Saturday, May 12, 2018

When Is a Quartz Watch Not a Quartz Watch?

I bought a new watch. That’s hardly news for a watch collector, right? But the watch I bought was a quartz watch. Say what? Yes, quartz. I know, I know. In doing so I run the risk of permanent exclusion from the brotherhood of watch collectors, who (like me) pursue the most intricate, advanced, and accurate mechanical movement, one with deep, rich ties to history and which represents the pinnacle of engineering.

While I had my reasons for buying a quartz watch, what’s most interesting is the unexpected insights this quartz watch revealed about watches and time.

Rather than pop in to Melbourne’s fabled Watches of Switzerland shop and ogle Rolex, IWC, Omega and other star brands (well, I did that, too), I wanted to visit the still new and upcoming Melbourne Watch Company, a Kickstarter scion from down under. (More about Melbourne Watch Company Watches in a future article.) I hadn’t planned on buying a new watch (perhaps that’s a lie I told myself), but after finally finding their second floor office, workshop and display center, I realized that an Australian-made watch would be a better souvenir than a stuffed koala or vegemite. Melbourne Watches makes both mechanical and quartz watches; I bought a quartz because they had the Collins moonphase, in both a man’s and woman’s size, 38 mm and 34 mm, and my girlfriend and I wanted a couples’ set. His and hers watches play a sweet song, and are also better than his and hers stuffed koalas.


Melbourne Watch Company’s Collins deploys two complications: A date hand and a moonphase. Date hands are relatively rare, especially in quartz watches.The moonphase is a true moonphase complication (not a day-night indicator like you see on most quartz watches.) It advances slowly over the course of a month, so if you look down at your watch and then up at the moon, the phases will be delightfully aligned.

But it’s what the Collins doesn’t have that’s most intriguing. There is no second hand. The absence of a second hand erases the telltale sign that this is a quartz watch. Quartz watches’ second hands, advancing like a drunk staggering forward in the dark, are a neon sign that shouts, “this is a quartz watch.” You can almost hear the second hand of most quartz watches slamming against the minute marker.

(In a contrary approach to watchmaking, some mechanical watches have a deadbeat second hands that ticks once a second, emulating quartz watches, proving once again that some mechanical watches are engineered by aliens from the future.)

Remove the second hand from a quartz watch and magically the watch loses its quartzness. Sure it’s got a quartz movement inside, but like some Jedi mind trick, it no longer suffers a quartz persona.

I don’t know if the Melbourne Watch Company subtracted the second hand on purpose, but it’s transforming and refresting. One interesting side effect of not having a second hand, though, is that without one there’s no way to know if your watch is running. You have to wait a minute. Without a second hand, the passage of time is barely perceptible. The absence of a second hand calms the watch, as if it’s saying, “Take your time with everything.” Nice.

By the way, the Melbourne Watch Company’s Collins moonphase is, in addition to be a stealth quartz, a stunning watch, with exquisite polish and finish.

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