The State of HAQ

I shall keep this brief.

Years ago, high accuracy quartz watches could (mostly) be adjusted. Even the odd Citizen, now and then, had adjustment terminals. These days, only Grand Seiko retain this offering. Every other HAQ either cannot be adjusted at all or must be sent back to the manufacturer. This is a great loss to the tinkerer and enthusiast, and an expensive and time-consuming impediment to the collector.

Not too long ago, there were perpetual calendars and independently adjustable hour hands aplenty. Never in the high-end Seikos, I grant you, but in the cheaper Seikos and in ETAs and in Citizens. ETA still produce a few movements with 'time zone' features, but not with perpetual calendars and (as far as I know) not with independently adjustable hour hands. The gradual disappearance of functions that a HAQ enthusiast tends to find useful is, of course, a negative point in my view.

There are, however, a number of very positive points. Citizen continues to use independently adjustable hour hands and perpetual calendars in their premium range of watches. They also have the tightest spec. in the industry (5 SPY), a very robust duratec coating on their steel and great solar-power tech, to boot!

ETA continue to develop new HAQ movements, even though some of the newest are now made from cheaper materials and produced in such a way that they cannot be serviced. The lower price point is perhaps the reason why we have seen more brands adopting HAQ movements. This, surely, must be a good thing, as high accuracy quartz shouldn't be a geeky, expensive niche. 10 SPY should be the expectation, not the exception. And this move by ETA could see HAQ in the hands of the masses. A HAQ crisis for the Japanese brands? If so, I can envisage Citizen becoming for the Japanese what Rolex became for the Swiss: the stalwart; the hold-out; the maker of exceptional watches that are just better than that cheap, mass-produced stuff. Hm. We'll see.

For ETA, the move to sell lower-cost, high accuracy movements must surely be calculated to capitalise on the growing market of small, independent and niche watch brands. Why buy a Japanese Miyota movement when, for not very much more, you can boast that your watches use Swiss movements and even that they are COSC-certified chronometers? On the other hand, a TC movement from ETA will still cost a lot more than a non-TC Miyota, so while ETA may increase their sales, I don't expect to see a sea change in the industry. Citizen's and Seiko's HAQ movements aren't exactly under threat because those are only ever used in their own products anyway. It does raise a legitimate question about the price attached to Japanese HAQs, though, and ultimately we may see Citizen and Seiko fundamentally re-evaluating the cost-benefit model of their HAQ ranges.

With RC, GPS and internet-connected watches promising (even if somewhat falsely) 1 second accuracy per thousand years, makers of high accuracy quartz watches may be reaching the same decision that makers of mechanical watches once faced: that there is no point trying to squeeze very much better accuracy out of the technology because it will simply never keep as good time as the new alternatives. This may be why we're seeing plenty of chronographs and moonphases but no new levels of accuracy. Of course, not everyone wants a huge GPS watch or a smartwatch. Not everyone can receive a radio time broadcast. Not everyone is interested in atomic-level accuracy. Plenty of people would still like a nice, simple quartz watch that doesn't need all that extra stuff and is just accurate on its own, so there is still a market for watches that can boast good inherent accuracy. By going cheap at a time when big brands such as Omega are abandoning quartz, ETA seems to be trying to grow the HAQ market amongst low-cost brands. With their high-piced HAQ offerings still largely confined to the Japanese market, Seiko and Citizen are yet to show any sign of what their next move may be.

Beyond the main players, newcomers MorgenWerk and Hoptroff have each released watches that claim thermocompensated accuracy of 1 SPY or better. That's a very big claim to make. The biggest and best in the industry won't promise more than 5 or 10 SPY. So, it's a claim I take with a pinch of salt. It is also an unusual mix of accuracies as Hoptroff pairs its super-accurate movement with internet-sync'd techonology and MorgenWerk does the same with GPS technology. So, these two companies are offering the most accurate quartz movements on the planet... in watches that already have an unbeatable time-keeping boast built in! I'm not complaining, and I think HAQ collectors will love this approach, but I do wonder how these brands intend to carve a niche for their products. Prior to MorgenWerk's release, Citizen had upped the GPS game by offering a 5 SPM F900. This was music to HAQ collectors' ears, as grumblings about GPS watches losing a second or more per day are fairly commonplace. Still, some wondered why Citizen couldn't have stuck a 10 SPY movement in the F900, since movements like the G530 are fairly inexpensive. And yet, what has been the wider impact of the F900's higher inherent accuracy? Nothing immediately discernable. Citizen haven't really made a big deal about it and the industry's response has been a bit of a yawn. Outside of HAQ circles, consumer reaction to Citizen's improved accuracy offering is not so much a yawn as the rasping snores of deep sleep.

So, in summary, Seiko have abandoned various older HAQ movements, including their lower-cost, feature-rich 8F range, and now focus their efforts on their premium 9F calibre. Citizen still make a few cheaper HAQ calibres (such as the G530), but these, too, lack some of the features of their predecessors (such as the perpetual calendar of the E510). Citizen are continuing to develop new premium HAQ calibres with solar power, and these continue to be feature-rich, lacking only that crucial rate trimmer. ETA still has a number of premium offerings but these now lack the perpetual calendars and rate trimmers of the past. The Swiss maker's move to create a range of relatively low-cost HAQ movements may signal a strategic shift to target new, small-brand clients in the face of dropping high end adpotion of quartz and the coming of age of GPS and smartwatches with their unbeatable time-keeping claims. Two, small, indpependent firms aside, the industry no longer seems to be developing higher accuracy quartz movements.

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