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Frequently Asked Watch Questions

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Initial post: Nov 28, 2010 12:01:00 PM PST
Last edited by the author on May 30, 2012 9:24:39 PM PDT
GRiM says:
If we are going to be providing watch guidance (which is a disturbing thought, but let's go with it) it seemed to me like it might be helpful to have a reference page so we didn't have to explain quartz vs. mechanical twenty times. Please add and correct, and we can post here often enough to keep this thread on the active list.

So, let's start off with quartz vs. mechanical.

Quartz watches are electrically powered (usually with a battery) and determine the time by the frequency of vibration in a quartz crystal. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to make. They are more accurate than mechanical watches - a basic quartz watch is accurate to within about 20 seconds per month, with others (such as certain Seiko perpetuals and the Breitling superquartz) accurate to within 2 seconds per month, and still others (such as the new Bulova Precisionist) accurate to within 1 second per month.

The second hand on most quartz watches "ticks" visibly, advancing one second at a time. There are quartz movements that advance between 5 and 16 times per second, however.

Seiko Kinetic and Citizen Eco-Drive are quartz technologies, but use movement and light, respectively, to power the watches - so in theory they don't need a battery.

Mechanical watches use springs and gears to keep time. This was the only form of watch movement until the 1960s, when electric watches (first tuning fork and then quartz) appeared. They are typically accurate to within about 20 seconds per day (so about 30x less accurate than quartz), although a good movement can be adjusted to be more accurate than that. A chronometer grade movement has been independently tested to be accurate to within +6/-4 seconds per day (still less accurate than a basic quartz movement).

The second hand on mechanical watches "sweeps" smoothly, although in fact it is just ticking more rapidly (usually 6 - 8 times per second).

The most common type of mechanical watch is automatic. It winds itself through the movement of the wearer's arm. Most can also be hand-wound. They have a power reserve of about 40 hours, so if they are not worn for two days they stop. If they are not often used, they can either be kept on a winder or simply reset to the proper time.

There are also strictly hand-wound watches which must be wound by turning the crown (they are not wound by the movement of the wearer's arm). Most Swiss and Chinese automatic movements can also be hand-wound; most Japanese automatic movements cannot.

Mechanical watches do not need batteries, but need to be serviced every five years or so. This service is fairly expensive.

Next up: authorized dealers vs. gray market. But first, courtesy of Margaret, some links to other FAQ topics:

Directory for FAQ about Watches

For the following FAQ:
Quartz vs Mechanical,
Authorized Dealer vs Gray Market,
Water Resistance,
Watch Crystals,
Anti-Reflective Coating,
Four Basic Watch Shapes,
Basic Watch Ed I

go to the following link: (or just scroll farther down this page)

For the following FAQ:
Watch Cases, Basic Watch Ed II

go to the following link:

For the following FAQ:
Basic Watch Ed III,
Types of Mechanical Movements,
Ceramic Watch Cases

go to the following link:

For the following FAQ:
Replicas vs Homages,
Watch Tiers

go to the following link:

For the following FAQ:
Dealer Selection

go to the following link:

For the following FAQ:
Geneva, Once the Center of Watchmaking

go to the following link:

For the following FAQ:
What Does "Swiss Made" Mean?

go to the following link:

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 28, 2010 12:15:38 PM PST
Good idea and well presented. Can't add anything to it. LP

Posted on Nov 28, 2010 12:22:21 PM PST
I think we can have some other FAQ like the names of watch parts, crystal materials, movement sizes, term definitions, etc.

Posted on Nov 28, 2010 1:14:50 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 28, 2010 1:15:16 PM PST
GRiM says:
Doug, absolutely. I'm just throwing out the ones I can think of. Please kick in other thoughts as well.

Authorized dealers vs. gray market.

An authorized dealer ("AD") enters into a contract directly with the watch manufacturer to distribute their watches. Buying from an authorized dealer makes the watch eligible for the manufacturer's warranty. However, the contract between the AD and the watchmaker usually limits how much discount the AD can apply in selling the watch, and may limit the sales channel (e.g., no internet sales). So an AD has less pricing flexibility than a gray market dealer. They also may be required to buy minimum quantities to hold as inventory. This brings us to the gray market.

