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Why do Mechanical Watches Still Appeal? In a word, Longevity.

Gruen Precision Watch, courtesy of Padron Watch CompanyGenerally speaking, the more one can subdivide the passage of time into smaller increments, the more accurate a time measurement can be. This the underlying principle behind beat count, (and why a higher beat count in a watch is generally desireable), and why quartz wins over the mechanical watch in terms of sheer beat count: It’s impossible for a mechanical watch with 6 oscillations per second to compete with a device that can do 33,000 oscillations in the same period.

Does this mean that the quartz watch is more accurate? Broadly speaking, yes. An ordinary quartz movement may stand to lose or gain around 2 seconds a day, whereas a top chronometer grade mechanical watch may lose 6. Naturally accuracy is not the same as precision, and environmental factors and build quality affect results. But the general rule remains.

It would seem in light of sheer technical brute force that mechanicals should be as relevant to modernity as gaslamps, and perhaps deserve to be nowhere else but in a museum. Yet people happily pay thousands of dollars or more for mechanical-wind wristwatches. Why is this? Is it the charm of the device? Sure, there’s always that.  It’s charming to gaze through an exhibition back to see the balance wheel of a perlage-finished movement humming along unperterbed by the outside world for sure. But a greatper point is being missed.

In a word: Mechanical Watches Outlast Anything

Mechanical movements are geared devices usually made of brass, turning upon pivots of hardened aluminum oxides. These are durable materials and when properly serviced, Mechanical-wind watches last for generations. Pocket watches routinely top out over 100 years, as well as vintage watches that have survived both world wars and continue to soldier on to this day. Very few household devices enjoy this kind of longevity and heritage, and when they do, they are lovingly passed down through generations.

Quartz devices, being microelectronic devices, are made from more chemically reactive materials that will degrade faster over time.

I recently had to return a very expensive quartz minute repeater to a friend. It was beyond recovery. Why? Because it’s such an exceedingly rare quartz minute repeater with a shot movement that was incredibly difficult to source. Worse, any donor movement would likely be shot as well. The microelectronics degraded in just a 20 year period, rendering this particular watch into a pretty brick. And it was a gorgeous watch too. It’s only flaw was the limitations of electronics when it comes to withstanding father time.

Mechanical winds are naturally not electronic devices. Like any other machine, they all suffer their own infirmities of age, but unlike semiconductors, those infirmities can in the vast majority of cases be corrected by a skilled watchmaker. And when serviced periodically, a mechanical will continue to outlast nearly everything. CD’s, videocassette tape, your old home movies, and the impulse buy you bought on a cruise decades ago, and perhaps even Yourself!

That kind of longevity (as well as never needing a battery) bestows an almost mystical quality to an otherwise humdrum consumable. And who wouldn’t wish to own something that could potentially outlast them?

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