrations. This electrical pulse is passed through the miniature stepping motor which converts the electrical power into mechanical power, driving the hands of the watch! The precise number of vibrations and the electrical stepping motor ensure the highest point of accuracy for the measurement, which in watches, is time.



Cut into a precise tuning fork shape, the quartz oscillator vibrates at 32.768KHz to power the stepping motor.

Why do some quartz watches have jewels?

Jewels in any watch serve only one purpose; to reduce friction. In the world of watchmaking, jewels are used to secure gears, and spinning parts, and other places of high friction to lower the heat caused by that friction, and ensure the overall longevity of the watch.


Why do quartz watches lose time?

This is uncommon but does happen. Quartz watch will lose time under 3 conditions normally, but all 3 can technically be avoided. The most obvious one is shock; if you drop and knock your watch, it can move the hands out of position and therefore shows the incorrect time. Some watches, such as G-Shock, are specifically designed to avoid this, and some even have a self-hand correction if it does.
The next is also slightly obvious, in as much as all battery-powered things occasionally need new batteries. Some watches will slow down when the battery runs down, others have a “low-power mode” whereby the watch pauses the second hand for 1, 2, or 3 seconds to indicate the power is low and the battery needs replacing. Under these circumstances, you should take your watches to an authorized service & repair center as soon as possible. Sometimes dead batteries can leak, and the acid, although mild, can irreparably damage the innards of a watch. If you have a solar-powered quartz watch (for example, Citizen Eco-Drive) and it goes into low-power mode, leave it in strong light for an hour or so to kickstart it back into normal mode.
The last, rarest, and most confusing, is heat. Varying temperatures can influence the watch’s parts and working capability, causing them to run differently from normal, which can slow down the speed the watch runs. This effect is lessened by two things: one, is jewelled movements. The jewels dissipate heat and help the watch run smoothly on all occasions. This is known as thermocompression. Thermocompression is an incredible technology that essentially protects the inner workings of external heat factors. Though not always advisable, actually keeping your watch on can solve this issue if you find yours suffers it. The temperature of your wrist stays pretty level, so it could help account for this, especially if you have an older quartz movement watch.