Gray market watches are authentic watches, legally bought and sold. However, the dealer does not buy the watch from the watchmaker, and cannot offer the manufacturer's warranty. Gray market dealers generally get their watches from ADs because (i) the AD went bankrupt or is facing some other liquidity crisis, or (ii) the manufacturer stuffed the sales channel by selling too many watches to ADs, who need to get them out of their warehouse but can't openly sell them to the public at a low enough price to get rid of them.

A given retailer can be an AD for some brands and gray market for others. For example, Amazon itself is an AD for many of the basic brands like Seiko and Citizen, but gray market for higher-end brands that don't allow their ADs to sell over the internet. Costco is another example of an established retailer that is gray market for many of the brands it sells. The easiest way to tell whether a retailer is an AD is usually to look at the warranty information: if it says "manufacturer's warranty," the seller is an AD; if it says "seller's warranty," the seller is gray market.

Those are facts. Now for opinion.

Is there a problem with the gray market? Most of our regulars think not, as long as the seller is known to be reputable. See our thread "Dealers - the good, the bad and the ugly" for more details. Some caveats:

1. In my personal opinion, it's safer to buy quartz than mechanical from a gray market vendor. Quartz pretty much works or it doesn't. A reputable gray market vendor will replace the watch if it doesn't work. Mechanicals can be slightly out of specification (say, losing 30 seconds per day) and can be tricky to fix. A gray market dealer may lose patience with trying to fix it, where the manufacturer would take care of you.

2. If you're not in the same country as the gray market vendor, dealing with returns and repairs could be much more painful than dealing with the manufacturer's service center in your country.

3. There's something of a consensus on the forum that it's in bad taste to go to a bricks and mortar watch retailer, spend half an hour trying on watches, then buy the one you liked best off the internet. If the retailer spent time and took care of you, you should give them a chance to make the sale. Even ADs will generally negotiate on price - you should be able to get 20% off pretty easily.

Next up: water resistance

Posted on Nov 28, 2010 1:21:20 PM PST
GRiM says:
Water resistance.

First, bear in mind that the meters/feet of water resistance on a watch have nothing to do with being able to swim with the watch in that depth of water. That would make sense, but that's not the way it works. Instead, this is my personal rule of thumb. Some people go a bit stricter, or a bit looser, but this works for me.

- No water resistance: Don't get it wet. I mean it. It will stop working.

- Water Resistant (no rating) / 30 meters / 100 feet / 3 ATM: Splash-resistant. Suitable for washing the dishes. Don't immerse in water.

- 50 meters / 165 feet / 5 ATM: Immersion-resistant. Okay to stick your hand in the bathtub while bathing your kids. Not suitable for swimming.

- 100 meters / 330 feet / 10 ATM: Suitable for swimming. Not suitable for equipment-assisted diving.

- 200 meters / 660 feet / 20 ATM: Generally suitable for diving.

Guys, this is what I've got. I agree with Doug that crystals and complications deserve a write-up as well, but I'm leaving that for someone else.

Posted on Nov 28, 2010 7:38:33 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 29, 2010 10:33:01 PM PST
Watch Crystals

Watch crystals are made of three basic materials:

1. Acrylic. This is the least expensive and lightest of the materials. It is found on many low end watches but has also been used on high end watches as well. For instance, Omega Speedmaster Professionals still and Doxa used to use acrylic crystals due to its shatter resistance. It is extremely shatter resistant but scratches easily although the scratches can be buffed out with patience and care. Omega calls their acrylic crystals "hesalite".

2. Mineral glass. This is the most prevalent crystal material today. It is standard glass. Harder than acrylic, it scratches less easily, yet is not as brittle as sapphire. It is found on many mid level watches and give excellent service if treated with a little care.

