We have previously spoken about the intricate workings of a carriage clock or Grandfather clock and delved into the careful cleaning of a pocket watch, but one area we haven’t yet explored is quartz. Whilst not something spotted in antique clocks, it’s been around since the 1920s and began the transition from mechanical clocks to battery-operated.

For many of us, our watches, and indeed our clocks are built with a quartz mechanism. Have you ever wondered how it works though? In this edition of our blog, we explain.

What is a quartz clock?

A quartz clock, in appearance, may look much the same as many other antique clocks for sale that you see. But inside, it is very much different. Powered by an electrical current from a battery, there are still the gears inside like you would find in a mechanical clock, but instead of relying on a pendulum or balance wheel to keep time, the gears rely on the capabilities of a quartz crystal.

Quartz is a piezoelectric material meaning it generates a small, safe, and measurable electrical current when heat or stress is applied to it. However, once you pass electricity through it, it vibrates, and it is those vibrations that are essential to the timekeeping of the quartz clock or watch.

When was the first quartz clock?

Despite the piezoelectric properties of quartz being discovered in 1880, it wasn’t until almost 50 years later that it made its way into timekeeping. In 1927, a Canadian engineer called Warren Marrison, who was working for Bell Telephone Laboratories developed a clock utilising the capabilities of quartz. This was seen as revolutionary as they were found to be more accurate timekeepers than the mechanical ones that preceded them. It was noted that in many cases, a quartz clock would lose just one second in three years. Such was its accuracy, that throughout the 40’s and 50’s, scientists adopted them for their laboratories and astronomers incorporated them into their observatories.

The first quartz clock though wasn’t the sleek, stylish clock we see today. It wouldn’t even be able to hang on the living room or kitchen wall. Sized bigger than a wardrobe, it filled a lot of wall space!

How do quartz clocks work?

Relying on vibrations from the quartz crystal to keep time, a quartz clock doesn’t require winding as the more traditional clocks do. These vibrations regulate time, vibrating at a very specific frequency. Powered by a battery, electricity is sent to the quartz, as the electricity reaches the quartz, it causes it to vibrate 32,678 times per second.  These vibrations translate to one electronic pulse per second, and it is these pulses that then power the gear wheels that move the hands around the clock.

What is the difference between a quartz clock and a mechanical clock?

Whilst in appearance some mechanical and quartz clocks look the same, underneath they are significantly different. Where mechanical clocks need winding and rely on constantly spinning gears to keep time, the quartz clock just needs its electrical pulse. Comparatively, mechanical clocks have their hands constantly moving in a smooth, fluid movement. While quartz clocks have a more sudden and fast movement.

This can often be a key differential when purchasing a clock as some people prefer the movement of a mechanical clock. That being said, both deliver reliable timekeeping and varied designs that can suit all decors.

How long does a quartz clock last?

Being battery-powered, you may expect the need to change the power supply of a quartz clock frequently but that’s not the case at all. They use so little power that in many cases, you could have a quartz clock run for a few years before needing to change the battery.

What is better? Quartz or mechanical?

At The Clock Clinic, we appreciate the intricacies of antique timepieces but also enjoy the evolution of timekeeping and how horologists develop new and improved methods to enhance their products. If you are shopping for a new clock and are torn between whether to go for quartz or mechanical, there are a few things you should think about. Much comes down to personal preference but using our four tips below may help.

Accuracy:

In general, a quartz clock is more accurate than a mechanical clock and with it being battery-powered, rather than wound, you may find it a better option if accuracy is important.

Maintenance:

There shouldn’t be much to do in terms of maintenance to a quartz clock as there are fewer moving parts compared to a mechanical clock. Mechanical clock servicing is occasionally required and helps keep your clock at its best. Much here depends on preference.

Appearance:

A mechanical, more traditional clock looks more appealing than a quartz clock. The amount of time spent by craftsman carefully creating the clock is showcased in the overall appearance.  This helps give them a more unique style and can enhance the character of your home. A quartz clock is a little more generic and may not help accentuate the qualities you would like to showcase.

Cost:

Often a deciding factor, quartz clocks are in general cheaper. The manufacturing costs are so much lower, and as a result, they can sell for a smaller fee. That being said, mass production, for low cost, often leaves more poor-quality items on the market. A mechanical clock requires much more care to be assembled, and whilst more expensive, may deliver you more longevity, giving you more value for money over the long term.

 

Overall, we prefer mechanical clocks, the history, the styles, the appearance. For us, they all tick the boxes of what we look for in a clock. If you are a lover of all things traditional and looking for a mechanical longcase clock for sale or need antique timepiece restoration for the clock you currently own, contact our team. Our years as horologists put us at the forefront of both classic and modern timepieces. Whether it be for sales or maintenance, The Clock Clinic can help.