Why? What's it All About?

Who would spend thousands of dollars on a quartz watch?? I hear it all the time. But, to my mind, a lot of people have got it backwards. I mean, who would spend thousands of dollars on a watch that cannot keep good time and has a gliding second hand that makes precise judgement of the passing of time impossible???

Horology has always been (at its core) about the pursuit of ever more accurate measurement of time. Makers of mechanical watches even put 'dead beat' mechanisms in their watches so that the beginning and end of each second could be precisely noted. It was a real feat of engineering and these watches were held up as the pinacle of high accuracy watchmaking. So where did it all go wrong? Why do those who turn their noses up at quatz watches (and proudly boast of the fact that they have never owned one) put so much pride in something so flawed as a modern mechanical watch?

"5 seconds per day is good enough for anyone!" "No-one really needs quartz accuracy!"

Rot! No-one needs a car that is capable of going faster than the speed limit, either. No-one needs a mobile 'phone that can do more than just make 'phone calls. Yet I'll bet just about every owner of an expenisve mechanical watch has both of those things. Fine; enjoy your steam engines. They're lovely things. I appreciate them, too. But I'd rather have a Bugatti Veyron.

And that's where HAQ comes in. Most quartz watches represent the move from a steam engine to a Ford Cortina. A modern HAQ represents a supercar.

"A mechanical watch has soul! A quartz is just a cheap piece of junk!"

Rot! No watch has a flippin' 'soul'. They have gear trains and escapements and all sorts of clever bits but they are just tools. Little machines for telling the time. And a high end quartz watch can take loads more engineering and skilled assembly than a mechanical watch.

I honestly think that people who side with mechanicals often do so because they feel a sense of safety in the familiar. We can marvel in wonder at the intricacy of the tiny parts and the skill of the master craftsman, but we still feel we understand mechanical watches, at heart. They are, after all, just a collection of springs and gears, and we get that. It makes sense to us. And we can be confident that such a watch will last a hundred years.

Quartz, on the other hand, is a mystery. People don't understand how it works and they cannot 'connect' to it on a personal level. It's microprocessors and electronics and those things fail and can't be fixed. You cannot see what's going on in the movement and no-one can really explain it to you. Plus, of course, if you can turn out a quartz watch for 5 dollars that'll keep good enough time, then what on Earth could possibly justify the thousands of dollars that a HAQ costs? It's not 'thousands' of times more accurate, is it? And at its core, it's basically the same cheap-o technology, right?

Well, would you believe there was a time when the Swiss led the world in quartz watches? Developing the first quartz movement that would fit inside a wristwatch was a mammoth undertaking, but it was felt that quartz was the future. An enormously expensive technology, quartz would feature only in the most advanced, high precision watches. Rolex, Omega, Girard Perregaux (and many more besides) all got in on the action. At that time, you see, these brands still promoted their product lines in terms of their unsurpassed accuracy. That the reliable, accurate quartz movements would soon be mass-produced for relatively little cost outside of the Swiss consortium was not particularly well anticipated, and soon consumers were voting with their wallets and choosing cheap, accurate watches over the Swiss offerings. The ensuing 'quartz crisis' saw several Swiss brands collapse while others were saved by the Swatch Group and by-and-large they all retreated to the safety of mechanicals. Ironically, Swatch's own iconic quartz watch played a great part in bouying the Swiss watch industry with much needed funds.

So how do we get back to the Bugatti? Imagine a watch that has taken years of research and experimentation to perfect. Is made largely by hand by highly trained and experienced craftsmen. Uses a completely in-house, 'manufacture' movement. Has hundreds of intricate moving parts. Uses bespoke alloys and the very best hand-picked components. Is tested to the most exacting standards. Is made in very small numbers and hand finished to an extraordinary level by master crafstmen. Is dependable and accurate and is guaranteed to last a lifetime. Now imagine it's a quartz.

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