3. Sapphire. Sapphire crystals are made of the second hardest substance on earth, corundum. They are artificial sapphires which are cut, ground and polished into watch crystals. They are extremely scratch resistant but are more brittle than mineral glass. Many middle range and almost all high end watches use sapphire glass crystals do to their high scratch resistance.

Finally there are proprietary watch crystals like Seiko's "Sapphlex", which is a mineral glass crystal with a thin sapphire glass overlay or their "Hardelex" which is a hardened mineral glass. Invicta claims to have a "flame fusion" crystal which is alleged to be a mixture of sapphire and mineral glass. The flame fusion process is method of making artificial crystals by heating minerals using an oxyhydrogen torch. It produces inferior synthetic crystals because of microscopic gas bubbles and impurities introduced into the crystal by the process.

Posted on Nov 28, 2010 8:08:51 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Jan 14, 2011 6:51:32 AM PST]

Posted on Nov 28, 2010 8:45:50 PM PST
Hitth says:
Your claims about Flame Fusion crystals that Invicta uses occasionally are not true. Flame Fusion crystals are more scratch resistant than mineral crystals and more shatter resistant than sapphire crystals.

There are also many more proprietary crystals that companies use none any better than the other.

Mineral crystals are more shatter resistant than sapphire crystals.

Posted on Nov 28, 2010 9:29:04 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 28, 2010 9:37:38 PM PST

Do NOT question me on this point. I checked with some Crystalographers at UC Berkeley and the "flame fusion" also known as the Verneuil process method produces synthetic crystals with with more microscopic bubbles and impurities than other methods of synthetic crystal production.

My friends state that Vernieul process synthetic crystals rate somewhere between Mineral glass and synthetic sapphire on the Mohs scale that is somewhere between 7 and 9 depending on the amount of impurities and gas bubbles in the crystals. There are other proprietary glass mixtures but I used the most commonly known ones as examples.

If you have proof that Invicta's "flame fusion" crystals are other than I described, other than Invicta's own sales information or the statements of Invicta owners, I would love to see it. You see, I check my information for accuracy.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 28, 2010 9:35:46 PM PST
Weef says:
Hitth, I would NOT under any circumstances question Mr. Douglas D. Love on anything. One thing I have discovered from these discussions is that he is a straight-shooter and will, if necessary, correct himself. Just now someone did kindly in a round-about-way question him about about the roman numeral six, and just like that, Doug fessed up. He has rarely been wrong about anything! So...that's just my way of saying, I would just take his word that he is correct and google for yourself other facts until you can show him a link to prove he is wrong (will probably not happen). Good luck!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 28, 2010 9:47:22 PM PST
Terrific run down by both of you guys. Thank you very much for succinctly stating watch qualities.

Hitth, flame fusion is a quickie way to make a crystal. Not saying that it is inherently bad, but not on the order of Hardelex. I've owned both. Just as food for thought, how can you sell a MSRP $1000 watch for $100 with a superior cyrstal? Flame fusion is a name game. Once again, not saying that a flame fusion crystal will begin to crack as soon as you put it on, but given the choice I'd choose Seiko's crystal every time. Take care, bud. LP

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 29, 2010 9:53:49 AM PST

From some cursory investigation it appears that sapphire is more brittle than mineral glass. I believe this has to do with the molecular structure of the glass in that glass types with a "looser" structure are more elastic and less prone to shatter. I believe that the reason that mineral glass crystals fail more often is that they scratch easier which causes a weak point in the glass.

Posted on Nov 29, 2010 10:26:45 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Jan 14, 2011 6:51:49 AM PST]

Posted on Nov 29, 2010 10:36:02 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Jan 14, 2011 8:30:31 AM PST]

Posted on Nov 29, 2010 12:21:00 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 29, 2010 12:48:15 PM PST
X says:
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Posted on Nov 30, 2010 1:15:11 PM PST
John Bonavia says:
GRiM, with some trepidation I offer a correction to your first segment, the one on watch types. Eco-drives do have a battery, except that it is rechargeable. This battery provides the power for the internal quartz movement. I believe that originally the power was stored in a capacitor, but with improvements in rechargeable battery technology, Citizen switched to battery - sometimes called "power cells."
Seiko's "kinetic" is on the same principle, but I do not know what the transducer is that converts the physical motion into electric charge. It gets a little confusing there, because sometimes the term "kinetic" is used to include basic automatic movements, non-electric.

