Quartz watches were once the juggernaut that nearly overtook the industry and upended the otherwise complacent watch world half a century ago. Their meteoric rise in the ’70s and ’80s took the world by storm thanks to accuracy, reliability, and virtually zero maintenance needs. The mechanical watch industry, 50 percent of which was Swiss dominated, rested on its laurels without any real competition until Seiko made the quartz watch mainstream with the release of the Astron, and the demand for battery-powered watches skyrocketed as a result.
The hit to mechanical watches was dramatic, and it was uncertain whether they would ever revive. The fact that this occurred during the digital revolution made things even more of an uphill battle for traditional watchmaking and the luxury watch business. Quartz watches were insanely accurate and tremendously affordable, making them attractive to the masses, as well as truly attainable. Thankfully, both quartz and mechanical timepieces harmoniously coexist today, and even premium watch brands have adopted quartz movements in some of their timepieces.
How Do Quartz Watches Work?
In the simplest of terms, a quartz movement is powered by an electrical charge provided by a small battery, which then passes through a circuit and sends the charge to a long, thin quartz tuning fork. The charge causes the quartz tuning fork crystal to vibrate at a tremendously high rate, driving the second hand via a small motor. The result is an accuracy of -/+ 15 seconds per month–once unheard for mechanical watches that typically get within +/- 5 seconds per day. Quartz watches never have to be wound like mechanical watches and don’t operate based on the wearer’s movement like a mechanical automatic (or self-winding) watch.
Why Should You Buy a Quartz Watch?
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more dependable, lower-maintenance watch than a battery-powered quartz. Alkaline batteries last between two to four years, while those with lithium batteries can go up to six years. Service intervals are far longer than mechanical watches–up to a decade in many cases. These reasons alone are sufficient to take a serious look at quartz. Then there are solar-powered quartz watches that use rechargeable batteries that don’t need to be replaced for 10 to 20 years. They’re charged by a solar cell that converts light energy into electronic energy, which is used to power the watch. For those who value peerless accuracy, as well as seriously low maintenance, over the art of mechanical movements, quartz simply can’t be beaten.
The Best Quartz Watches You Can Buy Right Now
Timex Waterbury Chronograph
For barely more than $200, you can get a quartz chronograph that will get more looks than a watch that comes in at four times the price. The Waterbury Chrono measures in a 41mm and its three colored subdials pop vividly against the silver sunburst dial. It also gets functional pushers, a polished tachymeter bezel, and an intricate matching stainless steel bracelet. Other details like scratch and impact-resistant mineral glass, an etched Waterbury caseback, and 100 meters of water resistance equate to everyday toughness. The quartz movement should perform excellent timekeeping duties, of course.
Mondaine EVO2 43mm
If your sense of style is modern and minimalist, the EVO2 is a perfect fit. Born from Swiss railway clocks, Mondaine’s timepieces are pretty much miniature versions with simple markers and hands contrasted against a monochromatic dial. This 43mm EVO2 is decidedly large and bold, and the simple case and lugs are offset by the red lollipop second hand and the red crown element. Power comes from a reliable Swiss Ronda 513 quartz movement with hacking seconds a three-year battery life.
VAER R1 USA Racing Chronograph
One of Vaer’s latest offerings steers away from its excellent field and dive watch efforts and heads for automotive racing. It’s inspired by vintage ’60s racing watches, and the result is a bold cushion style case, traditional chrono pushers, a cream dial, and bold subdials. It has a meca-quarts movement that allows for a smooth second-hand sweep, true chronometer functionality, sapphire glass, and 100 meters of water resistance. It also comes in two different sizes at 38mm and 42mm, so you can choose what fits you best. It’s also fully-assembled in America for excellent quality. It comes on a black rubber Tropic strap and a second strap in Horween leather, nylon, or a stainless steel jubilee. It’s one of the slickest quartz chronos that has surfaced recently.
Shinola Runwell 41
The Runwell 41mm in green is a bold statement of a watch that leans more on rich color than it does radical styling. The 41mm polished steel case has a beautifully curved fixed bezel and elegant wire lugs. The rich green dial gets applied Arabic numerals and there’s plenty of lume to go around. The small seconds dial punctuates it nicely, too. The watch face is protected by a double-domed sapphire glass crystal, and timekeeping duties are the responsibility of a Swiss Argonite 1069 quartz movement assembled in Detroit. The stunning timepiece is one that will get plenty of compliments and it looks equally great worn casually or with something a bit more put together.
Hamilton PSR Digital Quartz
The great thing about quartz-powered watches is that you can opt for a totally unorthodox look like the PSR Digital. It’s an homage to the original Pulsar red LED watch from 1970, albeit far less power-draining. This time around, it gets a hybrid LCD/OLED digital display that conserves power and saves your eyes at night, while the bold TV-shaped case’s wide fixed bezel frames the screen. You can even choose PVD black for the case and braclet, a colorway not available back in the day. And just in case you wonder if digital is cool, it’s cool enough for 007 to wear it.
Seiko Astron SSH107
This modern version of the original Seiko quartz legend is packed with nothing but the best: a 42.7mm titanium case, sapphire glass with AR coating, and a brilliant quartz Caliber 5X53 movement that’s a direct descendent of the original Astron movement but this time with solar power, GPS-controlled time zone adjustment, multiple time zones, and a full perpetual calendar. There’s even an ingenious airplane mode that shuts off the GPS signal when you’re in flight. The GMT bezel, grey subdials, and integrated bracelet complement the modern look perfectly. It’s the rightful heir to the Astro legacy.
Sinn UX EZM 2 B GSG9
To call the super-tough, over-engineered UX EZM 2 a simple quartz watch is almost an offense. Not only is the case made out of submarine steel, but it’s also hardened via Sinn’s proprietary Tegiment technology that renders the case and bracelet highly scratch resistant. Other Sinn tech includes hydro oil tech that renders it supremely legible underwater, as well as extreme anti-magnetic protection. The movement is an ETA 955.65 high-precision quartz movement that’s temperature compensated by way of unique cuts that can cancel out the wear-and-tear of dramatic temperature changes. The fact that it’s the official watch of German special forces could just be enough to take the purchase plunge on this bad boy.
TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 200 Solargraph
The newest entrant in the edgy and sporty Aquaracer line gets super-reliable, long-lasting solar quartz power via the Tag Heuer Solargraph movement. Sand-blasted matte-finished Grade 2 titanium makes up case, dodecagonal bezel, and the solid link bracelet to keep things light and resilient. The black louvered sunray dial adds dimension, and the popping teal second hand on the dark face matches the lume on the minute hand. It’s also dive-ready at 200 meters, but it might also be one of the best all-around sports watches on the planet.
If you want to see the words “quartz” and “sophisticated” in the same sentence, that pairing resides in the description of the Santos-Dumont. The chunkier version of the narrower Cartier Tank watch emits a more masculine look, while remaining true to the Cartier ethos. The square steel case, bold Roman numerals, blued-steel hands with matching blue cabochon crown, and the silver sunray dial carry forward the Cartier legacy. The movement is a high-autonomy quartz with six years of power, and the sapphire glass crystal means it’s more than just a pretty face. The blue alligator leather strap and ornate ardillon buckle round out the stunning set.
Breitling Aerospace Evo
The tough and techy analog-digital Aerospace has been around since 1985 and has been revised many times. its latest iteration is clad in a 43mm titanium case that houses a chronometer-certified SuperQuartz caliber movement paired with crown-activated controls that operate a 1/100th of a second chronograph, a countdown timer, second time zone, alarm, minute repeater, and calendar which all show up in the twin digital displays. This is one quartz watch that doesn’t mess around.