Selling Points that Don’t Sell Me: Quartz Snobbery

Snob is a loaded, and sometimes divisive word in horology. Being called a snob, or calling someone a snob, is a quick way to draw blood by attacking someone’s particular approach to enthusiasm. As an enthusiast who cherishes the community aspect of this hobby, I’ve always been proud that my foundation in this hobby was built on the absence of snobbery. Or so I thought. 

I’m a frugal guy, and enthusiasm on a budget is a common theme in most of my articles. A keen eye for value shaped my early days in the hobby- an approach I haven’t managed to shake. For years, I assumed that embracing watches in all price brackets was enough to rid myself of any snobbery. 

But the more I “learned” about watches, the more I noticed snobbery seeping into my opinions, and in some cases stopping me from experiencing some truly awesome watches. I’d fawn over the latest Lorier release, only to question how a Hesalite crystal would hold up to an active lifestyle. Or I’d opt not to experience a 5 ATM field watch that I truly liked, instead compromising for 10 and 20 ATM alternatives.

A quartz crystal, a small part of which is bound for a Grand Seiko 9F caliber

I’ve since gone through an un-learning process thanks to a handful of watches that challenged what I thought I knew and allowed me to expand my horological horizons by kicking some snobby tendencies. For the next few installments of Selling Points That Don’t Sell Me, let’s explore some selling points that DO sell me after challenging my own opinions. Today, let’s start with the big one- the 32768 Hz frequency elephant in the room with a tuning fork made out of a tiny piece of crystal. That’s right: quartz snobbery.

In the first installment of this series I shared how my origin story in this hobby began with the realization that not all modern watches have batteries. Learning that mechanical movements weren’t just a thing of the past blew my mind. And honestly, it still does. The idea of cramming dozens of components into a 40 mm case and then using those components to track time (not to mention other complications like moon phases, chronographs and even perpetual calendars) is ridiculous. The fact that humans continue to dedicate their lives to this pursuit, slowly perfecting the art over centuries, is nothing short of inspiring.

Despite quartz technology being innovative enough to be a bombshell luxury in 1969, upend the entire Swiss industry and even get a crisis named after itself, it’s always failed to captivate me in the same way mechanical movements do. I’ve never stayed up late thinking about a piece of quartz vibrating with the help of a battery in the same way I think about pallet forks locking escape wheels and pushing balance wheels in a constant dance. Maybe that’s because I always sort of knew that’s how quartz watches worked, robbing the chance for any ‘ah ha’ moment. Or maybe because involving a battery and using fewer components simply makes quartz technology less romantic.

For years, I foolishly let my lack of fascination with quartz technology rob me of experiencing its wonders. That all changed with a collection of heirloom quartz Seiko watches that spent a decade unworn in a drawer. I recently wrote about how these watches solidified my lack of desire to own a grail watch

As a parent, I’m no stranger to changing watch batteries. My kids, young enough to still be in the “dad is cool” phase, have inherited a love for watches. When one of their miniature quartz timepieces stops ticking, it’s become a quick process to dig into our growing trove of batteries with long codes such as SR626SW and bring their watches back to life just as we do with TV remotes, RC cars and smoke detectors.

With the routine down, I didn’t think twice about swapping the batteries in my wife’s newly inherited Seiko collection. After I opened the watches to check the battery types I would need, I felt relieved to learn no battery acid had leaked over the past 10 years (PSA to remove batteries from any dead watches you have sitting around). After that discovery, I had full faith the watches would come back to life with a round of fresh batteries. And, they did. 

Even though I expected it, god damn did it excite me. I’d revived many quartz watches before, but something felt different about these Seikos sitting dormant in a drawer for thousands of days, only to come roaring back to life with extreme accuracy from the simple act of swapping a battery. It was the romantic, ‘ah ha’ moment I’d been missing and made me want to immediately atone for my quartz sins and go out and buy the nearest Casio, 9F Grand Seiko, or whatever else I’d been missing out on.

As someone constantly valorizing mechanical watches, it’s only fair to acknowledge some of their limitations. I love gifting homemade watches, and at this point I’ve got a speech memorized for recipients. It includes all the standard tips for how to care for their delicate new timepiece: don’t drop it, don’t change the date between 9:00 and 3:00, stay away from magnets, and activities that might not be suitable to do in their new watch such as golfing and chopping wood, customized depending on the wearer. I try to end the speech with “have fun, beat it up, and just let me know if it breaks”, but have been met with wide eyes as if I just gave a burden instead of a gift. In stark contrast, my daughter’s quartz Timex has snuck into the washing machine twice and is doing just fine.

Enthusiasts, and I’m guilty of this myself, have a tendency to assume mechanical movements are also superior or more exclusive than quartz because they command a higher price. But while price tags on our favorite watches may be steep, the core technology is anything but. When I’m building a mechanical watch for a gift, the movement is often one of the cheaper components. I’ve gifted watches where I spent more money on a strap than an NH35. Sure, an NH35 might cost more than a run-of-the-mill quartz movement, but only by a matter of dollars.

A fascination with mechanical movements will probably always remain at the core of my love for watches. And that’s OK. We are all here because something excited us about watches, and because embracing that something brings us joy. But in my un-learning process as I challenge what I thought I knew, I’m looking forward to finding excitement in avenues I haven’t previously explored. With the world of quartz now open to me, I’m looking forward to owning my first chronograph, a genre I’ve previously avoided out of wariness for the cost of ownership of mechanical chronographs. Stay tuned for the next installment of Selling Points that Don’t Sell Me, as I continue the un-learning process, kick snobby habits I didn’t know I had, and experience awesome watches along the way.

Related Posts
Nathan Schultz is a New Hampshire based writer, equally obsessed with watches and outdoor gear. He specializes in dad jokes, breaking NH35s while modifying watches, and testing the limits of recreational equipment. Micro brands hold a special place in his heart, and he aspires to stop buying and selling so many darn watches.