Posted on Nov 30, 2010 1:34:51 PM PST
GRiM says:
John, thanks for clarifying. When I used the phrase "in theory they don't need a battery," I meant that both the Citizen and Seiko mechanisms were originally designed to use (and did use) a capacitor. I believe they both switched to batteries because of issues with the capacitors. I also believe they both originally advertised themselves as not requiring a battery, although they've obviously now dropped that line.

I further believe (but I'm not sure about this) that the battery isn't actually charged and discharged as long as the watch remains fully powered. I've heard people suggest you don't need to worry about burning through the charge/discharge cycles (essentially infinite on a capacitor, but limited on a battery) as long as the Eco-Drive / Kinetic is kept fully charged through light or motion... but like I said, I don't know if that's true, and don't know enough about the physics of batteries and the transduction mechanism to know if it's even plausible.

Posted on Nov 30, 2010 2:33:57 PM PST
Anti-reflective coatings.

Often you will see a watch which is advertised as having a "sapphire crystal with AR coating". The "AR" refers to "anti-reflective" which is a coating applied to glass to make it reflect less light and transmit more light to the viewer. First developed by the Germans, specifically Carl Zeiss and Company, anti-reflective glass coatings were first used on military optics during WWII. They were used to improve the efficiency of binoculars, rifle scopes and camera lenses, giving the viewer a clearer view through the lens with less glare.

The most commonly used anti-reflective coating is Magnesium Fluoride (MgF2), which is relatively inexpensive and hard wearing. Most anti-reflective coatings are applied using a vapor deposition process to achieve a thin even coat over the glass to be coated. Many optical companies use different "blends" of anti-reflective coatings to achieve the light transmission efficiency for a specific wave length that the company requires. Glasses, lenses of all types and watch crystals may all be treated with an "anti-reflective" coating to reduce glare or change the light transmission properties of the glass. For instance, low-E and UV resistant windows are coated with infrared or UV reflective coatings in order to make them more energy efficient. Solar panels may be coated with anti-reflective coatings to make them more energy efficient. The use of anti-reflective coatings on watch crystals may make a dive watch easier to read underwater or a watch easier to read in bright light due to reduced glare.

Posted on Nov 30, 2010 3:07:29 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Aug 29, 2011 3:15:22 PM PDT]

Posted on Nov 30, 2010 3:36:54 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 30, 2010 3:37:47 PM PST
GRiM says:
Doug, a couple of additional thoughts on AR coatings:

AR coatings may be placed on the inside, outside, or both sides of the crystal. The treatment is claimed to be more effective if on both sides. However, AR coatings on the outside may scratch more easily than the underlying sapphire. From experience, they also look smeary if water dries on them.

A good AR coating can make the crystal appear invisible - it looks like you could touch the watch's hands with your finger. However, I was told by the watch designer at RGM that effect actually has more to do with the placement of the crystal with respect to the bezel than with the coating. He demonstrated that point very convincingly by showing me one of their watches with an effectively invisible crystal that was not AR coated.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2010 3:40:46 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 30, 2010 3:41:59 PM PST
Weef says:
FAQs on Watch FAQs: (I'm just too lazy to re-write it)

(P.S. It's great stuff! It goes into eBay and everything!)

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2010 4:00:12 PM PST

You are correct but I was trying to give a short primer, if you will, on AR coatings.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2010 4:24:09 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 30, 2010 4:27:11 PM PST
Weef says:
THE FOUR (4) BASIC WATCH SHAPES, A visual guide (in alphabetical order)

1. ELONGATED or RECTANGLE, Considered dressier and more sophisticated than the rest. The case is often curved to fit the wrist. Popularized by Cartier's Tank Collection.

