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The Ultimate Guide to High-Accuracy Quartz Watches


Walk into any horological meetup with a quartz watch on and you’re likely to get the door slammed in your face. I kid, I kid — but only partly. Ever since the mechanical watch industry made its recovery in the face of a specific doom brought on by Japanese watchmakers, many so-called watch enthusiasts (snobs might be the more appropriate nom de guerre) have outright refused to let a battery-operated watch end up on their wrists. Is that fair? Depends — of course anybody that calls themselves a timepiece enthusiast most likely fell in love with mechanical watches, but that doesn’t necessarily mean quartz watches should be left out in the cold. Over the past decade-plus, there have been some fascinating developments in the quartz sphere that have led to a new field of watches called HAQ (High Accuracy Quartz) that make precision the primary objective. An easy guideline to remember is that any quartz watch that boasts a plus or minus rate of ten seconds per year can be deemed HAQ. While this field is still dominated in full by our friends out of Japan, a few Swiss brands have tossed their hat into the ring and are trying to figure out the next stage in precision timekeeping. For the sake of this article, we’ll be defining HAQ as one that has an inherent regulator rather than something that relies on an outside force liken an atomic clock or GPS to maintain accuracy.

Longines VHP

Longines’ recent foray into HAQ ended up with the release of the Conquest V.H.P. (Very High Precision) at Baselworld 2017. Rather than jumping into the smartwatch realm like so many other Swiss brands, Longines has doubled down and made one of the most accurate quartz watches ever. As far as we can tell, this is the first Swiss watch to boast ± five seconds per year, which ends up being less than half a second every month. One of the coolest features of this watch is the gear position detection system that allows the watch hands to automatically resync if they’re accidentally displaced by a shock or a magnetic field. It also boasts a perpetual calendar in the date, meaning the timepiece knows the length of each month and when a leap year occurs, so you won’t ever have to mess with the date. The crown also has this funky trick where you can set the watch either by slowly ticking off minute-by-minute or, with a quick turn, the hour hand will jump by the hour so the minute hand stays accurate. At Baselworld 2018, the brand introduced several new VHP models including a new selection of chronographs. Prices start at $1,000.

Bulova Precisionist

Bulova introduced the Accutron II collection within the Precisionist line in 2014.

Most watch enthusiasts know that Bulova introduced the world’s first wristwatch that utilized an electronic tuning fork to regulate the time and an electronic gear train to move the hands with the original Accutron. That was way back in 1960; in 2010, after being purchased by Citizen two years before, the brand set out to reclaim its heritage of offering supremely accurate watches with the Precisionist line. The beauty of the Precisionist is something that nothing else on this list can offer — a smooth seconds hand. Because the watch beats at 262 kHz, which translates to 16 ticks per second, it allows for the buttery-smooth seconds hand that mechanical watch lovers have long hoarded over quartz enthusiasts. These technically don’t meet our guideline of 10 seconds per year, rather they offer a rate of 5 seconds per month, but they’re worth mentioning due to the sheer amount of models available and the accessible price point. In 2014, Bulova tapped into its history to introduce the Accutron II collection within the Precisionist line. Prices start at $350.

Grand Seiko 9F

Grand Seiko SBGV207 featuring the 9F caliber

You can blame Seiko for introducing the first quartz watch into production way back in 1969. Back then, quartz was less of a novelty and more of a revolution, and like any revolutionary tech, quartz watches cost quite a bit of money. While Seiko still sells plenty of quartz nowadays, its latest proprietary invention comes via its higher-end sibling, Grand Seiko with the 9F caliber. This specific caliber uses a thermocompensating movement to measure the temperature hundreds of times per day and then uses the information to adjust the frequency of the quartz’s vibrations to make up for any irregularities. The 9F caliber claims to be accurate plus or minus 10 seconds per year (Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive 9R caliber is also extremely accurate but claims to record plus or minus 15 seconds per month). Prices start at $2,200.

