Status: It's Complicated
In my September clocks and watches article, I received a lot of good information from my sources, more than I could fit into the magazine. Reproduced below is a sidebar with Bill Peak of Belair Time Corporation that was cut from the magazine, detailing the technical differences between electronic and mechanical watches, and the options available to each.
STATUS: IT’S COMPLICATED
Gone are the days when timepieces consisted of the sun and a shadow. Today, watches have auxiliary features known as “complications” which can display the day, date, weather, phase of the moon and more. Bill Peak, national sales manager for Belair Time Corporation, Lakewood, N.J., describes the two main varieties of watches and the complications available to each.
Mechanical Watches: When people picture traditional, wind-up watches, they’re thinking of mechanical movements. “Mechanical watches are mainspring powered and subdivided into manual winding (turning the crown by hand) and automatic winding designs which are powered by wrist motion,” said Peak. The name is derived because all the movements are physical processes controlled by a precise combination of springs, cogs and escapements. “These mechanisms may at times consist of in excess of 300 parts. There is a certain intrinsic beauty to a well-oiled machine that is much appreciated by those who purchase this category of timepiece,” he said.
Due to the mechanical nature, the available complications are limited to those that operate using the same series of gears; all complications are necessarily time-related. “Common complications include chronographs (stop watch, elapsed time recorders), alarms, passing strikers (chimes on the hour or more often), dual time zones [and] perpetual calendars to name a few. The more complications that exist in a single watch, the more prized it will be by the owner,” Peak explained. Mechanical watches are more expensive and more difficult to repair than their electronic counterparts, but are more valued by collectors and as heirloom pieces.
Quartz Watches: Also known as electronic watches, quartz watches are battery powered and keep time using a quartz crystal constantly vibrating at a particular frequency, allowing for a far more accurate clock. Unlike mechanical watches, which require regular winding and are only accurate to within a few seconds a day, quartz watches rarely require maintenance and will remain accurate to within seconds a year.
“Quartz watches, by virtue of the fact that they are electronic in design, have few moving parts and are much less expensive to repair, with maintenance being negligible,” said Peak. “As far as complications are concerned, the sky is the limit. Tidal indicators, altimeters, compasses, depth gauges and world timers are commonplace.” While mechanical watch complications are reliant on the same 12-hour cycle as the watch itself, quarts watches, due to their electronic nature, can incorporate nearly anything the end-buyer desires.
Peak noted that many people will never use some, if not all, of the complications on a watch, indicating that they are valued more for aesthetic than practical purposes. “The more complicated the watch appears to be, the greater the perceived value will be,” he said.