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Why Are Mechanical Watches Worth So Much More Than Quartz Watches?

Mark C. from Hawaii asks:

Why is a quartz three hander (with date) worth half what the same watch would be with an ETA 2824-2 automatic movement?

I know why we watch geeks think it is worth more. But, try explaining to regular people the watch price difference when the movement price difference is no more than $150 (and that’s generous in most cases).

Not that they know what movements cost, but it still a valid question that gets asked by people what are not into watches. Even a 4x cost multiplier of costs to retail cost does not account for the difference in most cases.

The answer is “perception.” Watch brands who sell mechanical watches often place a premium on mechanical watches over quartz watches because all mechanical watches sort of want to be nearer in perception to beautiful hand-made mechanical watches. At the top of the movement spectrum, are gorgeous hand-made and decorated mechanical movements that can take many months to produce. Your typical quartz movement takes just a few minutes. Having said that, most mechanical movements that end up in watches people buy are closer to the mass-produced quartz movements in terms of their costs and production time. From a price perspective, most quartz movements are half, or less of what mechanical movements cost. For this, we are using ETA movement prices. And, via Ofrei, you can see prices of Swiss ETA quartz movements versus prices of ETA mechanical movements to see what we mean.

Alternatively, when a quartz watch costs similar to a similar mechanical one, brands must artificially price it low in order to justify the mechanical watch premium. There have been tons of fantastic high-end quartz watches out there priced very fairly because brands don’t want them stealing thunder from mechanicals.

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  • JustFactsPlz

    The price of the quartz movements are significantly lower than the mechanical. Also ‘in house’ movements are built to MUCH more exacting standards than the mass produced ETA. Or am I missing something here?

    • magice

      With all due respect: if you care about “performance” (i.e. +-x seconds for y period), you would avoid MECHANICAL movements like plague. These days, any Fossil watch has better performance than highest level Rolex. Sure, you need to change battery on the Fossil, but then you also need to service your Rolex. Guess which one is more expensive? And let’s not talk about, says, shock resistance, which mechanical watches simply suck at. Or convenience (mechanical watches demand at least weekly power-up; quartz requires annual power-up).

      A side note on “craftsmanship”: there are more types of craftsmanship than mere watchmaking. For example, a well crafted watch case (you know, the metal box that contains the movement) is worth many times more than run-off-the-mill automatic movements. Or, a heat-blued hand requires more investment than sourcing ETA. A beautiful dial (e.g. enamel, engraving, etc.) is worth dozens of times more than the movement. Finally, it takes a lot to design a good watch, i.e. to select the right style of case, dial, hands, etc.

      And any of these craftsmanship can be paired with a good quartz movement just fine. Nothing says that an enameled dial must must must go in front of a mechanical movement. Or, I would prefer a quartz tool watch to a mechanical one, for all the reason above.

      This is not to say that quartz is superior to mechanical in all/most cases. My most prized watches are mechanical, after all. But I do want to point out that each watch, regardless of the technologies employed in its production, should be evaluated holistically and on its own merit. A Grand Seiko quartz exists a separate class of existence from a Casio. A Casio, in turn, is fundamentally different from a Fossil. Treating all of them equally (i.e. avoidance because they are “quartz”) is like saying “yo, your 386 computer is same as my Intel i7 Baby Kale laptop”. And how ridiculous is the computer statement?

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