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How To: Choose Between a Quartz and Mechanical Clock Movement

When looking over movement options for a clock design, you can choose between a quartz or a mechanical clock movement. If you’re new to clock making, you may have questions like:

How do you determine which is the best choice? Is there any advantage of one type over the other? Are there any disadvantages that would sway a decision one way or the other?

In this post, we will explore aspects of each in order to answer the question of Quartz versus Mechanical Movements.

quartz-vs-mechanical

What It Comes Down To

The selection of a clock movement really comes down to factors of personal preference, although aspects of an existing clock case can predetermine movement selection for you (more on this at the end). Assuming that a clock case poses no restrictions for either movement type, let’s examine some of the key differences between the two in regard to personal preferences.

Price

Price point can certainly be a main factor regarding movement selection. Generally you will find quartz clock movements to be less expensive than mechanicals. Mechanical clock movements are constructed in a manner that is meant to last (to include the materials selected for movement fabrication).

In short, you do get what you pay for. Quartz movements are primarily constructed from plastic, which allows them to cost considerably less (roughly 1/3 to 1/4 of the price of a mechanical movement depending on the quartz movement features desired). If price-point dictates selection, quartz may prove to be more enticing.

Maintenance

Mechanical clock movements can be compared to a car. They require maintenance in order to work properly for years to come. Would your car last if you elected never to change the oil? No, and the same can be said of a mechanical movement. Mechanical movements must be oiled every one to three years. They must be cleaned and oiled every three to five years.

There are books that can help to guide you through doing this, or you can seek out a qualified professional (it is always good to have the movement professionally serviced every once in a while anyway). If you are not prepared to maintain a movement for years to come, a quartz movement may prove to be the better option.

Longevity

Generally a quartz clock movement will last around 10 to 15 years, although I will admit that it is not at all uncommon to see one last longer. The fact remains, however, that they will not last forever. Inversely, mechanical movements can last well beyond the time-span of the clock-maker himself (and even a generation or a few beyond him/her). There are mechanical clock movements from the late 1700’s that still work and keep accurate time today.

Mechanical clock movement longevity requires maintenance (see above), but you can count that it will outlast a few quartz clock movements in its lifetime providing it is properly serviced at the appropriate intervals. In regard to aspects of longevity, the mechanical movement is the better option. 

Sound

While sound only encompasses chiming movements, sound quality is still a personal preference that many look for. Generally, mechanical clock movements feature mechanical chime hammers which physically strike tuned chime rods of various lengths. The resulting vibrations produce certain notes depending on the length of chime rod. Furthermore, the wood case assembly (due to the structural nature of wood itself) will serve as an amplifier of sorts for those vibrations. This creates a rich, deep chime that is audible in even the largest of rooms.

On the other hand, quartz clock movements have an electronic chime recording, which is typically amplified by a built in (or remote mount) speaker. Inexpensive quartz chiming movements can sound “tinny” and electronic, but (for the most part) chime quality has improved for most quartz movements in recent years. Inversely, certain clock case designs can actually muffle the quartz movement speaker, inhibiting volume. Sound quality aside, the best volume will typically come from a mechanical style movement in a wood clock case assembly.

Precision

Many assume that works of a mechanical nature would be more precise than a quartz clock movement could ever hope to be. Others might argue that quartz is more precise. Actually, neither is necessarily true. Both movement options can prove to be equally as accurate. The main difference is that mechanical movement accuracy is adjusted by us, and therefore only as accurate as we adjust it to be.

That being said, you can always continue to “fine-tune” a mechanical. A quartz movement will always be as accurate as the oscillation rate of the quartz crystal. Understand that this is pretty accurate (less than 1/2 second loss per day if kept at a consistent temperature), however there is no real way to adjust accuracy beyond this. Slight advantage goes to the mechanical from a precision-adjustment aspect.

Intimidation

Many customers tell me that mechanical clock movements are quite intimidating. I can certainly relate, as they do look fairly complicated. But the truth is that they are not nearly as complicated as one would think. Similar to a quartz movement, there is no real sub-assembly required. You receive a factory-assembled movement ready for mounting with the provided hardware. Mechanical clock movements include accessories for ease of perfect mounting (in terms of centering the hand shaft and key-winds).

Many also feature auto-beat adjustment, which allows you to simply over-swing the pendulum so that the clock can regulate the beat on its own. Fine-tuning adjustments can take time, but are relatively easy to perform. Bottom line: While the quartz would appear to be easier to work with, do not be intimidated into purchasing a quartz movement just because the mechanical seems too “complicated”.

Movement Replacement For Existing Clock Cases

This was the topic we initially skipped at the onset of this article with the assumption that the clock assembly would present no issues. Generally this is not the case when selecting a mechanical or quartz movement replacement in an existing case. In this realm, quartz movements have the distinct advantage being that they are less restrictive in regard to case assemblies being able to accommodate them.

If you are replacing a mechanical clock movement in an existing clock case, the best replacement is usually the same make/model as the movement being removed. Purchasing a different make/model mechanical can (more than likely) require some case modifications and possible replacement of the clock face (not all key-wind hole patterns are the same).

Modern day cases should allow you to locate an exact replacement, but antique cases may house a movement, which is no longer produced. Since quartz movements only require a center hand shaft hole (which is typically a part of any existing clock case anyway, whether mechanical or quartz), they will generally require little to no case modifications and the same face can almost always be used.

So Which Is Best For Your Project?

In summary, a mechanical clock movement will typically be more expensive and require periodic maintenance, but has the longevity to last years into the future. Quartz clock movements are less expensive, however they will not last forever. Quartz movements have made some great strides to improve chime sound quality and volume, but chiming mechanicals remain the better of the two. Expect precision with either movement selection, and do not be intimidated by the appearance of a mechanical. Finally, remember that quartz will probably be the simplest option for replacing a movement in an existing case, but might also be the only option unless possible case modifications to accommodate a mechanical are considered.

Written By: Chris Akright

Chris is responsible for the kit, plan, and finishing technical support, which he has provided to Klockit customers for over 15 years. Chris also contributes new product designs, composes written and illustrated assembly manuals, and works to develop new kit and plan products for the Klockit catalog. Chris’s experience is the culmination of years of training under his mentor, and Klockit Designer, John Cooper.

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