(photo courtesy of: https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/does-great-movement-finishing-mean-a-great-watch)
You have probably heard these terms being thrown around on watch blogs or product descriptions, but they often do not get into any further detail. Here, we will be discussing the differences and what makes each type of movement unique. First thing to know, is that quartz movements we introduced after automatic and manual movements existed. The newly developed quartz movement put the future of automatic and manual movements at risk. So another question that we will answer is why we still use automatic movements today.
The introduction of the quartz movement in 1969 was an incredible development and feat of engineering, but it caused quite a stir in the watch industry. The profitability, popularity, and notoriety of many notable Swiss watch brands was being severely endangered by this new technology. Quartz movements were, at the time, much more accurate, cheaper, and faster to produce. The result is that customers started fleeing from Swiss horological houses to Japanese competitor brands.
The first authentic Quartz movement was developed by Japanese engineers at Seiko, and released in the Seiko Astron. So how does the quartz movement work? It gives power to the movement by passing an electrical current from a battery through a quartz crystal. That, now electrified, crystal vibrates at a precise frequency which is then harnessed to oscillate the movement and drive the motor. Using the known frequency of the crystal vibrations, the quartz movement will know to move the second hand once the crystal has oscillated a precise number of times.
(photo courtesy of: https://www.asorockwatches.com/blogs/how-to/quartz-vs-automatic-the-watch-movements)
An automatic movement is often considered a manual counterpart quartz movement. They work by storing energy in a mainspring, and releasing the energy over time. The energy harnessed in the mainspring is transferred, when needed, into the barrels then on to the gear trains which power the movement. Gear trains provide energy to the balance wheel, which is considered the timekeeping element of the watch. Similarly to the quartz crystal, the balance wheel will oscillate at a certain, constant frequency, which in turn is used to measure time. The general rule of thumb is that faster oscillating balance wheels are more accurate.