2. ROUND, The most basic type:

3. SQUARE, Often used for small fashion watches or large sporty watches:

4. TONNEAU, Describes a bed cover for a pick-up truck, or "barrel shaped." Usually a dress watch.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2010 5:05:56 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Jan 14, 2011 6:52:20 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 1, 2010 7:24:24 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 2, 2010 5:28:45 AM PST
Knowing the basics of the watch world is important when you are about to choose the time piece for you. Both Weef and GRiM have contributed to this and now I intend to take it further. The following is primarily a condensed version of Norma Buchanan's very fine article as written for the 2010 WatchTime Buyer's Guide. It is rather lengthy so I'll be dividing it into two parts. Some will be a rehash of what others have already stated.

I'll begin with some history. Wrist watches have been around since the 1800s, but they were essentially women's wear. Men clung to their pocket watches. This changed immediately following the First World War. The reason? RAF pilots needed something that they could immediately and easily tell the time with, so many of the first men's wrist watches were modified pocket watches. By the twenties men's wrist watches were firmly entrenched.

As a side light, the expression we have all heard, "Better get on the ball!", is a reference to the famous Ball watch that was responsible for regulating train schedules over a hundred years ago. It meant, "Get your timing right!" or something to that effect.

Now, there are two types of watches: mechanical and quartz. Mechanical is the original; quartz, in the form we know it now, made its debut in 1969 with Seiko. Quartz is far more common than mechanical and they are "powered by electricity stored in a battery and keep time by means of a tiny piece of quartz that oscillates at the most common rate of 32,768 times per second." There two types of quartz watches, the most common being the analog display (analog = traditional hands, digital = liquid crystal displays ((LCDs))). Then there are some that incorporate both analog and digital and they are called "anadigi" watches. Quartz is inherently more accurate than mechanical. That's because it beats faster. Most quartz watches will stay within 10 seconds per month, while good mechanicals will be off by a few minutes.

Mechanical watches come in two types as well, either automatic (self winding) or hand winding (the name suggests how you keep it powered). Mechanicals use a spring to keep them going. It is called the mainspring. Its energy is slowly unleashed as it unwinds. All timepieces require an oscillator to keep time and for mechanicals this is called the balance wheel. It is mounted on a staff that enables this wheel to move back and forth at a high rate of speed (28,800 or so times per hour --- some are faster and some slower). To control this back and forth movement a "tiny, delicate spring called the balance spring or hairspring" is used.

Automatic watches do not need winding, provided they are on your wrist for most of the day. Fully wound most of them will go a day and a half to two days without winding down and stopping. There are some that will go a week or more, but these are generally very expensive and to my way of thinking unnecessary unless you trade off watches regularly and only expect to wear it once a week or so. Hand winders, as the name suggests, need to be manually wound, usually once a day, but they too will have a power reserve feature ("power reserve" refers to how long a watch will go when fully charged before it quits).

Quartz, because they have few moving parts, seldom if ever requires movement cleaning. A big plus. However, most of them do require battery changes at the two to three year mark. There are quartzes that don't require battery changes, but I won't go into them right now. Mechanicals, on the the hand, do need to be cleaned on a fairly regular basis, usually around five years. Mechanicals have hundreds of tiny parts that need periodical cleaning and lubricating. They don't need batteries, though.

Servicing for a mechanical can be expensive, depending upon brand, and it does mean that you will be without your watch for up to six weeks or thereabouts. The reason for the length of servicing is mostly because the watch must be sent to an authorized service center for the work, especially if it is highly water resistant, when seals must be replaced and new water resistant tests have to be conducted. As John has pointed out, service work can be considerably faster if you can take your timepiece in locally for the work.

I believe that this is enough to chew on for the time being. We will get into more, including "complications" (the things that a watch can do; e.g., the date is a complication), some discussion on case material, and which would better fit you, quartz or mechanical.

I hope that you find this informative. When you are armed with knowledge, even of the most basic sort, you are able to make better decisions. Take care, all. LP
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