It’s Time to Add a Quartz Watch to Your Collection
Have some fun and buy that calculator watch you wanted in the 1980s
I’d bet money on the fact that the first watch you ever loved had a quartz movement. Then you grew up, made some money and discovered the glamorous world of automatic watches, where a timepiece does more than just synchronize Saturday afternoon with Ricky at the BMX track, hoping Alice might be there, even though she’s a junior and you’re a freshman, etc, etc. While I can’t wind back the clock so you can kiss the prom queen, I can turn you on to a few quartz watches, which I think are as exciting as anything mechanical.
But why such a bold statement? Well, with smartwatches taking over the world (the Apple Watch outsold the entire Swiss watch market combined in 2019 by almost 10 million units), quartz watches— which almost destroyed Swiss watch manufacturing back in the day — may now be considered retro. This isn’t my idea. I was recently talking to a collector of Rolex Day-Date watches, and when I asked what timepieces he thought might be collectable in the future, his suggestion was anything at the top end of the quartz market.
I’m not suggesting that you only wear quartz watches, just that there are some battery-operated pieces which deserve consideration. If you don’t believe me, go online and chat with a few veteran watch collectors. Chances are they’ve got more than a handful of quartz pieces in the vault, as collecting is usually more of a hobby than an investment strategy.
To save you hours of scrolling through watch blogs while working remotely, I’ve rounded up what I consider five of the absolute best quartz watches which can be yours for around $300 each.
The Weekend Showpiece
I’m opening with this one, as I have a feeling the Christopher Ward C3 Grand Tourer Chronograph might be one of the best quartz watches for the money currently available in the watch world. It manages to look both new and vintage, while the British racing green dial with two piston-shaped chronograph pushers give it an elegance which negates the fact that it’s not an automatic. But not all quartz watches are created equal, and one quick test I have is to observe whether the second-hand lines up perfectly with the dial markers. In this case they do, and it is enormously satisfying to watch. This precision is the result of a Swiss-made Ronda 5021.D quartz movement (gold-plated) with 10 jewels. A nifty feature of the 5021.D is the power-saving mode, which means the battery could last up to 54 months if you pull the crown out when the not using it.
There’s not much to complain about with this 71g (including the bracelet) dress piece from what is arguably Britain’s most interesting watch company at the moment, but in Simon’s dream-world, the C3 Tourer would be a millimeter narrower at 38mm, come with a green leather strap and a green nylon NATO-style strap — and have wee bit more water resistance than 3 ATM (30M). I also wouldn’t mind seeing the dial in limited-edition colors such as pink — something to keep collectors up at night and increase the allure of a Swiss quartz movement. While this beauty clocks in at $450 (with the option of engraving the watch for an extra $35), the Christopher Ward website occasionally has sales which you can get early access to by signing up for the newsletter. Worth keeping in mind if you’re looking for a deal.
Elegance in the Field
I’ve loved these watches for awhile now because of the design, the price, and the fact that you can wear them for swimming, DIY, working on that vintage BMW motorcycle or for a night out with the boys. The Bertucci A-2T Vintage (40mm) #12074 is the ultimate beater in my opinion. It’s a lot of watch for the money, and comes in at $220 with the hardened sapphire crystal, solid titanium case, Swiss-made movement (all-metal, jeweled, gold-plated), super luminous hands/markers, and screw-down crown and case back. It has a 200M water-resistance rating and a five-year battery life with low battery indicator (LBI) which causes the second hand to skip, indicating it’s time to change the battery.
If you fancy something a bit smaller, the A-1S Field at 36mm (#10011, #10004) ironically has more of a vintage feel in terms of its size. This model also comes with white or black dials, and retails for $95. The price difference is because the A-1S has a mineral rather than sapphire crystal, is water resistant to 100M instead of 200M, and has a Japanese-made quartz movement, as opposed the A-2T’s Swiss movement. The A-1S also doesn’t have the low battery indicator, and its battery life is estimated at three years. I wanted to include it though, because I like the size, and the price point means you could buy two; one with a white dial on a white nylon NATO-style strap for skiing, and a black dial on Defender Khaki nylon NATO-style strap for summer.
For the Tech Genius/1980s Obsessed
Dig out your Hard Rock Café London sweatshirt, because we’re going back to the ‘80s so that you can finally own the Casio CA53W-1 calculator watch you salivated over when not watching the weird tongue-sex scene in Top Gun for the hundredth time (remember how VHS tapes would cause the screen to flicker when they’d been paused in the same spot too many times?). The Casio CA53W-1 (34mm) needs very little introduction, even if you’ve never seen Stranger Things, Breaking Bad or Back to the Future. Your initial reaction on seeing this watch again after so long should determine whether its right for you or not.
