Quartz watches have been around for decades, and they nearly bankrupted the entire Swiss watch industry. But have you ever stopped to wonder, how does a quartz watch actually work? Well, wonder no more, because we’re about to dive into the inner workings of a quartz watch and see how it keeps time with such accuracy.
First things first, let’s define what a quartz watch is. Simply put, a quartz watch is a type of watch that uses a quartz crystalQuartz Crystal A quartz crystal is a piece of quartz that has been cut and shaped to vibrate at a specific frequency when an electric current is applied to it. This frequency is known as the resonant frequency, and is determined by the crystal's size and shape. The quartz crystal oscillates at this precise frequency and generates a very stable electrical signal, which is used to keep time in quartz watches. The quartz crystal is placed in a circuit, called the oscillator circuit, that uses the electrical signal to drive the watch's motor, which moves the watch's hands. [Learn More] to keep time. It’s all about the quartz crystal indeed. As it is such a critical component, brands such as (Grand) Seiko for example literally grow their own crystals in-house.
The quartz crystal oscillates at a consistent frequency, which is used to keep time with great accuracy. But how does the quartz crystal oscillate at a consistent frequency, you ask? Well, it’s all thanks to a tiny little thing called an oscillator. The oscillator is a small circuit that generates an electrical signal, which is sent to the quartz crystal. This electrical signal causes the quartz crystal to vibrate, and these vibrations are used to keep time.
Now, let’s talk about the battery. If you ask anyone what a quartz watch is, they are more likely to say it is a watch that requires a battery, than they are to say it is a watch that has a quartz crystal. Anyway, if you read the previous paragraph, you should understand that the battery is critical to a quartz watch, as it is providing the power that drives the oscillator.
The battery sends a constant electrical current to the oscillator, which keeps the quartz crystal vibrating at a consistent frequency. In a quartz watch the battery is essentially what the mainspringMainspring The mainspring is a spiral-shaped metal spring that stores energy in a mechanical watch movement. It is located inside the barrel. The mainspring is wound, either manually or automatically. The mainspring unwinds over time, and the watch will stop running when the mainspring is fully unwound. [Learn More] and barrelBarrel The barrel is a cylindrical container that holds the mainspring. The barrel is connected to the winding mechanism. The winding mechanism rotates the barrel, which in turn winds the mainspring. [Learn More] are to a mechanical watch. Note that a Spring DriveSpring Drive A Spring Drive movement, pioneered by Grand Seiko, is a type of mechanical watch movement that combines the traditional mechanics of a mechanical watch with the precision of a quartz watch. It uses a mainspring as the source of energy, just like a mechanical watch, but instead of using a traditional escapement, it uses a quartz crystal to regulate the release of energy. The Spring Drive movement is considered to be highly accurate, and is known for its smooth, gliding seconds hand. [Learn More] movement is the odd duck in this story, as it uses a quartz crystal but no battery.
Next up, we have the step motor. The step motor is responsible for converting the electrical signals generated by the oscillator into physical movement. The step motor is connected to the hands of the watch, and it uses precise electrical signals to move the hands, keeping time with great accuracy. And last but not least, we have the control circuit.
The control circuit is the brain of the quartz watch, responsible for controlling the oscillator and step motor. The control circuit receives signals from the oscillator and battery, and it uses these signals to control the step motor, ensuring that the watch keeps accurate time.
In a nutshell, a quartz watch is a sophisticated piece of technology, using a quartz crystal, battery, oscillator, step motor, and control circuit to keep time with great accuracy.