Breitling Superquartz

Breitling Cockpit B50 Night Mission

Breitling’s line of Superquartz watches represents the high-end of this segment of the watch market. For a long time, Breitling was sourcing its high-end, thermocompensated, quartz models from ETA. Starting with the Cockpit B50 released in 2014, however, Breitling began producing its own hyper-accurate quartz models thanks to the patented Superquartz technology. Thermocompensated, COSC-certified, and billed as accurate within 10 seconds per year, the analog-digital Cockpit B50 started a new wave for the brand that was continued with the release of the Exospace B55 and the Colt Skyracer. At release, the Cockpit B50 cost $7,200 but the Colt Skyracer, released in 2017, was priced at approximately $2,000. Be warned: If you’re a fan of Breitling’s HAQ models, now might be the time to pick one up, because as we recently reported, new CEO Georges Kern is going to slowly eliminate quartz-powered pieces from the brand’s catalog with few outliers. 

Omega Spacemaster Z-33

Everyone knows the Omega Speedmaster and Seamaster, but how familiar are you with the Spacemaster? First released in 2012, the Omega Spacemaster Z-33 was inspired by the iconic “Pilot Line” case shape originally seen in 1969. It was designed for professional use by pilots which included a flight logbook that could record up to 10 flights, a UTC plus two time zones, either in 12-hours or 24-hours, and alarm, a chronograph, and a countdown timer. This is all thanks to the multi-function, thermocompensated Caliber 5666 that boasts a rate of plus or minus 10 seconds per year. The case is titanium and is priced at $5,900 on either a rubber strap or leather strap or $6,600 on a titanium bracelet.

Citizen Chronomaster

The Citizen Chronomaster AQ1030-57H

Previously only available in Japan, Citizen recently introduced its famous “The Citizen Chronomaster” model to a more global audience. Available in the Japanese brand’s Time Square boutique in New York City, the AQ1010-54A, AQ1030-57H, and AQ1040-53A all use the Caliber A010, which broke the record for most accurate quartz watch at ± 5 seconds per year when it was first introduced in 2011. All three models include perpetual calendar functionality as well. While the watches use thermocompensation to remain accurate, they’re powered by Citizen’s proprietary, solar-powered Eco-Drive technology. Prices start at $2,275 at time of publishing. 

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17 Responses to “The Ultimate Guide to High-Accuracy Quartz Watches”

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  1. Gerry Dimatos

    Let me first say that I am a Grand Seiko collector owning 6 of their fine timepieces.
    Two of them have the famous 9F Quartz Calibre, and one of them actually is the 25th anniversary model the SBGV238 with the sapphire clear case back exposing the beautifully decorated movement. This watch is rated to +/- 5 seconds a year.
    The magnificent thing about this movement is not just the fact that it is thermocpemsated but just how beautifully finished and decorated it is. It is like no other. Grand Seiko wanted to use the same type of hands on this watch as they do with their automatics and due to the high torque involved the second hand actually has a half step to ensure that the second hand actually strikes exactly on each marker. This ensures no wobble on the second hand and Grand Seiko also created the anti-backlash mechanism to prevent this. Add in the instantaneous date change at midnight (yes there is a motor powering this) and a 50 year service interval and you will see there is no comparison when you compare the detail and lengths Grand Seiko have gone to to create the ultimate quartz movement.
    I also own 5 Rolex watches and set these against my two GS Quartz watches which are always on time.
    If you haven’t discovered Grand Seiko please take a closer look. They are amongst the best finished and most accurate watches in the world regardless of you are looking at Quartz, Spring Drive (just an amazing innovation) or Automatoc High Beat or Stamdard 28,800 bpm.
    From Gerry Dimatos in Australia.

    Reply
  2. Jack Wright

    I am surprised that you have not mentioned the ETA 251.233. I have one of these movements and have had it for 3 years. Loss of 1 sec per year wether I wear it or not.

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  3. David Brown

    The Precisionist is beautiful, but too dang big. Franky, most modern watches continue to be garishly oversized despite the welcome movement toward smaller case sizes. I love the sweeping motion of innovative Seikos and Bulovas and hope more experiment along this line. Who wouldn’t want a more precise timepiece? (yes, this is a rhetorical question…)
    :p

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  4. Chris Malburg

    Great article. Hit all the buttons. However, what will the coming 5G technology do to the accuracy of timekeeping when +/- 5 seconds becomes laughable when there’s just 1 millisecond of latency?

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  5. Jack Wright

    I have an Invicta (don’t laugh yet) It’s a Jason Taylor Specialty Subaqua LE 12958′
    ETA 251.233 COSC certified and thermo-compensated chrono caliber with 27 jewels (which is for example the basis for Breitling 73 caliber used in Breitling Seawolf Chrono watch) with the accuracy within of +/- 10 seconds per year.mY watch runs at 4 secs per year and I’ve had it for 4 years. That ETA movement is no longer produced, I’m guessing to accurate.