While the original can be picked up for less than $20 online (I know, shocking), the latest incarnation of the pioneering calculator watch, the DBC32-1A (37.5mm), can be yours for somewhere between $25 and $70, depending on whether you go for a traditional resin, or stainless steel/gold model. I could go on and on about the features of the CA53W-1 and the newer DBC32-1A, such as the 25-page databank, an eight-digit calculator, five multi-function alarms (with text), and 10-year battery, but if you have a smartphone I can’t imagine why you would bother learning how to program something more suited to mouse paws than fingers. The joy of these watches is no longer in what they can do, but in how they make you feel.
A Bold, High-Caliber Dive Watch
Seiko has been something of a pioneer in the dive watch field since they got their feet wet in 1965. Now, most of the Seiko Prospex collection (Core, Luxe and LX) features automatic models in a plethora of different dials, bezels, hands and features — certainly enough for any enthusiast to get excited about. And that’s just the latest catalog.
Basically, any Seiko dive watch is like a gateway drug. Before you know it, you’ll be trawling through websites, blogs and videos, dreaming about tri-fold clasps and the Spring Drive GMT movement — tortured by an unrelenting desire for a see-through caseback. Before you know it, you’ve got so many, you could outfit an entire company of SEALs. Seriously though, these watches really are designed for adventure under the sea, especially the Seiko Prospex PADI Special Edition. The SNJ027 is a solar/analog digital watch with six-month power reserve when fully charged. It’s rated for 200M, has a silicone strap (to fit over your hoodie — er, I mean wetsuit), and a uni-directional rotating elapsed “Pepsi” timing bezel. I won’t lie, you have to be a pretty big guy (or a diver) to pull off this one, which comes in a 47.8mm. A new Seiko dive watch starts at $450 and goes up to about $6,000. This particular 2020 model, the SNJ027, is $525. So why is it in this guide, especially since it’s not even strictly quartz? Well, because if you don’t mind an earlier generation, you can nab a Seiko Prospex dive watch for around $300 off resale sites like Overstock.com, though the internet is the wild west of resale watches, so be careful and buy from somewhere you trust. And PADI is not just a cute nickname, it stands for Professional Association of Diving Instructors.
The Clark Kent Executive Piece
When I asked a friend of mine if she’d heard of Bulova watches, she had a vague notion they were old and expensive. This is partly true, as Bulova was probably at its height when Joseph Bulova was alive in the 1920s and early ’30s. A hundred years later, Bulova’s quartz and automatic offerings are as plentiful as they are bizarrely varied. They include special collections inspired by both Frank Lloyd Wright and Harley-Davidson, one of the most beautiful dress watches that no one has ever heard of (the limited-edition Breton), one of the most unique timepieces (the LED Computron — WTF!), and the iconic Devil Diver (which really should be $666 instead of $636).
When I first held the Bulova Surveyor, a 39mm dress watch with day-date complication, I was impressed. It’s not traditionally Swiss, that’s immediately obvious, but there’s something elegant about it, and also friendly. I imagine it being worn by a successful businessman who is humble but stylish enough to revere the day-date complication, though not willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for a more famous Swiss model.
The domed mineral crystal brings the deep-blue iridescent dial to life and enhances the chrome trim on the bracelet. I especially like the steel trim around the complication windows, and the chunky, masculine dial markers contrast nicely with the three hands, giving them a delicate appearance. The steel case has attractive corner angles that also enhance the dial, and a raised Bulova logo on the crown is a subtle but important flourish. The movement is the Japanese assembled 2350-20A, and the watch has a water resistance of 30M. While the Surveyor might seem bland compared with Bulova’s other offerings — it’s the simplicity of this Japanese-made quartz watch that gives it an air of kind sophistication for daily wear. It goes with a suit, but dresses up jeans and sneakers. At $295 (currently on sale for $236), it’s also safe for pretty much anything that doesn’t involve being submerged in water.
I do have a few gripes with this watch though. For one, the steel caseback is boring, and the second hand is slightly off between the 2 and 6 markers. I’d also pay a bit more for sapphire rather than mineral crystal, even it if means losing the dome effect. While this is a dressy, everyday watch within most people’s budgets, I also think it’s the perfect gift watch for someone who has never had a nice watch but deserves one for all their good deeds. There’s no doubt the Surveyor will impress, and that’s why I included it — because the joy of collecting is easily usurped by the joy of giving.
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