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  6. TODD SEGER

    Once again the Swiss fall behind and quit the challenge when the benchmark keeps getting set a little higher… Let me explain. Citizen came first with a challenge to Seiko and the early 9F62 models with the Citizen ChronoMaster and it’s high performance +\- 5 sec a year. Seiko in its dismay over its Japanese competition took its +\- 10 sec a year model 9F62 and more recently 9F82A models and designed the 9F83 at +\- 5 sec a year… The only Swiss Company to achieve this is Longines with the VHP, which I own. In fact, I own all the models in the +\- 5 sec category because I love Accuracy! Now, In the Spirit of competition I applaud Longines for stepping up and not making all of the Swiss makers look like poor losers once again. Just found out that Breitling is dropping all of its Quartz line and going back only to its Automatic’s… Seems to me that the game got extremely real to fast for Breitling. As for Omega, they should stick to Automatic’s and the 1970’s series watches they have always produced. People still buy the Seamaster and Speedmaster with the little twik here and there each year, they are staying afloat. For Omega the attempt at redesigning the 1970’s Seiko Darth Vader Helmet failed miserably. So with that said, I feel it’s either time for the Swiss Watch Makers Society to step up or ship out.

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  7. Raymond McCormick

    Great post Logan, even if most commentors didn’t really understand your criteria.

    Reply
  8. BenzGuy

    another suggestion – the Seiko Astron GPS Solar. mine has yet to gain or lose so much as a second and it continues to exactly match the broadcast timing on National Public Radio and the clocks on my desktop computer and my smartphone (all of those sources being set by atomic reference). kudos, Seiko, you’ve done it again!

    Reply
  9. Louis Meluso

    The thermocompensated movements in the Certina DS-2 Precidrive line represent Swiss quality at an affordable price.

    Reply
  10. Humberto Ramirez

    That sweep second hand!….I own two Accutron 2’s and couldn’t discerne a difference from atomic time after 30 days, so I’m comfortable claiming 10 sec diff in a year :) …and you can’t beat the price!

    Reply
    • john wood

      I also bought a Bulova Precisionist but it does not meet the + or- 10 secs. a year criterion. That being said it gains 2 secs. a month which is pretty good for a watch that cost 117 USD.

      Reply
  11. Fraser Petrick

    Quartz vs mechanical: Insofar as I have no one to impress but myself, why do I not just stay with quartz? They’re less expensive and more accurate, so who cares what goes on inside? The inverse-snob in me considered the I’d-never-be-caught-dead-with-a-quartz crowd pompous. However, I, too, have fallen under the spell of the magic involved with all those little gears and wheels and springs and gizmos deep within the guts of a mechanical watch. In fact I’ve reached that fork in the watch road where a hand wound watch with no second hand has a primitive call that’s hard to resist

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  12. I own a quartz 9F movement Grand Seiko diving watch, which is accurate within ±2 seconds per year. Actually, when I set it twice a year to daylight saving time, it wouldn’t show any detectable deviation from the atomic clock reference, but I play it safe..
    I own some expensive mechanical European wristwatches , which stray about 10 to 20 seconds per day. While the Grand Seiko need battery replacement every 4 years, it doesn’t need any other service for more than 40 years. The reputable European watches need a service every 5 years and it costs as much a brand new expensive watch. So, having a meticulously hand made, beautiful, ultra-accurate, almost service and expense free, makes more sense to me.

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  13. Robin Henry

    Longines timed the recent Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. Every day on television appeared advertisements for their special Commonwealth Games edition VHP watch. It looked great and I’d be interested to know how many they sold since it was a special with a narrow band of opportunity ie, the games was only on for two weeks.

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  14. Richard Johnson

    You left out the Thermocompensated quartz diving watches put out by Sinn … the UX and the EZM models. I owned an EZM which was accurate to within 3 seconds per year as measured against the USNO.

    Reply
  15. The first purpose of a watch is to tell the correct time. The most accurate watch I have is a Citizen Eco-Drive Skyhawk Blue Angels Titanium Chronograph that correct it’s self three times early every morning. It is within a second everyday of the year. It also has other functions like not breaking with every little tap or bump. Something my more costly and well know watch brands can’t seem to do.

    Reply
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